Canada in Afghanistan – Allied Armour in Southern Afghanistan
– April 2009
An Overview of Denmark's Afghan Deployment of
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
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
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
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
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.