America Could Send Another 170 M-1 Tanks to Islamic Sta—I Mean, Iraq
More fodder for Baghdad’s beleaguered armored brigades
The U.S. State Department has notified Congress that it wants to sell 170 M-1A1 main battle tanks plus tank-recovery vehicles, guns and ammo to Iraq for $2.4 billion.
The Defense Security Cooperation Agency passed along the notification on Dec. 19. Congress will have to approve the deal before any weapons change hands.
The proposed sale is likely to be more controversial than most arms deals, which lawmakers usually swiftly approve in order for American manufacturers and their supporters to benefit financially.
That’s because the United States has already sold 140 M-1s to Iraq—only for Iraqi troops to abandon many of the high-tech armored vehicles during fighting with Islamic State militants starting early this year.
As early as June, militants had damaged 28 of Iraq’s M-1s. In five engagements, the Islamists managed to penetrate an Abram’s armor with an anti-tank missile, according to Jane’s, a military analysis firm.
The militants captured at least one M-1 more or less intact in Ramadi in October, as seen in the video below. There were unconfirmed reports that the militants also seized additional M-1s earlier in 2014.
The banner photo at top—provided by the Associated Press—depicts an Iraqi M-1 in Ramadi in February.
Now, it’s highly unlikely Islamic State possesses the expertise to operate the computerized M-1. We can also assume the militants aren’t holding any meaningful quantity of the JP-8 jet fuel that powers the sophisticated vehicle. Regardless, it certainly doesn’t benefit Washington for militants to get their hands on American tanks.
Likewise, it’s not totally clear that the Iraqis can make good use of the M-1s. “Iraq will use the M-1A1 Abrams tanks to facilitate progress towards increasing its ability to quickly mobilize and defend its border,” the Defense Security Cooperation Agency stated.
In theory, yes. But in practice, Baghdad’s army—like many Middle East militaries—tends to use tanks as crew-served weapons, assigning them in small numbers to static defensive positions.
Deployed like that, the tanks are surely confidence-inspiring to the infantry manning the positions, but in reality an unmoving tank is little better than a machine gun. Its bulk and poor visibility detract from its firepower.
Tanks are more effective in groups, moving quickly to punch holes in enemy defenses and rush through the gaps. The Iraqi army increasingly operates like a lightly-armed militia, rendering tanks progressively less useful in its slow, chaotic infantry assaults.
In any event, Congress will probably approve the sale, if for no other reason than to improve General Dynamics Land Systems’ balance sheet. But don’t expect the tanks to make much of a difference in the war on Islamic State.
And do expect some of the new vehicles to wind up as trophies in militants’ propaganda videos.