Thursday, March 12, 2009

Chief of the Land Staff: US Army needs tanks (or something similar) at Kandahar

Lt.-Gen. Leslie gives his advice:
PANJWAII DISTRICT, Afghanistan — Three years of fighting in the dust-choked lanes and tangled grape fields of Panjwaii district have taught Canadian soldiers some hard, bloody lessons.

As the U.S. prepares this spring to surge 17,000 fresh troops into Afghanistan, they have two words of advice for their American colleagues: Bring tanks.

By definition, the war in Kandahar is a counter-insurgency conflict meant to be fought with agile infantry, not burdensome iron beasts such as the Leopard 2A6Ms.

The 64-tonne battle wagons were intended to slug it out with Soviet armoured formations on the plains of Europe, not necessarily chase bands of lightly armed insurgents through the desert.

But since the landmark battle Operation Medusa in the late summer and early fall of 2006, the Leopards with their 120-millimetre cannon, have become a critical component of the army’s arsenal.

“You don’t need a lot of them,” Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie, the chief of land staff, said in a recent interview with The Canadian Press.

Canadians learned early when combat heated up that punching through the thick mud-walled compounds and grape huts, turned into redoubts by Taliban, was almost impossible with light weapons and required the heavy power of tanks.

It is an experience the troops — especially the country’s top soldier — are eager to pass along as American reinforcements arrive.

“Once you’ve got them and once you can see what they can do, it’s very difficult to convince yourself that they’re not absolutely essential,” Leslie said in an interview from Ottawa.

The Americans are expected to deploy the U.S. army’s 5th Stryker Brigade to Kandahar [emphasis added] — a unit battle-hardened on the desert plains of Iraq. Those 4,000 soldiers travel in wheeled armoured vehicles similar to Canada’s hardy LAV IIIs [brigade's Stryker versions here, more on the brigade itself here].

Leslie said he’s recommending to American commanders that they bring “things much akin to a tank,” either Bradley heavily armoured personnel carriers [but no big gun] and/or M1A2 Abrams tanks.

As fighting raged in the summer and fall of 2006, Canadian commanders discovered to their horror that the light armoured vehicles could not roll through the rippled grape fields and often became stuck.

Troops with Canada’s only tank regiment, the Lord Strathcona’s Horse, currently deployed in Kandahar said they’ve been called on many times to haul wheeled vehicles out of tough spots.

One such operation in western Zhari district in December saw the Leopards spend 14 of 16 hours pulling wheeled vehicles out of the muck on a dried up riverbed.

“We were a big tow truck with a gun on it,” declared Warrant Officer Richard Delaney, who is originally from St. John’s, NL.

The effect the tanks have had on the unpredictable guerilla battlefield is undeniable, forcing Taliban militants to hang back or retreat once the lumbering armoured vehicles appear.

“They don’t want to come out play when the tanks are around,” said Cpl. Aaron Hodgin, a Leopard gunner.

“It’s usually a lot quieter when we’re around.”

Sgt. Frank LeClair, a tank commander originally from Moncton, N.B., said his Leopard was bringing up the rear of a column that had been ambushed by Taliban fighters

“One of the LAVs was being engaged by (rocket propelled grenade) fire,” he said in an interview.

“Thankfully it was all landing quite short. The LAV opened up on where the fire was coming from and the insurgents didn’t back off at all until I came around the corner. As soon as I put in that first (tank) round, then it was done. There was no more fire coming from there at all.”

Leslie said the number of Canadian direct fire casualties among the infantry has fallen sharply since the Leopards were introduced.

The U.S. is deploying 8,000 marines to Afghanistan and many of them are destined for nearby Helmand province [emphasis added]. It is thought they may be bringing tanks [the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade coming certainly can bring tanks].

Delaney said there’s only one thing they need to know coming in to southern Afghanistan: “Go big or stay home.”

Babbler's Update: For those like me who geek out on this sort of stuff, this post by Mark highlighting the use of heavy armour by the CF in southern Afghanistan is relevant if you click through to the article (pdf) by Major Cadieu.


Blogger Dave in Pa. said...

According to their TOE, a Marine Expeditionary Brigade has 17 M1 Abrams tanks. That'd seem to be a company-sized number.

Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean that the Corps plans to take their whole MEB inventory to Af-stan. Marines tend to like to move fast and light, so they might be planning to rely on their Harriers and SuperCobra gunships to bring rapid, heavy firepower into action.

And the Army has been very pleased with the combat performance of their Stryker Brigades in Iraq. These are of course based on the Canadian LAV III design. One of the Stryker models is the Stryker Mobile Gun System, which is one of those beasties equipped with a 105mm auto-loaded gun in a remotely operated turret. Not quite a Leopard or Abrams, but were I a knuckle-dragging Talibanner, I wouldn't care to argue with one.

1:20 p.m., March 12, 2009  
Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

It's not only the direct-fire capability that Leslie's talking about, Dave, although that ability to "reach out and touch someone" at 2km very accurately is a valuable tool. The bigger reason is the armour of a MBT, which the Stryker simply doesn't have.

This article, previously highlighted here by Mark at the prompting of the ever-elusive JMH, deals with how we've used armour in Afghanistan with some success.

2:33 p.m., March 12, 2009  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

Babbler: Heck, I try to geek out as much as possible.


7:44 p.m., March 12, 2009  
Blogger Minicapt said...

There's just something about a tank that says "I really care".


1:42 a.m., March 13, 2009  
Blogger Dave in Pa. said...

Thanks Babbling Brook, for that info. I'm reading Major Cadieu's extremely interesting and educational paper on the subject now. Definitely a Keeper!

(One does learn a lot, being a regular Torch reader! Torch ought to be required reading for the folks at the Globe & Wail, Red Star and CBC. Who wants to send them the email "Want to know what you're talking about? Start by reading HERE". We'll all hold our breath on that idea being adopted, eh? :-)

11:38 a.m., March 13, 2009  
Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Dave, some of them already do read us. They just rarely talk about it in polite company. ;)

11:41 a.m., March 13, 2009  
Blogger BillT said...

And the Army has been very pleased with the combat performance of their Stryker Brigades in Iraq.

The troops have done well, but the Strykers themselves -- meh. They're now burdened with so much add-on armo(u)r

*waving hiya to JHM*

the vehicles are now too heavy to travel on anything but a level, paved surface.

And they have



1:56 p.m., March 13, 2009  
Blogger Dave in Pa. said...

"And they have



LMAO ... Well, tell us how you really feel about overweight wheeled vehicles, Bill. :-)

2:06 p.m., March 13, 2009  

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