KABUL, (Reuters) – The United States is sending battle tanks to Afghanistan next month for the first time in the drawn-out war against Taliban-led insurgents, the U.S. military and NATO-led forces said on Friday
A company of 14 M1A1 Abrams tanks and about 115 Marines is set to deploy in Helmand province in Afghanistan’s southwest, long a Taliban stronghold, an official with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said.
The 68-ton tanks will give Afghan and U.S.-led forces more firepower and manoeuvrability while helping limit civilian casualties, the official said. The Abrams’ optics will also help in finding Taliban strong points and disrupting night-time placement of homemade bombs, a key guerrilla weapon.
The battleground up until now has not allowed the deployment of tanks in any numbers because of the mountainous terrain, as well as the patchwork of small farmland enclosed by irrigation ditches and mud walls in the south.
The wider expanse of desert west of Helmand is more suitable for tanks. ISAF has also been trying to keep the deployment low-key.
The Washington Post newspaper earlier said General David Petraeus, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, approved the deployment last month.
Canadian and Danish troops have also used tanks in southern Afghanistan.
The Abrams tank, designed to fight Soviet forces during the Cold War, carries a crew of four. Its main armament is a 120mm gun and its top speed is 67 kph (42 mph), according to the U.S. Army website.
According to Global Security, a defence website, the Abrams’ 1,500 horsepower engine uses a gallon of fuel every 0.6 mile (3.8 litres/km). A single tank takes 10 minutes to refuel.