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Canada in Afghanistan – Allied Armour in Southern Afghanistan  –  April 2009

An Overview of  Denmark's Afghan Deployment of Leopard  Tanks.
Canadian Forces Helped. Why no Government/DND News Release?

KN B.B. Hundevad, Eskadronchef 2/I/JDR  Centaur 1/2008  [ edited for brevity ]

This article is an overview of the Danish deployment of Leopard 2A5 DK tanks to Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan. The article was written by Kaptajn Bjarne B. Hundevad, Squadron Chief of 2 ESK (the Danish Army's Second Tank Squadron). The deployment was accomplished with the aid of  both  the CF's Task Force Afghanistan and  Canadian tankers.

Kn Hundevad's overview is not significant to Canadian readers for the details of the Danish deployment per se,  interesting though they may be. Rather  it  is the relative openness with which the Danish military is willing and able to discuss its overseas operations and engage- ments with Denmark's citizens. Then contrast this with the Canadian government approach.

Generally, DND cites 'Op Sec' as its reason for not revealing what is being done in the name of Canadian citizens overseas. Operational security is important. By why do we learn of the services rendered by Canadian tankers to their comrades-in-arms in a  Danish press release. Maybe the answer is simple. The Danish government and its military regard the Taliban as the threat. With information, citizens become partners in that fight. They are not the enemy.

Denmark's 2 ESK  (Second Tank Squadron) has now deployed to Helmand and seen action. In March 2007,  the squadron and  the Hærens Kampskole (HKS, the Combat School ) completed a joint Fact-Finding mission in Helmand to clarify details for a possible deploy- ment. This FF mission also gave the team a chance to talk with Canadian tank crews.  The Canadians deployed  their Leopard C2s in November of 2006 and were [at the time of writing ] busy upgrading to the new Leopard 2A6M CAN.

On 28 Sept 2007,  2 ESK was authorized to begin preparations for deployment (although the political decision had yet to be made).  During this time,  the squadron and  HKS / KVGSEK (kampvognssektion)  co-operated closely to solve any problems arising from ready-making.

Preparations in Denmark

When formed,  2 ESK was made part of  NATO Response Force 10.  NRF 10 proved  to be a good training ground for preparing the ESK for Afghanistan. An emphasis on co-operation between infantry and tank units, combined resources of small elements, and an international environment at  NRF 10 all resembled ISAF in many respects. As a result of  experience with NRF 10,  the ESK was able to glide directly into DANCON/ISAF (Danish Contingent/ISAF).

As part of  NRF 10,  the ESK had to demonstrate that Danish tanks could operate in hot / dry climate zones. In 2006,  Leopard 2A5 DKs were tested  in Spain. The tests gave 2 ESK's mechanics and  tank crews a direct experience of how desert conditions affect everything from filters to clothing and liquid intakes. As a result, the ESK was prepared for the climatic challenges that would  later be encountered in southern Afghanistan.

Danish tanks operate in groups of  three Leopards accompanied by a fourth vehicle, for the 2 ESK, this "4'er vogn" is a PMV M113G3 [ the M113 G3 DK is the equivalent to a CF TLAV M113A3, the M113 G3 DK, Lang  is the equivalent to the CF MTVL ]. It is hoped that, in the future, the PMV M113G3s will replace all wheeled  'fourth vehicles'  in other tank squadrons.

The preparations in Afghanistan

The March 2007 Fact-Finding mission to Afghanistan had clarified a number of  conditions that had to be in place to be able to deploy. Of incredible assistance was the Canadian Task Force Kandahar  (TF CA)  and,  not least, the Canadian  [ LdSH (RC) ]  tank squadron itself.

Everything is difficult in Afghanistan.  Just finding a firing range or practice ground is not simple. But our man from HKS, with the help of the Canadians, got a chance to have an advanced look at locations where we could do practice firing. The actual practice firing we could complete independently. But nothing's safe in the south of Afghanistan when outside of the wire.

If  threats had arisen during our practice firing , we could draw on the QRF [ Quick Reaction Force] of  the Canadian Task Force  Tactical Operational Center  (TOC) as a readiness force. As it was, things went smoothly. Thanks to the assistance of the Canadian TF, our practice firing began only two days after the final Leopard 2A5 landed at Kandahar Air Field (KAF). Tanks (KVG), armoured personnel carrier (PMV) and recovery vehicle (BJVG) were all ready for insertion. Then we waited with diminishing patience for the UK to okay the deployment.

The Remaining Part of the Leopard 2A5 DK Deployment in Southern Afghanistan

The British Army was to lead and escort our column of  Danish Leopards to Camp Bastion in Helmand Province. The Flyvevåbnet [ Danish Air Force ]  had already flown most of  the units shipping containers into Camp Bastion. Other supplies would be driven in along with the tanks  (moved by both British and Danish trucks)  in a column that  totalled  96 vehicles.

The leader of our column was a British Major. There were both Mastiff and light Landrovers along as escort. Moving equipment on Highway 1 is a Brigade task with the UK Task Force being responsible. All who have driven Hwy 1 can tell of the danger. A great percentage of transports on Hwy 1 had been hit by ambushes or Improvised Explosive Devices (IED). We were prepared  for what would become the serious task to drive from KAF to Camp Bastion.

The British suggested that the tanks be separated into two teams (one element at the column's front, the other bringing up the rear).  Safeguarding  the column was the goal  but we preferred to keep the Leopards together as a manoeuvre element.  This was anticipating communication problems arising should we need to coordinate directly with British infantry units.  It was agreed that our KVGDEL would be placed  at the front of  the column.

With the size of our column as a consideration, the British decided that we had to complete our journey quickly, with a dawn start.  This appeared to be a good decision.  There were a number of indications of possible ambushes but none materialised. This may have been due to the heavy escort element or that other assets (like UAVs) had been assigned. As it was, the only difficulties that our column encountered was from vehicles that broke down on the road and then had to be towed the rest of the way to Camp Bastion.

The Leopards withstood the trip in fine style, no tanks having any operating problems nor running out of  fuel. On the journey, Leopard crews took one rest stop of  only 10 minutes. The greatest problem was really with the heavy transporters loaded with containers. These had to drive fairly slowly on those portions of the highway where the paving was not good.

The only damages suffered were a leaky fuel tank on the recovery vehicle [a Leopard 1-based ARV, called Wisent in Danish service  –  equivalent to the CF's Badger.  Like Danish tanks, the ISAF Wisent is swathed in 'Barracuda' thermal mat camouflage]. The ARV problem occurred just before leaving KAF. A PMV also suffered from lubricant leaking about 30km from Camp Bastion. The tankers were very glad to rest their aching backs at  Camp Bastion after more than 15 hours in their seats.


After their early Sunday morning arrival at Camp Bastion, the KVGDET slept and, after this, took a couple of days off from maintenance. Among other things, the ARV's leaky fuel tank had to be changed, plus making a quick trip to the firing range to polish our shooting skills.

The headquarters company was not used to handling tank spare parts, so that a fair amount of instructions and support was required. Our maintenance facilities came up to standard mostly because of the dedicated mechanics and good preparation. With our final prep finished, it was time for the support staff to return to Denmark and  let the KVGDEL do its work. The tanks were to join MEKINFKMP [ the Mekaniserede Infanterikompagni or Mechanized  Infantry Company ] out at the Forward Operation Base (FOB) Sandford [in the Upper Geresk Valley].


From Day 1 of the KVGDEL insertion, the Taliban did not know what had turned up at FOB Sandford. At first, they thought that the Leopard was a tractor of some kind. Subsequently, the tanks were reported as escort vehicles [ confusing Leopard 2A5s with tracked PMVs ].

Many KVGDEL experiences reported  home are identical  with what we had learned from the Canadians. The Taliban is afraid of tanks and avoids giving battle if they can. The Taliban tries to mine the obvious routes and combat positions. As a result, a great deal of resources and time must be expended on proofing routes and prepared positions for potential threats. Without mechanical mine clearing materials available, the search is performed by engineers.

KVGDEL has fired rounds in the field and its results are good. The tank crews express great satisfaction with the High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) rounds. The turret and main gun are very satisfactory, supporting the results of domestic tests. The tank crews and infantry are satisfied with the direct fire capability, not  least because strike aircraft are not always avail- able or distances are too close for safety. In one example, the Taliban fired a recoilless gun at friendly forces. A Leopard tank destroyed this threat with one shot at a distance of more than 1500 meters. In the tanks' latest action in support of  British and Danish infantry units, some 20 HEAT rounds were fired, with the gain of complete dominance over the battlefield.

Details of individual actions are for tankers to report, but the general effect is obvious. The tanks end any contact, sometimes with accurate direct fire, sometimes simply by being there. The tanks' thermal sights are battle-winners, giving a superior overview of the battlefield. The tank is well-made and suitable for the terrain that is found in the area. And they provide supporting fire at long distances.


The Leopard tanks have managed well in the terrain on both east and west of  the Helmand River. Wear and tear on the running gear has been reasonable even though it is a merciless country. Thus far, the pull on our extensive stores of Leopard store has not been excessive.

A weak point is the Wisent Armored Recovery Vehicle. This Leopard 1-based ARV has some upgrades but cannot pull a heavier Leopard 2A5 - especially not in hilly terrain. Despite being unable to tow a Leo 2, the ARV remains indispensable for 'unsticking' other vehicles.  This recovery vehicle's crane is also a necessity for engine pulls and lifting of other heavy components during maintenance of  the deployed Leopards.

With very high activity levels in Afghanistan – the tanks are on operations daily – a fourth Leopard must be kept in reserve. This downtime on the fourth tank allows mechanics to do check-ups. Until now check-ups haven't been limiting operations. But it's useful to compare check-up rates on these international operations where the tanks' work load is much higher.


The Leopard 2A5 DK  is a robust and  accurate  weapons system. It's not that such vehicles cannot be knocked out. But Leopard 2A5s have yet to suffer any serious damage in Afghanistan. Moreover, these tanks add firepower and have boosted ISAF morale. The Taliban is terrified by the tanks. Our largest threat is from mines and  IEDs. There is an urgent need to counter these threats – and not only for the tanks. An adequate ARV is also urgently needed. The Wisent is undersized and cannot perform many of its major tasks. A replacement is required.

The Danish Leopard 2A5 DK tanks cannot win the war in Afghanistan, but these weapons systems have added a vitally necessary fire support strength to ISAF in Helmand Province.

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