April 8, 2009:
Canadian officers in Afghanistan are advising their American counterparts to bring some M-1 tanks along with their additional combat brigades arriving this year. Canada is the only NATO nation with tanks in Afghanistan, and they have found them very useful while fighting the Taliban. In addition to being immune to enemy fire, the tanks can smash through the walls that surround the many family compounds that dot the Afghan countryside. There is also the fear factor. The Canadian tanks are scary, as well as deadly.
Three years ago, Canada sent 17 of its Leopard 1 tanks to Afghanistan, to give Canadian troops there some extra firepower against the Taliban. But as the warm weather approached, the lack of air conditioning in these elderly tanks became a major problem for the crews. The age of the tanks was a factor as well, so Canada made arrangements with Germany, the manufacturer of the Leopard, to lease twenty of the most modern version of the tank, the Leopard 2A6M.
Canada is the last nation using the Leopard 1. The latest version of the Leopard, the A6M has considerably better protection against mines, roadside bombs and RPG rockets. The 62 ton Leopard 2 has a 120mm main gun and two 7.62mm machine-guns. The 43 ton Leopard 1 has a 105mm gun, and is actually a little slower (65 kilometers an hour). Both tanks have a four man crew. Germany is selling off some of its Leopard 2s, and is offered Canada 80 of them at a bargain price (to be negotiated, but brand new, they cost $6 million each). Canada wanted to try out the Leopard 2 via the lease first, before deciding to replace all the Leopard Is. If Canada is to maintain a tank force, it needs new vehicles. The Leopard 1s are showing their age, especially with the workout they are getting in Afghanistan.
Some Canadian legislators have been inclined to do without tanks, but Canadian military experts pointed out that these combat vehicles can be useful in peacekeeping operations. Not only are they impervious to most weapons, but they scare the hell out of the enemy. The Leopard 2, introduced in the 1980s, is somewhat scarier than the 1960s era Leopard 1. Thus inspired, the Canadian legislators decided to buy 100 Leopard 2s from the Netherlands.
Army commanders are now under pressure to speed up the delivery of the Leopard 2s to the troops. As part of that, arrangements have been made to trade 20 of the Dutch Leopard 2s, upgraded to German standards, for the twenty leased tanks in Afghanistan. Eventually, the hundred tanks will be organized into two tank squadrons, with 20 tanks each. Another 40 will be used for training, and the remaining 20 will be converted to eight engineer combat vehicles (which can also be used as recovery vehicles), while the remaining 12 will be retained for spare parts.
The U.S. has thousands of M-1 tanks available. These vehicles are very similar to the German Leopard 2. So far, other foreign contingents in Afghanistan have been content to use infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) and MRAP armored trucks. But the IFVs are more vulnerable to RPGs and roadside bombs, while the MRAPs and wheeled armored vehicles have problems negotiating the many dirt roads in Afghanistan. Tanks have none of these problems, and are also useful in pulling other vehicles out of mud or other terrain misadventures.