AFGHAN ARMY WANTS CANADIAN LEOPARDS BY DAVID PUGLIESE OTTAWA CITIZEN

Canada may supply Afghan military with Leopard tanks, says U.S. General.

 

By David Pugliese

Ottawa Citizen

 

May 21, 2007

 

KABUL, Afghanistan — Canada is in discussions with NATO to provide Afghanistan’s fledgling army with Leopard tanks so it can better fight insurgents.

 

Military officials say future plans call for the Afghan National Army (ANA) to switch from its Soviet-designed equipment to gear that is more compatible with the NATO nations fighting in this south Asia country. Defence sources here confirm that Canada is interested in supplying some of its older Leopard tanks to the Afghans and initial discussions have begun on that potential deal.

 

NATO nations would be expected to donate equipment to the ANA.

 

U.S. Army Maj.-Gen. Robert Durbin, who heads the effort to help develop Afghanistan’s army and police forces, said any move to supply the tanks would be handled through NATO. “So we’ve had some interesting discussions,” said Durbin. “Canada is one nation. You’ve got Germany. Even New Zealand has Leopards.”

 

Asked whether plans could involve the Canadian Forces turning over the Leopard tanks it already uses in Kandahar to the Afghan army, Durbin responded, “that might be one option that could make sense.”

 

The general added, however, that he would not be involved in such a decision.

 

The Canadian Forces shipped 17 Leopard tanks to Kandahar in the fall of 2006 after troops requested more firepower to use against insurgents. The Conservative government recently announced it would lease more modern Leopards for the Afghanistan mission from Germany. It will also buy 100 Leopard 2s at a cost of $1.3 billion. That price tag includes a 20-year maintenance and upgrade deal.

 

Some Canadian soldiers who have worked with the Afghan army in operations against insurgents said the plan to provide the ANA with more modern NATO-type equipment makes sense.

 

Warrant Officer Chuck Graham said such a move would make it easier for coalition forces to resupply Afghan troops as everyone would be using the same equipment. He said although the Afghans are natural warriors, one of the main challenges is shaping them into a professional army.

 

Graham also predicted it might be sometime before the ANA was ready to switch from Russian-designed to NATO tanks. “As far as going from the (Russian) T62 to the Leopard, I think that’s a ways down the road,” he said.

 

Afghanistan is in the process of beefing up its army and police force. The Afghan army is expected to have around 70,000 personnel and 82,000 police by 2008.

 

Afghanistan’s defence ministry is also working on fielding an air corps made up of 150 to 200 helicopters and planes. Future plans call for the Afghans to play more of a role in leading the fight against the Taliban and other insurgents.

 

“The Afghans want to do this,” explained Durbin. “They want to stand up on their own two feet. They want to take the lead.”

 

The Afghan army is also creating six new commando battalions of about 650 soldiers each. The battalions would be given the best equipment and most advanced training. The men, most of them combat veterans, have been specially recruited for the units.

 

Durbin said the Afghan army would decide where the commandos would be used but he suggested that it is most likely they would be sent to southern part of the country where insurgents are the most active. All six battalions would be in place by the end of 2008.

 

That could provide some relief for Canadian and other NATO troops, he suggested. “So maybe (in the) spring 2009 you’re going to see an even more significant ability of the Afghan national security forces to stand on their own two feet and take on this fight,” Durbin said. “That would be a timeframe where maybe we can have the flexibility to make some strategic decisions about how much of a footprint NATO would be comfortable having in Afghanistan.”

 

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said the Canadian mission in Afghanistan ends in 2009. But officers here doubt the Conservative government will walk away completely from Afghanistan since Canada has sacrificed too many soldiers and spent billions of dollars on the mission.

 

They expect the government to further extend the mission but it is not clear how many troops that would involve.

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One Response to “AFGHAN ARMY WANTS CANADIAN LEOPARDS BY DAVID PUGLIESE OTTAWA CITIZEN”

  1. Wayne Melgaard Says:

    New Zealand does not have Leopards it was Australia

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