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Canada in Afghanistan – Allied Armour in Southern Afghanistan  –  January 2008

Danish  Leopard  tanks in supporting action in Helmand Province:
Can Open Government be measured by a Military Press Release?

Stephen Priestley,  Researcher,  Canadian  American  Strategic  Review  (CASR)

The Danish military has released an account of  an engagement with the Taliban in Helmand Province which involved British and Danish infantry as well as Danish Leopard 2A5 DK tanks. This was a minor engagement but it was well-run and successful from ISAF’s point of view. The Taliban were not able to successfully close with either of  two infantry units and  finally  exposed themselves  to direct  tank fire.

Successful as it was, it is not the action of our allies that is noteworthy. Rather it is the way in which  the events were reported upon.  Without  giving away any sensitive  information, the Danish military gives a simple, blow-by-blow account of  the engagement. The report is written in ‘plain Danish’ making it  readily understandable to any interested  Danish citizen.

This report was released  (with illustrations)  within one week of  the clash.  The author is a Danish military press officer but  he manages to avoid  Canadian-style  positive spin  along with  the excessive “operational security” concerns which obsess CF public affairs officers. When explaining  Canadian  involvement  in Afghanistan, rarely is anything said so plainly.

The Danish approach provides a model for successfully communicating with the citizenry. The Danish military and government face the same public-relations challenges that we do. However, the Danes see no gains in presenting a hostile front  to the very citizenry whose approval they need. Instead, citizens are shown respect  by presenting them with available information. The Danes keep PAffO spin to a bare minimum and require no “Tiger Teams”.

As the Danish military emphasized from the outset, “... the tanks are to ... push the Taliban out the area. Until that happens, it isn’t possible to rebuild these areas”. Their goal is clear: defeat the Taliban, then proceed with reconstruction.  No ‘blur function’ has been applied.

[ Our edited translation of  the 14 Jan 2008 press release appears below. The original press release in Danish, Kampvognene for alvor i ilden, can be found on the Forsvaret website.]
Danish Tanks in Serious Fire-Fight in Afghanistan

14-01-2008 hrs. 10:57
Christian Reinhold, press officer

On January 5th, three Danish tanks supporting the British Army against the Taliban proved their value. Danish infantry also came under fire.

A British Company (Map 1)  under the Danish-led  Battle Group Centre, advanced along the east side of the Helmand river. The British came under fire from small arms and RPGs [rocket propelled grenades]. Danish forces were positioned on the west side of the river to prevent any Taliban on that side from joining in the attack on the British. The Danish units were a platoon of  mechanized  infantry (Map 2) and  the crews of  three Leopard tanks. (Map 3)

However, the Danish mechanized infantry, themselves, came under hostile fire from Taliban positions on the western side of the Helmand River. The Taliban used local compounds to provide some cover for their advance. The Danish infantry successfully blocked a frontal attack by the Taliban and the enemy tried to disengage and flank the Danish unit (a manoeuvre used repeatedly by the Taliban which, if not stopped, can leave ISAF defenders in serious danger).

This time, however, Danish tanks were emplaced on high ground on the edge of  the desert. From these overwatch positions,  Danish tank crews could see down into the “Green Zone” along the river’s edges.  When the Taliban tried to move into positions among abandoned compounds to engage the Danish infantry, the enemy were in plain view of Danish tankers.

Taken by surprise by the tanks

It was a clear mistake by the Taliban not to consider the tanks up above the Green Zone. With a great deal of machinegun fire and 20 rounds fired from the guns, the Danish Leopard tank crews engaged the Taliban both out  in open terrain and  when the enemy forces took cover in compounds. In this situation, the tanks’ supporting  fire was a big help to the Danish infantry.

Easier reconstruction

By engaging the Taliban on either side of  the river,  the Danish and British ground forces reduced  the need for air support.  Tank fire, which is frightenly accurate, pentetrates walls but usually does not level a mud-brick compound the way large bombs dropped by aircraft can. This makes reconstruction in the area  far easier once the Taliban have been removed.

Calm in the area

After the riverside clash, there has been very  little  hostile  activity  in  the  area. This may be due  to the extreme cold  in Helmand at present.  But  it  may also be that  the enemy suffered great losses as a  result  of  precision shooting  by  the Danish  Leopard  tank gunners.  At any rate, cooperation between the tanks and infantry is seen  to be vital  in  the fight against  the Taliban  in the Green Zone.

Hærens Operative Kommando

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