Recently it was announced that the USMC is deploying an armor company to Afghanistan. This has caused somewhat of a stir amongst those who are following the trends of the Global War On Terror (or The Long War if you prefer). The reaction in and of itself surprised me as tons of folks have decided to provide all sorts of analysis on exactly what all of this means.
Let me share with you my thoughts on the matter. Since I just spent a year over in the lovely Islamic Republic training the Afghan National Security Forces from squad all the way through corps-level, I figure I have some perspective.
First off, the tanks do not symbolize an escalation or represent some sort of “surge.” Considering it’s only a company (that’s fourteen tanks) we’re not exactly gearing up for Barbarossa. The tanks do offer some very distinct advantages in terms of survivability and firepower–something that the MRAPs and other armored vehicles currently over there lack. They can, and will, provide an edge as an infantry-support platform for marines executing “kinetic” operations.
Second, this does not signify that we are going down the same road that the Soviets did. Frankly, anyone who has done any reading on Soviet tactics in Afghanistan will quickly realize that the army of the USSR was a steaming pile of shit. They were poorly equipped and even more poorly trained. Their officers were embarrassingly inept, and their NCO corps was a joke. American ROTC cadets would never have made the tactical blunders that Soviet officers routinely made. The Soviets seemed to rarely grasp concepts such as reconnaissance or security… it was graduate-level stuff for them. In fairness to the crowd that sees us making the same mistakes as the Russians, the comparisons are like apples and oranges. We have definitely screwed up the COIN fight in Afghanistan, but we’ve done it in our own unique American way.
Third, some are claiming that this is an indictment of McChrystal’s failed policies and that Petraeus is shaking things up and snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Okay, let’s be clear–McChrystal’s policies and plans were sound. His problem was that he and his staff were utterly incapable of translating those plans into actions at the tactical level. McChrystal was a failure because he didn’t know what was really happening on the ground, and couldn’t (or wouldn’t) get his subordinate commanders to comply with the developed campaign plans.
Fourth, I keep seeing the armchair generals waxing eloquent on how we should be deploying the MGS (Stryker wheeled-tank thingee) instead of the M1 tank. Well, the marines don’t have those gizmos in their inventory for starters (it’s a toy that the army jealously guards). And in reality the MGS is a horrific abortion on wheels. The Strykers in general are too heavy, too costly, maintenance intensive, too big, and poorly armored. The MGS is all of that and more. The marines wanted tanks–so they sent some.
The bottom line is that the M1 tank is just a tool and the marines are sending a few to fill a niche. If that’s what they think they need then they are probably right. Now, until the first US military units start deploying tactical nukes or releasing the Rage Virus into the water supply, we should all just sit back, take a deep breath, and fight the urge to scream at the top of our lungs and shit our pants.
That is all.