Sunday, September 10, 2006

Sending main battle tanks is an escalation.

This has long been a rumour spinning around the bazaars.

A warning order was issued earlier this week to the Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians) in Edmonton to prepare for the deployment. Twenty tanks are being readied for the operation and about 300 personnel will be heading to Afghanistan.
Which means the government is increasing the contribution to NATO's Afghanistan mission.

It also says the mission is nothing like what was originally intended. NATO had given itself a time frame of six months to stabilize those regions where Taliban activity continued. That clock has run out and the Taliban do not appear to have been contained.

The idea of sending Leopard main battle tanks to something that was advertised as a bolstered peace enforcement mission signals that Afghanistan is anything but stable.

It also raises the question of how the leadership of the CF is functioning. The Leopard C2 main battle tank was supposed to pass into history in favour of the Stryker wheeled mobile gun system (MGS) and the Multi-Mission Effects Vehicle (MMEV). Supposedly the main battle tank had no value in the type of high-mobility warfare the Canadian Forces saw as its future. The Leopard was a cold war vehicle, unsuited to dealing with guerilla forces according to the army's leaders.

According to Lt.-Gen. Hillier, the army's Leopards had served their purpose and, despite recently undergoing a $145-million upgrade, were now of limited use. The vehicle of the future was instead the MGS, which the general, an armoured officer, dubbed state-of-the art and a "war-winner."

"A mobile gun system is the right vehicle for Canada's army and will provide an excellent capability on Canadian Forces operations," Lt.-Gen. Hillier said. "We are losing a millstone that has hamstrung our thinking for years," he added, referring to the Leopard.
And, there were a lot of people who strongly disagreed with that assessment, to the detriment of their careers if they happened to be in the service when they said it.

The Leo is back and being deployed overseas for a third time in its history as a Canadian weapons platform. Now a full General, Hillier seems to have changed his mind. And the "millstone" which he declared impossible to deploy and out of fit with the vision for the army is desperately needed to provide protection for a mission which NATO didn't expect.

The army, reversing its desire for a light, high-tech, mobile (and unproven) system asked the government to cancel the MGS and MMEV acquisition. Let's keep the main battle tank.

It gives one pause. Hillier now has a view in direct conflict with his very adamant position of three years ago. He was determined to get rid of the tanks; now he's determined to keep them and use them - even though, by his reckoning, they're quite useless. And, the project to build the MMEV, a high-tech anti-tank and anti-aircraft battlefield defence system has been suspended.

NATO countries were criticized by the US for not providing enough armour for their troops when NATO took over the leadership of the Afghanistan mission. That has been misinterpreted in many quarters but essentially what Rumsfeld's minkies were talking about was delivery of infantry in armoured vehicles. NATO commanders can be excused for that failing since what they got, in terms of Afghanistan's development and stability, was not what was advertized.

When the alliance initially took over the mission, NATO commanders said they would create a new strategy for dealing with the Taliban by establishing bases rather than chasing militants. The alliance also said it would seek to win the hearts and minds of the locals by creating secure zones for development and reconstruction to improve standards of living.

But for now, those goals exist largely on paper, and NATO commanders expressed surprise to learn that before their arrival, no development had begun in the region, despite statements from the US administration that it was satisfied so far with Afghanistan's development. (emphasis mine)
The fault rests with NATO commanders for believing anything the Bush administration offered on the state of Afghanistan. And, now, NATO is doing what the US was doing - chasing militants.

If there is anything about the deployment of the Leopards which is disturbing it is the dishonesty surrounding the release of information. Rumours have been swirling since late May. As little as three weeks ago DND was denying that the tanks were going to Afghanistan.

Now, suddenly the whole thing is true. The information was let out after 4 pm Ottawa time on a Friday. Ask any reporter why a government waits until then to release bad news. Not that it matters. When confronted with the question three weeks ago, DND lied about it.

Claiming "security" won't withstand a good washing. The arrival of MBTs on the battlefield of Afghanistan would have been no secret from the Taliban, and given the time it will take to get them there, even if the USAF airlifts them, the Taliban will have time to look up the soft spots on a Canadian Leopard tank.

The only possible reason for keeping the deployment of a heavy armoured force to Afghanistan a secret is that Harper's people know very well it would sit heavily with the Canadian public.

Of course, the whole thing is being minimized with the assurance that the Leopards will be used only as escorts for Canadian supply convoys.

The Leopards will be used for escort duty for Canadian convoys, which have continually come under attack by the Taliban, government sources said. In addition, some soldiers have suggested the presence of tanks would make insurgents think twice about attacking Canadian convoys.
No question, Canadian convoys are in need of greater protection and, perhaps an insurgent force might think twice about attacking a convoy escorted by a squadron of Leopards. Or, they might not.

In any case, given the fact that we have yet to encounter the truth over the Afghanistan mission and recently the deployment of tanks, there is no reason whatsoever to believe the "government sources" quoted. They've lied continually and they're lying now.

The Leopards are being sent to Afghanistan for direct fire missions.

It's all well and good for a "government source" to detail how a resource will be used, but once those tanks are there they become an asset of the force commander to use however he sees fit. Unless Harper or O'Connor intend to control the armoured corps in Afghanistan from their desks in Ottawa, once deployed they can be used in any capacity. Any field commander would find the availability of a high pressure gun against an enemy entrenched in a village hard to resist.

It would be impossible to believe this move hasn't been in the works for some time. NATO doesn't operate in a vacuum. The request for this force was issued a long time ago. And with that, future projects were put on hold or cancelled. The CF, in a deficit budget position now, cannot afford to engage in an escalated conflict and pay for the systems they actually wanted.

And, while there are elements out there making a mess in their underwear as they cheer this move on, it should be remembered that this is not the mission Canada signed on to. You can call it anything you like: mission creep or escalation.

Whatever it is, it's time the government came clean on Afghanistan and clearly define the mission.

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