An C-17 Globemaster III and its crew delivered the first of 17 M1A1 Abrams tanks to military forces in Afghanistan on Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 25), marking the first time U.S.-owned tanks have deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
The tanks were requested by Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Richard P. Mills, commander of Afghanistan's Regional Command-Southwest, according to a Department of Defense release. The RC--Southwest region lends itself to armored operations with wide open areas and none of the mountainous terrain that characterizes Regional Command-East and the northern portions of Regional Command-South.
Officials emphasized that the movement of the M1A1s to Afghanistan does not represent an escalation of the conflict there.
"We're conducting full-spectrum combat operations today, we'll be doing it tomorrow, we'll be doing it next month," said Marine Col. Dave Lapan, a Department of Defense spokesperson. "Until the Afghan security forces are ready to take over lead for security ... we will continue to do combat operations to defeat the enemy."
"Whether we use tanks, or infantry on the ground," Colonel Lapan continued, "these are all tactics we use to defeat the enemy."
The term Abrams applies to a family of armored tanks used by U.S. Army and Marine Corps personnel for ground operations. The M1A1 variant includes a 120 mm main gun, carries a crew of four, and weighs approximately 68 tons, according to an Army fact sheet.
Deploying the tanks is accomplished by a combination of sealift and airlift assets. The tanks and associated equipment are taken by ship for the majority of the trip around the world, and airlifted the last portion of their journey into land-locked Afghanistan by Air Force C-17s.
All of the airlift missions for the deployment are planned, tasked and command-and-controlled by the 618th Air and Space Operations Center's Theater Direct Delivery division at Scott Air Force Base, Ill. As Eighteenth Air Force's hub for global operations, the 618th AOC plans, schedules and directs a fleet of nearly 1,300 mobility aircraft in support of strategic airlift, air refueling, and aeromedical evacuation operations around the world.
The 618th AOC has been the lead for centralized control of AMC airlift, air refueling and aeromedical evacuation operations worldwide since its activation April 1, 1992. That coordination in recent years has included hundreds of thousands of point-to-point flights, called sorties, in support of overseas operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In fact, AMC aircrews flying 618th AOC-managed missions have flown more than 115 thousand sorties in 2010 alone, which includes transportation of more than 1.9 million passengers and 785 thousand tons of cargo in support of global operations.
"Our deployed C-17 forces are ideal for this type of movement," said Lt. Col. Doug Edwards, chief of the 618th AOC's Theater Direct Delivery division. "Over the past quarter alone, TDD missions moved an average of 1,800 passengers and 550 tons of cargo daily for Operations Enduring Freedom and New Dawn. Moving the tanks is another way the Theater Direct Delivery community can impact the fight and support troops on the ground."
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