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Tanks in Afghanistan: Bad Idea for U.S. and Afghan Army

Ann Marlowe

In the fights with western Indians, the U.S. Army
was able to employ artillery very rarely, for the simple reason that the Indians refused to concentrate or stay put long enough for it to be
used The narrowness of the conditions under which artillery is
genuinely lethal were well observed by a party of Sioux visiting
Washington, D.C. in 1870. To emphasize the White Fathers might,
government officials took them to see a huge coastal artillery gun
firing into the Potomoc. The Sioux were unimpressed: it was a monstrous
weapon, all right, but nobody with any brains would sit on his pony in
front of it.

Lawrence H. Keeley, War Before Civilization

In November, 16 M1-A1 Abrams tanks were brought to Helmand Province. Now,
the Afghan National Army has asked for armored personnel carriers and
according to President Hamid Karzai, theyre getting them.

But heavy weapons are not going to help us or the ANA win the war. In fact, they are more likely to accelerate the losing of the battle with the
Taliban. American officers training the ANA whom
spoken with in the course of seven embeds in Afghanistan all but
unanimously think that the ANA ought to be a light, maneuverable force
like the enemy it faces. Rather than tanks or APCs, they need light
all-terrrain vehicles that can go up the almost ubiquitous rugged
mountains of the region.

Its bad enough that
American troops are all but imprisoned in their MRAPs and other large,
cumbersome vehicles that break in rough terrain. If the ANA follows our
lead, they will face our problems: vulnerable to mines, confined to
level terrain, lacking in situational awareness and access to the local

One of the young officers Ive come to know through embeds in Khost and Zabul, Major Derrick Hernandez, has
experience working with the Afghan police and army in both provinces. He comments,

We need to be careful on how we train and shape the Afghan Security forces. We need to ensure that we areleaving the Afghans with a sustainable military and police force. If we create a mirror image of our Infantryunits, then our weaknesses (IEDs, VBIEDs, an isolated populace that allows the enemy to move undetected, predictable patterns, etc) will ultimately become the Afghan Security Forces weaknesses. The Afghans strengths are their mobility, they can drive with Ford Rangers and motorcycles exactly where the Taliban stage and operate out of,
they are not as confined to roads as the US Army.

Supposedly the 68-ton Abrams tanks will be used to provide overwatch for American
ground troops they have a 12,000-foot range for their 120 mm guns as well as to destroy houses packed with explosives by insurgents. At 26
feet long and 12 feet wide, the Abrams can only be used on Afghanistans plains and deserts, and it is being
employed by the Marines in Helmand because the terrain is appropriate.
But apart from the psychological effect of tanks on the Afghan people,
there is a very real issue of what the Abrams deployment says about the war. The point was to avoid getting into a situation where we are
killing our way out of a counterinsurgency. There were no tanks in
Afghanistan in 2003, when I was able to travel alone on local buses
across broad stretches of Afghanistan that are now deemed unsafe.

The embrace of heavy, Fulda Gapstyle armaments at this stage in the war is a sign of conceptual exhaustion. We can and must do better.

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