The ongoing attacks on bridges in and around Baghdad creates significant risks and logistical obstacles for U.S. forces in Iraq. In my opinion these attacks are part of deliberate strategy to create ambush chokepoints, degrade the capability of U.S. Quick Reaction Forces, and enhance the ability of insurgent forces to cut the U.S. lines of communication.
These attacks continue a trend that started in April, with the attack on the Sarafiya Bridge in central Baghdad (see U.S. Policy in the Drink). The loss of these bridges represent more than increased inconvenience for commuters and travelers.
Traffic will be re-routed, which means there will be more traffic in a concentrated area. This is a boon for insurgents who can in turn concentrate their limited resources and simplify their planning for successful attacks. It also creates logistical nightmares for the United States forces. Most of the basic necessities required to sustain U.S. forces in Iraq are carried in truck convoys. The destruction of these bridges will further increase the transportation time for drivers and the maintenance requirements just to keep the vehicles on the road.
This is not a new concept. Late last year, William S. Lind was already writing about this possibility.
Well before the second Iraq war started, I warned in a piece in The American Conservative that the structure of our position in Iraq could lead to that greatest of military disasters, encirclement. That is precisely the danger if we go to war with Iran.
The danger arises because almost all of the vast quantities of supplies American armies need come into Iraq from one direction, up from Kuwait and other Gulf ports in the south. If that supply line is cut, our forces may not have enough stuff, especially fuel, to get out of Iraq. American armies are incredibly fuel-thirsty, and though Iraq has vast oil reserves, it is short of refined oil products. Unlike Guderian’s Panzer army on its way to the Channel coast in 1940, we could not just fuel up at local gas stations.
There are two ways our supply lines from the south could be cut if we attack Iran. The first is by Shi’ite militias including the Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigades, possibly supported by a general Shi’ite uprising and, of course, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (the same guys who trained Hezbollah so well).
Our only other apparent option is to take a more even hand and fight the Shi’ite militias as well as the Sunnis, which is what some in Washington want our forces to do. But that would make our operational situation even worse, because the Shi’ites lie across our lines of communication. If we get into a fight with them, they can cut off our supplies, leaving us effectively encircled – the essence of operational defeat.
This may seem unimaginable to some, but history has shown that wars are not won on the basis of military might alone. Von Paulus at Stalingrad and Lord Gort at Dunkirk are a text book study of such an outcome. If it is true that amateurs think strategy, while professionals think logistics, then when it comes to logistics, the occupation forces are most definitely at a disadvantage.