Taliban can expect to be shaken up by city's Lord Strathcona Horse
A new, younger tank squadron from the Edmonton Garrison will soon be in charge of the biggest guns in Afghanistan.
Eighty-two members of Lord Strathcona's Horse C squadron will operate Canada's 35 Leopard tanks from now through October.
It is a less experienced squadron, with only 24 personnel with previous tour experience, a total of 62 deployments. The last squadron had 260 previous deployments. Thirty-five members of the squadron have less than three years experience.
Maj. John Cochrane will lead and isn't bothered by the youth of his squadron.
"There's no doubt in my mind the guys are ready to go," he says. "There are a lot more junior guys coming in. They bring a lot of enthusiasm."
Cochrane hopes the natural flow of the army -- the old teach the young and the young inspire the old -- balances the lack of experience.
Canadian tanks have been in Afghanistan since 2007 and a Lord Strathcona's Horse squadron has been with them each day. When one leaves, another arrives.
Roughly 35 tanks are waiting for them. Some are Leopard 1 C2s and others are the newer-model Leopard 2A6M.
The latter are 20 tonnes heavier and are better armoured.
Cochrane and his men say the newer machines can hit multiple targets faster, and fire more effectively as they move backwards.
Also, there are inches of extra room inside, and each one counts. The four-person crews are unbelievably cramped.
Gunners slither a claustrophobic trail through armoured walls and shells to their seats, and there is no room to move once they are strapped in.
Gunners have to manoeuvre their helmeted heads through a maze of equipment to reach the lenses that are their eyes on the outside. Gunners tell stories of being repeatedly kneed in the back of the head if the soldier seated behind them is tall.
Recent tours have taught that nothing makes a first impression in Afghanistan like a tank. The 61-tonne heavyweights have no match when it comes to deterrence.
A Leopard tank can shoot a target up to four kilometres away, while infantry vehicles have a rough range of 2,200 metres. Waist-high rounds can travel 1.5 kilometres in a second.
Maj. Chris Adams, who returned from an Afghanistan tour in the fall of 2008, said the vehicles inspire fear. "The Taliban are not afraid of Light Armoured Vehicles. They are very reluctant to go head-to-head with tanks. Most of the time, they run at the sight of them. Our biggest threat is what's in the ground."
That threat would be from improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. The homemade bombs, the favoured weapon of the Taliban and main killer of Canadian soldiers, are capable of blowing treads off tanks and injuring those inside.
"You can always build a bigger bomb," Cochrane says. "These tanks have certainly saved lives in theatre, but there's nothing out there that's indestructible."
First impressions can also be counterproductive when it comes to telling Afghan citizens from armed insurgents. Tanks rolling into a village can trigger unpleasant memories of Soviet armoured vehicles in the 1980s.
A better plan, Adams says, is to show a face before a gun. "We stop short and send a smaller platoon."
Tanks leave paths of destruction, sometimes through fields and rivers when soldiers need to make their own roads through rough terrain. Soldiers then have to stop and pay compensation to locals, although there is no payment for damaged opium-poppy fields.
The current unit has been preparing for the deployment since June 2008. They will be overseas for six to seven months, with a possible extension depending on the Afghanistan election, which has already been postponed once.