Washington: In another sign of escalation of war against the Taliban, the US is sending heavily armoured M1 Abrams main battle tanks to Afghanistan to step up attacks on insurgents, a media report said on Friday.
The sophisticated tanks will be fielded by the Marines in Afghanistan. It will allow ground forces to target insurgents from a greater distance - and with more of a lethal punch - than is possible from any other US military vehicle, the Washington Post said.
The United States is deploying a company of M1 Abrams tanks, the daily added. The initial deployment calls for about 16 tanks, which are propelled by a jet engine and equipped with a 120mm main gun that can destroy a house more than a mile away.
A US officer familiar with the decision said the tanks will be used initially in parts of northern Helmand province, where the Marines have been engaged in intense combat against resilient Taliban cells that typically are armed with assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and homemade bombs.
The overall number and area of operations could expand depending on needs, an un-named US official was quoted as saying. The official said the deployment of tanks will provide the Marines with an important new tool in missions to flush out pockets of insurgent fighters.
"A tank round is far more accurate than firing artillery, and it can be launched much faster than having to wait for a fighter jet or a helicopter to shoot a missile or drop a satellite-guided bomb," it said.
"Tanks give you immediate, protected firepower and mobility to address a threat that`s beyond the range" of machine guns that are mounted on the mine-resistant trucks that most US troops use in Afghanistan, David Johnson, a senior researcher at the Rand Corp who co-wrote a recent paper on the use of tanks in counterinsurgency operations, was quoted as saying.
According to The Post, the earlier request for tanks was shot down by the Army General David D McKiernan, in part because of concern it could remind Afghans of the tank-heavy Soviet occupation in the 1980s.
General David Petraeus, Commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, approved the request of tanks from the Marines last month.
Petraeus believes “counterinsurgency does not mean just handing out sacks of wheat seed," said a senior officer in Afghanistan.
Counterinsurgency "doesn`t mean you don`t blow up stuff or kill people who need to be killed”.