Speculative War Fiction

An Excerpt from “Holding the Line: The Official History of the US Army in the Great Central War”

The beginning of the 21st Century was marked by wars which were largely defined as “irregular” and falling into the realm of counterinsurgency. The days of “lining tanks up in the desert” as with the 1991 Gulf War against Ba’athist Iraq, gave way to textbook blitzkrieg decapitation invasions like the first half of the 2001 Afghan War and the 2003 Iraq War, followed by long, drawn out occupations and “transitions” which lasted a decade or more. While it appeared that the United States Army was more than proficient at the art of conventional force-on-force warfare, even after nearly two decades in the Middle East and Afghanistan, the complexity of combating non-traditional enemies leveraging terrorism and classic insurgent tactics and strategies was still considered a challenge. Nevertheless, there were those who were concerned that the Army’s “core competencies” were atrophying as they warily eyed developments in Eastern Ukraine and elsewhere. It would emerge that one army, no matter how well trained and equipped, cannot perfect all types of warfare simultaneously.

When the Union State was formalized into all-but-in-name annexation of Belarus in 2024 it sent a wave of military mobilizations and diplomatic crises across NATO.

Popular perception of large-scale conflicts is that a singular event usual “sparks” the great wars; firing on Fort Sumter; the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand; the bombing of Pearl Harbor… 11 September 2001. What is generally ignored is that these conflicts and others are actual precipitated by prolong periods of smaller conflict and instability which boil over and coalesce into larger wars which span continents. This was definitely the case with the Great Central War. 2026 would be the year that official marked the “beginning” of the Great Central War, but its origins were far older and more complex. By the second decade of the 21st Century, Afghanistan had once again descended into anarchy on par with Somalia and the Syrian Civil War had transition into a full blown “War against ISIS” and Russia had de facto annexed the Donbass region of Ukraine which had placed Central and Eastern Europe on edge. When the Union State was formalized into all-but-in-name annexation of Belarus in 2024 it sent a wave of military mobilizations and diplomatic crises across NATO.

It wasn’t until those landing ships offloaded fully armed contingents south of Latakia… that it became apparent that this was a larger military operation.

The US had already largely removed its forces from Iraq again, although it was occasionally providing air support to local Iraqi, Kurdish, and Free Syrian Army units. Turkey by this point — although still a valued member of NATO by dint of the strategic importance of Incirlik Airbase — had become an “Islamic” republic in all but name. The final series of events proceeded rapidly and wholly unexpectedly, as it was largely viewed that such aggressive actions in the open by modern nations was a thing of the past. The assassination of Bashad al Assad and most of his cabinet by a dozen Islamic State suicide bombers (who were part of a larger group which killed scores more) in August of 2025, during a review of a military parade could be considered analogous to Gavrilo Princip’s attack over a century before. Suddenly, the Syrian Ba’athist regime was thrown into chaos as dozens of attacks and bombings erupted throughout western Syria. When the Russians mobilized the Black Sea Fleet and sailed south through the Bosporus it was largely viewed as a combination of a demonstration on the part of Moscow, but also an obvious “rescue” mission; more to protect Russian interests in Syria than to save any surviving members of Assad’s collapsing government. This accounted for the lack of much more than formal protests in the United Nations when it was observed that the Russians had sent several large landing ships full of troops. It wasn’t until those landing ships offloaded fully armed contingents south of Latakia — instead of the Russian naval base Tartus to the south — that it became apparent that this was a larger military operation.

The final battle of ISIS was not to be fought in Dabiq, nor would an army arrive from Medina as prophesied, but nevertheless the modern “Caliphate” effectively ceased to exist…

As Russian troops and armored columns raced east through Syria in October, there was a large terrorist bombing in Iran which was immediately tied to Kurdish separatists. The response was swift and a massive invasion of northern Iraq by a combination of conventional Iranian military and Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps forces swept through Iraqi Kurdistan. It had not been immediately apparent, but the Iranian invasion of Kurdistan was largely pretext to neutralize Turkey — already unsure how to respond to Russian moves through the Bosporus — and by December, link up with Russian and Ba’athist Syrian forces. As these three armies swept through the desert, they succeeded in defeating the so-called “Islamic State” through brutal tactics which involved leveling entire towns and villages with artillery barrages and airstrikes, followed by methodical clearing of remaining buildings and large scale executions. The final battle of ISIS was not to be fought in Dabiq, nor would an army arrive from Medina as prophesied, but nevertheless the modern “Caliphate” effectively ceased to exist by mid-February 2026. Though the international community was stunned and NATO and its allies on high alert, other than sporadic skirmishes along the “southern front” between Iraqi Army elements and the Iranians, things remained relatively calm, diplomatic condemnation having little effect and sanctions effectively blocked both in the UN and by confused domestic political responses.

…several Russian airstrikes and a minor incursion by an armored reconnaissance battalion made it unambiguously an attack on a NATO member — and Article V was immediately invoked by Ankara.

The official beginning of the Great Central War was the Syrian invasion of Turkey’s Hatay province on 13 March 2026. Long in dispute since its annexation by Turkey in 1939, Aleppo’s new military government led by the neo-fascist Social Nationalist Party (which had supplanted the collapsed Ba’athist government) had decided to take advantage of the situation to advance its agenda of a “greater Syria”. While initially only a Syrian endeavor, once it became apparent that the invasion force was on the verge of decimation and possible counterattack back into Syria, several Russian airstrikes and a minor incursion by an armored reconnaissance battalion made it unambiguously an attack on a NATO member — and Article V was immediately invoked by Ankara. The world held its breath as the specter a Third World War and possible exchanges of nuclear weapons loomed on the horizon. While atomic annihilation was not to be, the next series of events proved to be quite destabilizing and destructive as well. Turkey immediately closed the Bosporus and mobilized to the south and east, airstrikes and firefights erupted along the border with Syria, Iraq, and Iran and aerial dogfights not seen since the 1973 Yom Kippur War raged through the skies.

A second NATO country had been attacked. There was no denying a state of war anymore.

Since it had been a “Syrian/Russian” incursion and not an attack by Iran, Turkey limited its initial responses. The Iranians, for their part threatened to strike Israel but in an unprecedented move, the King of Jordan pledged to defend the Israelis — so long as they restrained their responses — and as bona fides went so far as to invade and occupy southern Syria up to the edge of Lebanon. The Russians were completely caught off guard by the Syrian move and unsure how to proceed — especially with the closure of their only link to the Black Sea. Although the NATO card had been thrown by Turkey, as of yet no formal reaction had occurred, other than an emergency session in Brussels. Moscow weighed its options and decided to take advantage of the pause and the focus on Turkey; on the morning of 29 March 2026, Russian forces from Kaliningrad and Belarus linked up in force through southern Lithuania, engaging several elements of a mechanized battalion and killing or capturing most of its members. A second NATO country had been attacked. There was no denying a state of war anymore.

…NATO would declare a state of war with what it labeled an alliance between Russia, Syria, and Iran…

The next day the Russian Army made a massive push west from the Donbass and north from Crimea, with the objective of establishing a front along the entirety of the Dnieper River and capturing Kiev. This was followed by a “flanking” amphibious landing with a brigade of naval infantry south of Odessa on the 9th of April, which rolled up through the pseudo-autonomous state of Transnistria linking up with other Russian “peacekeepers”. Over the next two months, NATO would declare a state of war with what it labeled an alliance between Russia, Syria, and Iran and sought reassurance through the UN — acting in an unprecedented move as one unified “bloc” — that other major powers such as China and India were intending to remain neutral. Understanding the consequences of a larger conflict erupting, India agreed not to take advantage of the situation vis-à-vis its disputes with Pakistan and China agreed to a gentleman’s agreement with Japan and South Korea to ensure that the Kim regime in Pyongyang did not use the war as a pretext of its own. Meanwhile the Baltic states mobilized but took no real action in order to preserve “perceived neutrality” while Poland and Romania, along with elements from the armies of Slovakia and Hungary, poured into “free” Ukraine as well as along the border with Moldova.

The United States initiated a mobilization of its own, activating its Merchant Marine, calling up Reserves and activating numerous National Guard units to begin the largest transfer of men and materiel since the Second World War. The only question at that remained was where they would be best deployed and how to avoid escalation of a conflict already rapidly spiraling beyond the control of those who initiated it…

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