- The Washington Times - Friday, November 19, 2010

The Pentagon’s decision to deploy heavily armored battle tanks to Afghanistan is being hailed as a step in the right direction by military and civilian advisers in that war.

Retired Gen. Jack Keane, who recently participated in an assessment of the situation for the commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus, welcomed news of the deployment.

“Many of us had been scratching our heads over why [the tanks] hadn’t been sent before, given the success we enjoyed with them during the counterinsurgency in Iraq,” Gen. Keane said at a discussion at the Institute for the Study of War on Friday.

A company of 14 M1A1 Abrams tanks along with 115 Marines to crew them will be deployed to southwest Afghanistan in December.

Gen. Keane said the tanks had been effective in Iraqi cities, especially when coupled with ground troops.

“I think the commanders recognized that a tank accompanied by infantry is a formidable weapons system,” Gen. Keane said, adding, “You can compel other people’s will just by its presence. … And it also provides protection for our troops.”

The Washington Post first reported the Pentagon’s decision to deploy the tanks on Friday.

Gen. Keane said the Afghan Taliban does not as yet have adequate firepower to defeat the heavily armored tanks.

Max Boot, an adviser to U.S. commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan, said the decision by Gen. Petraeus to send tanks to Afghanistan “blows a big hole in one of the myths of population-centric counterinsurgency.”

“Successful counterinsurgency combines attempts to reach out to the population with very hard-headed kinetic action to capture and kill insurgents,” Mr. Boot said, adding this is precisely the strategy being deployed by Gen. Petraeus.

According to Western officials who closely follow developments in Afghanistan, a surge of U.S. troops is beginning to produce results.

One of the officials, who discussed developments on the condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to speak to the press, said it is becoming evident that the Taliban are “increasingly on the back foot.”

However, an Afghan official, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the matter, cautioned that this could be a “tactical move” on the part of the Taliban who may be biding time until coalition troops start to withdraw.

“The Taliban know they have time on their side,” the Afghan official said.

Despite efforts by the Obama administration to undo damage caused by its announcement of a July 2011 date to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, officials and analysts say it has had a deleterious effect on Afghan morale.

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