The Marine Corps has confirmed it will be using one of the most powerful weapons on the planet to try and defeat insurgents in Helmand Province. M1A1 Abrams tanks will start arriving in the region next month and should be fully operational by next spring. This willl be the first time the tanks will be used since the war in Afghanistan began nine years ago.
“The superior optics provided by the tanks give us one more tool to take away the night from the enemy,” said Camp Pendleton based MajGen Richard Mills in a statement released Friday. “He can’t use the darkness to lay his IED’s that cause so many casualties among our forces and the civilian population.” Mills in charge of NATO Regional Command (RC) Southwest, which covers both Helmand and Nimroz provinces.
The announcement comes as Camp Pendleton Marines are tangled in a bitter fight in the Sangin District in northern Helmand Province, an area pinpointed as a major route being used by the Taliban to smuggle drugs and money being used to fund IED factories and weapons for insurgent fighters.
More than a dozen members of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment have been killed since October 8th. The majority of those deaths were caused by IED blasts.
The heavy losses have prompted some critics to question whether coalition forces are losing ground in Afghanistan. MajGen Mills worked to battle perception that calling in highly sophisticated, heavily armed tanks were a last ditch effort to regain control. “Tanks are hardly a weapon of desperation but simply another tool to wage COIN (Counter-Insurgency)in an effective way that will save Afghan and Coalition lives,” Mills said.
RC-Southwest Spokeswoman Major Gabrielle Chapin says the M1A1 can cover much more ground than M-RAPs or M-ATVs. “The tracked capability of the tanks will allow for a swift mobile force that can close off escape routes, deter, disrupt or pursue insurgent forces in terrain that might otherwise be unmanageable,” Chapin said.
Marines used tanks to support infantry units as part of the counter-insurgency strategy in Iraq’s Al-Anbar Province.