Using tanks to win hearts and minds

Brian Smallshaw

So now that Canada has decided to spend $159 million to send 15 of our Leopard tanks to Afghanistan, we find out they can't be used in summer. Wow. Am I the only one that thinks this is just completely nutty?

They're talking about camouflage tarps and water-cooled suits to try and make them bearable for the tank crews inside. Gordon O'Connor has assured me that the $159 million will cover the cost of bringing the tanks back to Canada after the mission is completed, if the tanks are still around. He hasn't said whether this will cover the cost of tarps and ice-water suits.

And if this idiocy wasn't enough, now they are talking about buying more tanks to send to Afghanistan. Of course, if they're going to pursue this militaristic strategy for subduing the Taliban, there is a certain logic to it. If you are going to be hunting down the 'scumbags' in the mountains of Kandahar and you're using anything less than a tank, some of our people are going be killed or maimed by bombs buried in the roads. When support for the war back home is already kind of shaky, having people losing arms and legs is really bad for morale. And if you want to blast through mud walls and drive through farmer's fields, a tank is just the thing.

The trouble is, it's no way to win hearts and minds. Maybe it's just me, but I know if somebody showed up at the end of my driveway in a tank, unless it was clear they were offering tank rides for the kids, I might not consider it a friendly gesture. A tank is a perfect way of saying you should be feared - and are fearful.

Steve's recent announcement of $200 million in reconstruction and humanitarian aid shows that even he kind of understands what's going to be necessary. But you can't be bombing villages and shooting civilians and expect to win people over. We'd be much better off by following some of our other NATO allies, like the Dutch who've taken a more cautious, gentle approach and concentrated their efforts on providing aid and getting to understand the local culture. By contrast, when I called Ottawa last fall to find out how many of our people, Canadians, spoke the local language in Kandahar, not only did they not know, they didn't know WHAT language it was that they spoke in Kandahar. How much real intelligence to they expect to gather by rolling into a village in a tank and asking through a local-hire translator if there are any Taliban around?

The Green Party has a better idea. Canada should be taking its traditional role of peacekeeper, and concentrating our efforts on humanitarian aid and reconstruction. Our troops should be used to protect aid workers, not chasing Taliban through the mountains of Kandahar. This war can't be won with tanks and $159 million builds a lot of schools.