U.S. Sending Tanks to Afghanistan for the First Time

This is interesting. According to the AP, the U.S. military is bringing heavy armor into the fight in Afghanistan for the first time ever:

Two senior defense officials say 14 M1A1 Abrams tanks and 115 additional Marines will be deployed next month.

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.

Now, as the Marines push harder into enemy territory, they’ll bring serious ground firepower with them:

The officials said Friday this is a first for the U.S. in the 9-year-old war, though Canadians and Danish troops have already used the huge, heavily armored combat vehicles in Afghanistan.

Officials say the tanks will help Marines keep insurgents away from key population areas and help troops move into insurgent safe havens. Officials say the tanks can bring extra protection and added firepower and help troops observe key routes where militants place roadside bombs.

This seems like yet another indication of how the fight is getting tougher and more intense over there.

— John Reed

  • Zmonster

    About time. We needed them there awhile ago.

  • Brian

    Narrow mountain passes and little to no IED resistance, those 15 aren’t coming home. Oh well, we’ll just buy some more, never mind the wastefull loss of life.

    • William C.

      Umm, 60 tons of armor provides plenty of IED protection. The front is virtually impenetrable with the weapons they have, and the sides are now protected by ERA. Used properly heavy armor like this is very useful.

      • ano8

        Brian get the knowledge in armored warfare watching GI Joe in TV

        • Joe Schmoe

          He does have a point though, a large enough explosive placed under a road in a pass will destroy any vehicle.

          Which in turn restricts the areas these can safely operate in.

      • Wildcard

        No one should doubt the front and sides are very well protected, the real issue is the underside of the the M1.
        Logic of sending tanks, infantry clears an area and then you park an tank there, that area now belongs to you…

    • jemc50

      I would hope they would avoid deploying them in the mountainous region and use them in the southern regions.

  • 0001

    Waste money, send in tanks.

    • William C.

      It is not a waste if they are killing the enemy and providing direct fire support for our infantry.

  • William C.

    I have no doubt these will be very useful but that is still 14 C-17As flying in. After this conflict it seems like our transport aircraft are going to need some sort of overhaul.

    • Howe

      why use C-17’s?
      Why not ship them…literally. Then use semi’s through Pakistan. That would be much cheaper.

      • praetorian

        Mabey the newly refurb. C-5M

      • http://twitter.com/Earlydawn @Earlydawn

        Have you noticed how convoys through Pakistan have been doing lately?

    • blight

      Can’t wait to see Taliban driving around with M1’s. Considering how hard it was to destroy immobilized Abrams in OIF, can you imagine the propaganda spectacle of American drones being used to destroy American equipment? They’d have a field day.

  • Marvel

    They are using these in Helmand at first, and I doubt they will be sending them up into the mountains. That would not make sense. But in the southern plains, they’ll kick some bootay.

  • chaos0xomega

    While they will help the fight in Helmand and the South, all what I see this really accomplishing is driving the Taliban back into the mountains where the tanks can’t get to them.

    • Blight

      True, but why reject a force multiplier that gets the job done faster than an air strike, and more precisely? Eyes on the ground can make a better call than a UAV from the sky as to whether or not the mosque has a sniper or the house has children in it. That and tanks force the Taliban to emplace larger IEDs, which means they will emplace less IEDs and increase the risks of being spotted.

      • http://twitter.com/Earlydawn @Earlydawn

        I’m not convinced that the M1 can gather information any more precisely than an airborne ISR platform like the Lancer or Predator / Global Hawk. If you want to make that argument, you’ve got more footing with ground recon systems like the Marine LAR LAVs, or the Strykers with the sensor packages.

        • crackedlenses

          But those are vulnerable to RPG and IED threats, at least more so than the M1….

    • Locarno

      Possibly. But then, if you’re driving them part of the way back, isn’t that worth it in and of itself?

      • blight

        That and if the majority of the population lives in tank country and a minority in the mountains, you’ve just protected a majority of the population with armor, freeing up some troops for elsewhere-but not too many, since tanks alone cannot dominate Afghanistan.

  • Tim

    If it keeps the Taliwankers in the Hills then good show . They can then be picked off at will by the SAS/Delta Force units etc .

  • Mat

    So far the use of tanks by Canadians and Danish proved a great success and greatly reduced attacks on troops that had tanks to support them.Tanks if used correctly are great asset and the firepower they bring is really pin point accurate.Not to mention couple of 120mm shells fired to deal with the position is a lot cheaper than having planes in orbit 24/7 dropping an occasional bomb .

  • ExurbanKevin

    The Canadians figured this out about 6 months into their stay in Helmund and quickly sent for the big guns to help roust out the Taliban from hardened shelters.

    Light and mobile is great for conflicts of movement, but at some point, the hammer is gonna fall and it’s gonna fall hard.

    • Swig

      At the time one of the main reasons given by the Canadian commanders for wanting tanks was simply to pave through/over all the large mud brick walls that seem to circle everything in the country. In addition to the presence on the battlefield only a tank seems to offer nothing else was heavy enough for the job apparently…

  • MikeB

    I don’t believe it was a defense official. It it was, he wouldn’t have said M1A1, he would have correctly say M1A2 and my guess is they will be the SEP version. Someone in the know would not have made this type of mistake.

    • elgatoso

      I read in another blog that they are sending the TUSK

    • Logan

      …but you just did. It’s the USMC sending them, not the Army. They use M1A1s.
      http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/2010/11/mari

      • William C.

        USMC Abrams? I figured they were Army by default. I don’t know if the USMC has adopted the TUSK kit, but they may well have. The M1A1 FEP used by the Marines has upgraded optics and electronics so they aren’t the “vanilla” M1A1HC variant.

        • jsallison

          I would note that in Vietnam, though the army decided that tanks weren’t ‘suitable’ when the marines deployed they brought their armor with them as it was an integral part of their force and, oops, no one told them not to. As a recovering cavalryman I find hearing that the marines are leading the way with tanks, again, to be somewhat depressing on one level, and a relief on another. At least someone’s adjusting their means to the task, conditions and standards. You’d think the army would be the more armor-minded of the two. But this has been a more lightfighter-centric theater than Iraq and given the long-standing abortion that is lightfighter armor, aka, the M551 AR/AAV, for decades followed by, nothing I guess I shouldn’t be surprised the army (jump)wingwearers couldn’t see what was in front of them.

          • blight

            Procurement was dominated by heavy armor generals. In the post Cold War environment, AGS lost, one because the money wasn’t there and two because the heavy armor guys weren’t willing to defend it. They were willing to defend Crusader, FCS and Land Warrior because they were in their balliwick, but airborne armor, pshaw!

            There’s also the fact that maybe the airborne didn’t try hard enough.

  • Blight

    The Soviets used SPAAGs to great effect against high ground ambushes, but we don’t have any.

    Also, more mine clearing vehicles while we are transporting M1 hulls.

    I wonder if SPGs can be used on the battlefield…high traverse and excellent blast effects. Also somewhat protected from small arms fire, though vulnerable to RPGs. Soviets had assault guns mounting artillery tubes for a similar employment.

    The real concern is whether or not the logistics system can support a company of tanks if the Taliban keep destroying supply trains out of Pakistan.

    • Blight

      Urgh, high elevation. That and pondering their previous employment in MOUT during WW2 (Aachen).

  • Blight

    I’m suddenly recalling Ralph Zumbros comments about independent tank operations in Vietnam, and wonder if they are relevant. Vietnam is also one of those countries which allegedly wasn’t tank friendly until studies found it was better than previously thought. I might re read Mounted Combat in VIetnam and ponder if anything is relevant to today..

  • Anonymous

    My sources states interesting things, it seems that it is possible that tanks will be equipped with new version of TUSK kit.

    Known parts of kit will be, enhanced hull belly mine protection (grater than in current TUSK-1 and TUSK-2), all crew will have protecting seats, probably other upgrades.

  • Byron Skinner

    Good Afternoon Folks,

    Well after last weeks post on Lt. Gen. Flynn’s article and to establishment of the problems with the MRAP’s, I doubt that the USMC really has any other current option the to bring the M1A1 (or2) Abrams Tank.

    The Taliban had found a weakness in the MRAP’s and has exploited that material or design weakness and it’s killing Marines. The other problem also appears to be a weakness in the body armor that the Marines have chosen over the heavier and more robust body the Army uses.

    If you have ever in an armored vehicle hit by an explosive device you will know that the concussion of the blast is every bid as dangerous as the kinetic effect. The War I was in we called our body armor flak jackets when the body as it bounces around inside a hit vehicle takes quite a bit of punishment and those vests save more then a few guys live in Vietnam a few nasty bruises, busted ribs and you bell rang but you are still alive to talk about them.

    We have had three rounds of MRAP’s, built an inventory of over 50,000 and spent tens of billions of dollars on the da** things and flat out they are not working. It make no sense at all to try again because that all we got and we have to do something.

    The M1A1 (or2) and heavier body armor for vehicle crews is not a final solution but will buy some time. The Taliban is clearly ahead of the US on this issue and we have to turn that around.

    ALLONS,

    Byron Skinner

  • William C.

    Byron the MRAPs have their share of problems but to say “they are not working” is not truthful. They are significantly more survivable than a typical armored HMMWV or truck and that was the goal. The entire program was a fast response to the type of fighting in Iraq and to me shows that there is indeed still some life left in America’s automotive and manufacturing capability. Nobody is pretending MRAPs are indestructible, but they can survive more than HMMWVs or trucks many infantry units would otherwise be riding around in.

    When it comes to concussion effects, most MRAPs attempt to reduce his through shock absorbing seating configurations and deflecting most of an IED blast, rather than absorbing it.

    The real problem with MRAPs are that they are highly specialized vehicles and won’t have much of a role in many theaters. Yet after these conflicts we should certainly keep several thousand in warehouses somewhere.

    • http://twitter.com/Earlydawn @Earlydawn

      I wouldn’t worry about the viability of MRAPs in the future. There’s no sign of the West getting out of COIN any time soon, and even if there was, Iraq / Afghanistan has illustrated the effectiveness of hybrid warfare, even in a strategically symmetric fight.

  • msufalcon

    MRAPS will continue to have a role in the type of conflicts America will likely be involved in…..a war against Russia or China not so much, but then that brings about another set of issues.

    The real issue is that tanks have different roles depending on the theater. In World War II where the old school proto-typical Cold War tank operations developed from, tanks were seen as battling it out on open plains to decide theater wide operations in a highly mobile atmosphere.

    In an Afghanistan situation tanks aren’t used in large units to win the war, but more as mobile fortresses to control small areas of local battlefield. The worry is about IEDS, but Afghanistan isn’t Iraq. The tanks aren’t patrolling, so much as supporting. I don’t see them wandering back roads, but being mobile heavy support. The Afghans don’t have much that can damage an M-1, regardless of model.

    I’ve seen on these forums that the belief is that Russia/and or China is supplying arms to the Taliban/opposing forces in Afghanistan (not everyone fighting us there is Taliban affiliated), but if that was the case then we would be losing a lot of copters to MANPADS, much like the Russians in Afghanistan. The current Afghan adversaries, whether local villagers, or organized Taliban have almost no ability to destroy a modern battle tank. If they did then the various allied forces in Afghan would have been losing them before we decided to add them to the mix…..

    • Joe Schmoe

      To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of Kornet’s show up in-theater if we decide to mass deploy tanks there. Hezbollah has them from Iran and they are in-theater.

      • blight

        Don’t forget TOW missiles, which were treasonously laundered to a known enemy of the United States (thanks Oliver). TOW isn’t the best piece of kit anymore, but I don’t think anybody is impugning it’s firepower, especially if you place it on high enough ground that a tank cannot elevate enough to engage and you have a decent shot against top armor.

        • mike

          If the Taliban got access to ATGWs the first thing they’d do with them is sell the tubes to brokers (who’d turn them over to coalition forces for a bounty) so they could buy more rifles, heavy machine guns, RPG tubes, rounds for all of these, and IED conponents. Rounds would get turned into IEDs if possible.

          Especially in the south, Taliban logistics and supply is heavily devolved and ad-hoc and there is no way to do a “rollout” of new battlefield weapons that would require any degree of training. RPGs and IEDs work great already for getting mission kills on coalition armor.

          • blight

            That same logic might also apply to MANPADS but it hasn’t stopped them from keeping a few for attacks against helicopters. I think we’re letting IEDcentric thinking bias how we perceive COIN to operate. Hezbollah fought with ATGW’s, and I suppose there’s a reason why the insurgents in Iraq didn’t use as many ATGWs. Probably because artillery shells and explosives were more plentiful than tube launchers (which were gradually destroyed over time) and running out of munitions for the tubes (which would be harder to find than small arms).

  • Jacob

    Don’t we have Strykers outfitted with 105mm guns? Would those have worked better in Afghanistan?

    • blight

      That’s only if you want a tank for the gun. As mentioned earlier, tanks can go offroad, crush cars (and small primitive walls) and are much more heavily armored while doing it. The particular low-recoil 105mm, if I recall correctly, is the one that was supposed to be mounted to dearly departed M8 AGS.

    • http://twitter.com/Earlydawn @Earlydawn

      Strykers are built for built-up areas with good roads. They’re an urban AFV that sacrifices robust off-road capability for strategic mobility.

  • http://www.hcp.kk5.org Brian Black

    A short summary of the decision to deploy armour in Vietnam… http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/re

  • mike

    to be one hundred per cent honest the Canadian decision to deploy tanks to the south was primarily about trying to justify a future heavy armour buy. They have been occasionally useful as a psych measure, but not worth the expense of deploying them or trying to make sure they don’t run over anything that goes boom. I would hesitate to say that the tanks have provided any significant tactical solutions or flexibility so far. CF doctrine in theatre is really, really against knocking down civilians’ stuff and we’ve learned the hard way that there’s no solution for IEDs besides killing guys before they put them in the ground.

  • Byron Skinner

    Good Afternoon Folks,

    To blight. I was personally involved in two of the battles that General Starry talks about in “Mounted Combat in Vietnam”. Took out an NVA mortar in the Nov. 21 ambush at Xuan Loc and got I hit on December 2 at Soui Cat (Gia Rey). Both battles we awarded the Presidential Unit Citation (Blue).

    ALLONS,

    Byron Skinner

    • blight

      This Suoi Cat action?
      http://www.history.army.mil/books/vietnam/tactica

      Re-reading the Vietnam Studies I’m surprised at the stuff which is recapitulated there that is relevant to Iraq. An interesting tidbit is:

      “The most useful technique was frequent ambush patrols in areas repeatedly mined. At times observation towers were constructed on routes in the vicinity. A reconnaissance in force was often conducted by cavalry units ten or fifteen minutes after a mine sweep to surprise the enemy who would lay mines behind the team. […] Once the problem areas were isolated, sensor fields were installed and ambush patrol activity was increased. Artillery concentrations were plotted, night aircraft equipped with infrared lights were put on alert, and night observation devices were positioned so that the unit could respond to sensor activations and patrol sightings. After only one month the results were conclusive. The four road sectors, which had previously experienced fifty-six mining incidents per month, had only fifteen incidents during the test month. One sector went from fifteen to one”

      I digress. Anyways, what is your impression of Ralph Zumbro, and the lessons he drew from Vietnam?

  • Byron Skinner

    Good Evening Folks,

    There are lessons from Vietnam that one would have hoped would have been learned, but were not apparently by the generation that went into Iraq. One of those lessons was to keep the pressure on the enemy, and to make him come out in strength, this is what the Armored Cav did best. When it becomes a gun fight its quick and decisive.

    The VC/NVA use of mines or IED’s or EFP’s as they are called to was an effort to try and control the battle field, in reality it served more to block themselves in then to lure in the Americans. We took casualties to be sure 44 years ago tomorrow at the Xuan Loc ambush I lost four friends in a matter of minutes.

    We used a lot more dismounts they they are using today. In the long run this was how we reversed the enemy’s use of mines and bobby traps, again we lost a lot of men, but we also denied the enemy the use of terrain.

    Night ambushes although very unpopular with American troops, myself included was extremely effective in containing the enemy. The enemy then as in Afghanistan today has to move at night to resupply, plant IED’s and position himself, the basic five man ambush patrol could make contact disrupt his activity and hopefully get the he** out of Dodge before the enemy reserves could come into the fight, create an artillery reference point so that in a could nights they could sent out some 155’s instead of us.

    The tactical environment has changed a lot from Vietnam. For the solder it has created far fewer casualties, which is good but has prolonged the war(s), its a trade off. But as In Vietnam when we left an area the enemy quickly reestablished himself. The moral of the story is when you take ground you keep it.

    Armored Units were very effective in Vietnam but the prevailing authorities in the Army were WW II Infantry officers, Vietnam was the war of the greatest generation not WW II, and they didn’t want to share the war with the other branches of the Army. In the end this arrogance in the upper levels of the US Army played more a larger role then acknowledged toward the eventual unsatisfactory outcome of the war in Vietnam.

    ALLONS,

    Byron Skinner

  • Belesari

    5 months ago in a tent in afghanistan……

    Marine: “What does this fight need…..”
    State Dep guy: “Pickles and kittens and turtles….i like turtles-”
    Marine: “No” God i hate these retards “It needs more Dakka……………”

    5 months later tanks in astan…Dakka delivered

    • blight

      More like:

      “We’re special forces, we don’t need no tanks”

      “We can use wheeled mobility for speed! And air power! And drones!”

      “And what happens when we find and fix the enemy?”

      -Months later-

      “Hey cool, the Canadians used Leopards for shock action”

      “Let’s do that too! Our tanks are bigger!”

      More likely it was the same reason tanks were deployed last to Vietnam: we started out as guests of the RVN until we ended up fighting it. And the same here, we’re guests of Karzai, and tanks represent a serious escalation.

  • Obsydean

    This is not a sign we are winning, this is a sign we are losing. We should be hearing about less firepower, not more. An Abrams does nothing to win heart and mind, in fact its sole purpose is to destroy your heart and mind from a few thousand meters out and then tread right over its charred corpse. Heck, we could have nuked the place a hundred times by now and left a glowing slag heap behind, definitely would make sure the terrorists don’t seek haven. This is a failed project and we need to call it a day.

    • blight

      Less firepower in the Taliban mind translates into “The Americans are giving up, time to storm Kabul and behead Karzai”

      • DualityOfMan

        Because overwhelming firepower worked so well for the Russians, right?

        • blight

          De-escalation in Vietnam didn’t bring an end to the conflict either. What it really means is that victory is found in the psyche and that military tools are only really a means to that end.

          If the Marines simply airlift in tanks and use them to knock down walls and go chasing ghosts into the mountains it will lessen casualties and deter the Taliban from trying to ambush a combined arms force. But fighting the Taliban in ambushes and set-piece battles is nothing if we don’t control the night as well as we do the day.

          I’ve been trying to find a copy of Tank Sergeant to see how they did things in Vietnam, but Zumbro’s comments on independent tank operations are interesting. If tanks could be detached to control the night for kilometers in all directions, that’s a potent ability to deny IED-planting or to interdict a “shadow government”. But again, that’s if we decide to use tanks in innovative game-changing ways, or just to supplement our current plans.

  • pedestrian

    The use of tanks is nothing new. It was used in the Soviet’s war, while back in those days, Soviet’s had less options and had tactical mistake for its use in the narrow roads of the mountains. Canada has a slo brought several Leopard tanks for their own, and so will US follow. Both countries are assumed to be using tanks in the southern lower portions of Afghan, where Ttanks have advantage and mobility. While less urban than Iraq, US also has used these in Iraq. Tanks have advantage in COIN for its heavy armor, counter IED survivability, counter RPG survivability and sniper survivability , ss well as power to hit fortified position, but more often using Ma Duce machine gun with enough power to punch into enem’ys trench. The use of tanks in COIN has also been used by Israel. Recently, Spencer on Danger Room slammed and criticized the use of tanks for more risks of casualties, but he is also indirectly criticizing Israel which could come under flames. Spencer is a true idiot who did not do enough research on international use of tanks in COIN, and probably does not have any idea about TUSK, TUSK2, as well as similar systems invented by France, and Germany for their own tanks.

  • Obsydean

    Future archeaologists will dig sites and observe a predominance of Soviet-era equipment and ordinance left behind, and rarely the footnote of American occupation evidenced by the odd Abrams left behind.

  • Locarno

    Is it likely that one or more will be damaged?
    Yes, if one blunders into a big enough IED.

    Is is good in mountainous terrain?
    No.

    Is it good for friendly ‘hearts and minds’ patrols?
    No.

    Does it allow a relatively small force to park itself outside a town or village and say ‘this bit is secure’.
    Yes. No one weapons system can solve every problem – see the back-and-forth debates about MRAPs, or Drones, or whatever. But where operations include days of high-intensity ground warfare, and they do, then there are few more reassuring things to have on your side than one or more current generation Main Battle Tanks.

    • crackedlenses

      Right on, having tanks is as much of a morale-booster as it is a physical threat to the enemy….

      • blight

        Depends. If that tank can “prove its worth” to the /villagers/ by keeping the Taliban from sneaking in at night, or laying IEDs, or sneaking in and murdering the police chief then it’s a tank making its moneys worth. If it’s a tank that only protects Americans, then it does the average Afghan little good. Accidents with tanks will happen in wartime, so if there’s no bank of goodwill to draw on…

  • Jacob

    You guys should read the article “Tanks, but No Tanks” on Foreignpolicy.com written by a special forces member.

  • tk

    To all the Nay sayers on this post: Tanks are needed, there are few mountains and plenty of open spaces in S. Afghanistan were we are currently operating. The tanks have protection and we’ve proven to integrated infantry and CIED measures effectively in Iraq. And incase anyone hasn’t noticed, Helmand is the most dangerous and most kinetic of all the areas. We are in anything but a COIN fight. They provide tremendous capabiltiy for fires and observation. Also, given our ROE restrictions the tanks proivde the best fire support solution because of their accuracy, leathality and mobility. Maybe if some of you actually came over here and fought you would understand. -from someone who is here…

  • Martin

    I’d love to know what a Panzer Lehr or Leibstandarte veteran would think of this. Yes
    even M1A2 can be breached by a shell buried vertically. Surely if supported by infantry clearing the IEDs, the tanks can then deny Tali of ground. We must all take stock of the effectiveness of correctly deployed tanks with infantry. If not used properly the tanks are left hanging out to dry. Thats what happenned to the Elefants at Kursk, when they got ahead of the infantry. They were not fitted with machine guns. Yes the Panzer divisions eventually lost (thanks to P47s? and the carpet bombing of Panzer Lehr)) but even though its a long time ago, we must, as armchair generals, not dismiss the examples they demonstrated even though it ackowledges the might of the then enemy..