22 November 2010

US Deploying Heavily Armored Battle Tanks For First Time in Afghan War

"We've taken the gloves off, and it has had huge impact..."

Jet-powered M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank

The U.S. military is sending a contingent of heavily armored battle tanks to Afghanistan for the first time in the nine-year war, defense officials said, a shift that signals a further escalation in the aggressive tactics that have been employed by American forces this fall to attack the Taliban.
The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss specific tactics, said the combination of the raids, the airstrikes and the use of explosives on the ground have been instrumental in improving security in areas around Kandahar, a Taliban stronghold that has been the focus of coalition operations this fall. 

"We've taken the gloves off, and it has had huge impact," one of the senior officials said...

A U.S. officer familiar with the decision said the tanks will be used initially in parts of northern Helmand province, where the Marines have been engaged in intense combat against resilient Taliban cells that typically are armed with assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and homemade bombs. 

The initial deployment calls for about 16 tanks, but the overall number and area of operations could expand depending on needs, the officer said. "The tanks bring awe, shock and firepower," the officer said. "It's pretty significant." 

Although the officer acknowledged that the use of tanks this many years into the war could be seen as a sign of desperation by some Afghans and Americans, he said they will provide the Marines with an important new tool in missions to flush out pockets of insurgent fighters. A tank round is far more accurate than firing artillery, and it can be launched much faster than having to wait for a fighter jet or a helicopter to shoot a missile or drop a satellite-guided bomb. 

"Tanks give you immediate, protected firepower and mobility to address a threat that's beyond the range" of machine guns that are mounted on the mine-resistant trucks that most U.S. troops use in Afghanistan, said David Johnson, a senior researcher at the Rand Corp. who co-wrote a recent paper on the use of tanks in counterinsurgency operations. -The Washington Post

Alas, Deebow over at military blog BlackFive -who's spent a little bit of time on the ground in Afghanistan himself- isn't so optimistic that the incremental armor can do much to help in this terrain... same mobility issues as in Korea and 'Nam, basically:
So, as part of rendering my one man only opinion on this, take a seat here next to me in the Way-Back Machine and let me show you a little of why I think this is a monumentally bad idea.

This is the best road I drove on in Eastern Afghanistan...


And this was the the worst....


Zermat 9

The pictures and videos I have (in fact, I might put one of them up on my newly created Facebook page) could fill a hard drive (in fact, they do) of how "roads" and "routes" were not interchangeable and how inhospitable the terrain is.  We could kill a half-rack of your favorite barley-pop on the war stories that go with these pictures.... more at 

Seems to me they'd be useful certainly in a number of situations, the thing can blow up a house at 2km... that kind of stand-off distance seems helpful when dealing with suicidal savages who don't mind meeting Allah today.  But there's probably a reason they only sent sixteen units...

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