Cdn. troops to get new tanks in Afghanistan
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Thursday, April 12, 2007 10:12PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, May 18, 2012 6:03PM EDT
In an effort to bolster resistance against Taliban forces in southern Afghanistan, Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor announced a two-part plan that will provide soldiers with new tanks by this summer.
O'Connor said the Canadian government will purchase 100 Leopard A6M tanks from the Netherlands, which will replace the 17 aging Leopard C2s currently being used.
"Our Leopard One fleet is almost 30 years old and we are one of the last two countries in the world to use them," O'Connor said on Thursday during a press conference in Quebec City.
The tanks are slated to arrive in Canada by the fall of 2007.
As CTV first reported six months ago, Ottawa has also opted to buy second hand. The defence minister announced a new deal with Germany to lease 20 Leopard A6M tanks which will arrive in Afghanistan as early as summer 2007 to help strengthen efforts against an expected Taliban spring resurgence.
"They'll be able to take on any tank in the world," O'Connor said later in an appearance on CTV's Mike Duffy Live.
He said the new tanks will offer soldiers stronger firing capabilities, faster land speeds and more armour to protect against roadside bombs.
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"These tanks are going to have much heavier armour protection against mines. ... The engines are much more powerful so they can move a lot quicker across country -- perhaps twice as fast as the Leopard One," he said.
The defence minister said the acquisition of the 100 tanks, the leasing of the 20 Leopard A6Ms, training and logistics support over five years will cost a total of $650 million.
Chief of Defence Staff General Rick Hillier said the tanks are necessary in order for our troops to respond to the changing tactics of an adaptive enemy "who occasionally can have success -- as unfortunately they did this past week." Indeed, it was a bloody week for Canadians in Afghanistan, after eight soldiers were killed in attacks -- the most ever in a single week since the mission started in 2002.
O'Connor said on Mike Duffly Live that the announcement of more tanks doesn't mean the government is planning to extend the troop commitment in Afghanistan beyond Feb. 2009.
"Two-thousand-and-nine still holds," said O'Connor, "and somewhere in 2008 the cabinet will have to discuss what we're doing, if anything, beyond that.
"The tank purchase doesn't affect this."
Liberal defence critic Denis Coderre said the purchase of the new equipment sends a "clear message that we will remain there after February 2009."
On Mike Duffy Live, Coderre called the mission "noble, and we are supportive of that mission." But he added that Canada still is not doing enough in terms of aid, development and diplomacy.
NDP defence critic Dawn Black said Canadians should be concerned over the "clear escalation" of our involvement in the war effort in Afghanistan.
"It clearly shows an escalation of what the government's doing with this misguided mission in Afghanistan -- an escalation with tanks and an escalation in a loss of human lives," Black said on Mike Duffy Live.
Some defence analysts are skeptical. "We're in an arms race now with the insurgents, and we're not winning," said Steven Staples, director of the Rideau Institute in Ottawa and author of "Missile Defence: Round 1."
"The events of the last week show they're able to adjust their weaponry to overcome whatever armour we deploy."
The 100 tanks purchased from the Netherlands are expected to arrive in Canada by late August or early September.
"They have been well maintained because the Netherlands planned to sell them. They are in very good condition," O'Connor said.
The tanks will be refurbished -- the work will be contracted out to a Canadian company -- and 20 of the upgraded tanks will be sent immediately to Afghanistan to replace the leased German Leopard A6M's.
CTV's Paul Workman has reported on the incredible heat endured by personnel inside the aging Leopard tanks, which are not equipped with air conditioning.
O'Connor confirmed today that both the leased German tanks and the 100 tanks purchased from the Netherlands will be equipped with air cooling systems.
NATO is in the midst of Operation Achilles, a spring offensive meant to pre-empt an expected Taliban campaign. Insurgent attacks are typically stepped up after winter snows melt and mountain passes reopen, allowing militants to travel more freely.
Six Canadians were killed and a seventh was seriously wounded on Sunday when a roadside bomb was detonated. Two more were killed on Wednesday by another roadside bomb.
Eight NATO leaders met in Quebec City on Thursday to discuss how to better coordinate their efforts in Afghanistan.
The U.S. has extended its presence in Afghanistan at least until the end of the summer, while Poland and Australia have committed more troops to southern areas of the country, which is believed to be enough to carry NATO forces through the hazardous summer months.
For months, the U.S. and NATO have called on other member nations to make a greater contribution to the campaign.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates repeated the call on Thursday, saying NATO commanders have asked for thousands of more police and Army trainers in Afghanistan.
"NATO has asked for about 3,400 training positions, and quite frankly, we're having trouble," Gates said after meeting with O'Connor and other defence ministers from countries with troops in Afghanistan's southern region.
O'Connor has also urged countries to remove caveats on their soldiers so they can participate in the heavy fighting in the south.
The U.S., U.K. and Canada have handled most of the actual combat operations against the Taliban.
On Mike Duffy Live, O'Connor denied earlier reports that Gates was also calling on Canada to ramp up its military commitment in Afghanistan.
"He didn't bring that up in our meeting today," said O'Connor. "We had representation from eight countries today that are fighting in the south, and he didn't bring that up to us. So maybe in has somebody else in mind. ... We're really pulling our weight.
With files from The Associated Press