Never mind the air-conditioning – are tanks warranted in Afghanistan?

Finally, someone begins to address the real issue about our tanks in Afghanistan. Check out James Travers in the Toronto Star today. In his column, “Whether new or old, tanks just not for this war,” Travers points out that,

The rush to lease nearly two dozen Leopard 2 A6M tanks is the most compelling evidence yet that neither the Afghan mission nor the master plan for the new military is unfolding as predicted.

No matter how sophisticated, tanks are inconsistent with this country’s objectives of rescuing a failed state and creating a light, fast and flexible armed forces capable of responding to a new century’s chaotic threats.

The current “spin” on the Leopard tanks seems to focus attention on the matter of air-conditioning, rather than the more substantive issue of the vehicle’s effectiveness for the Canadian mission in Afghanistan.

What purpose is served by air-conditioned crew compartments if the vehicle is still vulnerable to insurgent attacks? Even more, how can 55-tonne tanks help win the hearts and minds of Afghans, which surely must be the goal of this mission?

Travers puts  forward the argument that the military knew all along that come the summer heat, there would be tremendous pressure on the government to acquire the newer, more powerful Leopard 2 tanks from Germany some generals have been yearning for. He writes,

Did the military not know that its aging Leopards would be unusable in Afghanistan’s summer heat? Or was it an exercise in planned failure, one that would put irresistible political pressure on the government to acquire the tanks that, in more cost-conscious times, Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier deleted from his already-long shopping list?

No one can be sure, but as I have argued in the past Hillier’s brilliant strategy of putting troops’ lives at risk in Kandahar (and the subsequent 36 who have been killed ever since) has ensured that the tap only turns one way for the military in Ottawa – no matter what happens the generals can get whatever they ask for and nobody dares question it.

For more on the foolish decision to use tanks in Afghanistan, see Prof. Mike Wallace’s report (my fellow blogger) written for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.


Tags: Afghanistan, Defence policy