U.S. Tanks En Route to Southwestern Afghanistan

WASHINGTON, Nov. 19, 2010 — Ser­vice­mem­bers in Afghanistan’s Region­al Command–Southwest will receive 14 M1A1 Abrams tanks to aid in the fight against the Tal­iban.
The Marine Corps tanks, which pack a super-accu­rate 120 mm main gun, will begin to arrive in Jan­u­ary. Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are aware that the tanks are being deployed, though the trans­fer did not require their approval.

“This is a capa­bil­i­ty the Marine force on the ground has in their inven­to­ry so they are swap­ping capa­bil­i­ties,” Pen­ta­gon spokesman Marine Col. Dave Lapan said. “This isn’t addi­tive to what they have.”

Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Richard P. Mills, com­man­der of Region­al Com­mand-South­west which is respon­si­ble for secu­ri­ty oper­a­tions in Hel­mand and Nim­roz provinces, request­ed the tanks.

Army Gen. David Petraeus, com­man­der of the Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force, and Marine Gen. James N. Mat­tis, the com­man­der of U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand, approved the request.

“All com­man­ders eval­u­ate their sit­u­a­tions and their oper­a­tions,” Lapan said. “The com­man­der in RC-South­west deter­mined that tanks would be use­ful in the fight he has because of the increased mobil­i­ty, the increased fire­pow­er, because of the optics the tanks have.”

Tanks are more accu­rate than artillery, mor­tars or aer­i­al bom­bard­ment, Lapan said. Coali­tion allies have had main bat­tle tanks in Afghanistan in the past.

The RC—Southwest region lends itself to armored oper­a­tions. The area is wide open and has none of the moun­tain­ous ter­rain that char­ac­ter­izes Region­al Command–East and the north­ern por­tions of Region­al Command–South. Com­man­ders in those areas are not request­ing tanks, Lapan said.

The Afghan peo­ple have bad mem­o­ries of tanks in action. The Sovi­et Union deployed thou­sands of T-55, T-62 and T-72 main bat­tle tanks into Afghanistan when it invad­ed the coun­try in 1979. Sovi­et crews used the tanks to mow down civil­ians and destroy whole vil­lages. Tanks became a hat­ed object of oppres­sion, and to this day, peo­ple can still see burnt out hulks of old Sovi­et tanks rust­ing in var­i­ous parts of Afghanistan.

“Sovi­et tanks were some­thing the pop­u­lace will obvi­ous­ly remem­ber,” Lapan said. The local com­mand will work with local lead­ers and shuras to explain to the pub­lic what’s hap­pen­ing, and how the tanks will be used.

Lapan empha­sized that the move­ment of the M1A1s to Afghanistan does not rep­re­sent an esca­la­tion of the con­flict there.

“These things hap­pen all the time,” he said. “We’re con­duct­ing full-spec­trum com­bat oper­a­tions today, we’ll be doing it tomor­row, we’ll be doing it next month. Until the Afghan secu­ri­ty forces are ready to take over lead for secu­ri­ty … we will con­tin­ue to do com­bat oper­a­tions to defeat the ene­my.

“Whether we use tanks, or infantry on the ground,” Lapan con­tin­ued, “these are all tac­tics we use to defeat the ene­my.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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