For the first time in the nine-year war, the U.S. is deploying tanks in Afghanistan. The M-1 Abrams marks a significant shift for the U.S.-led strategy of driving the Taliban out of Afghanistan and handing control of the country over to local and national forces. That mission recently got extended as the White House gradually shifts from the planned 2011 draw-down to 2014. Here's what defense reporters and experts have to say about the decision to send tanks to Afghanistan.
- Dropping Counterinsurgency for Conventional War The Washington Post's Rajiv Chandrasekaran reports, "Despite an overall counterinsurgency strategy that emphasizes the use of troops to protect Afghan civilians from insurgents, statistics released by the NATO military command in Kabul and interviews with several senior commanders indicate that U.S. troop operations over the past two months have been more intense and have had a harder edge than at any point since the initial 2001 drive to oust the Taliban government. ... The Marines had wanted to take tanks into Afghanistan when they began deploying in large numbers in spring 2009, but the top coalition commander then, Army Gen. David D. McKiernan, rejected the request, in part because of concern it could remind Afghans of the tank-heavy Soviet occupation in the 1980s." Now Petraeus has approved it.
- We're Starting to Look Like the Soviets Wired's Spencer Ackerman sighs, "Increasingly distant are the days when Defense Secretary Robert Gates worried aloud about replicating the Soviet Union’s failed heavy footprint in Afghanistan. Under the command of General David Petraeus, the military’s leading advocate of counterinsurgency, an unconventional war is looking surprisingly conventional. NATO planes are dropping more bombs than at any time since the 2001 invasion. Special Forces have been operating on a tear since the summer, to the point where Afghanistan’s president is saying enough is enough. The coalition is using massive surface-to-surface missiles to clear the Taliban out of Kandahar. And now the tanks are rolling in."
- Actually, Tanks Could Be Great Blogger and Iraq veteran Jason Fritz writes,
"The fact is that tanks will probably provide an excellent tool in the
COIN fight. ... If the problem in Helmand is a highly-active insurgency
that requires a firepower solution, then the M1A1 is what you want to
bring to the fight. ... Even the most population-centric
[counterinsurgency] requires the killing of people and the breaking of
things. Tanks were integral in defeating al Qaida in and around Baghdad
in 2007-08, as were dropping bombs, etc. Tanks were often preferred
because they could do these things with greater accuracy than bombs and
with a smaller surface danger zone. This keeps the people happy, because
they know as much as we do that we have to kill some people and tanks
do it more efficiently with less impact on locals' lives." Aviation Week's Paul McLeary agrees, reporting that Canadian troops in Afghanistan have had significant success with tanks.
- Suggests Fighting Getting More Intense Defense Tech's John Reed writes, "While Abrams were used extensively in Iraq, the Afghan fight has often seen troops using lighter, nimbler vehicles capable of scrambling along the mountainous country’s notoriously primitive roads — more like paths — or using helicopters to travel quickly and bypass the danger from IEDs. ... This seems like yet another indication of how the fight is getting tougher and more intense over there."
M1 tanks going in, huh? Nothing says transition like a 120mm canon.