The State Department has approved sending more U.S.-made Abrams tanks to Iraq to help the government there fight Islamic militants.
The agency on Friday announced it "made a determination approving a possible" sale to the country of as many as 175 additional M1A1 tanks made by General Dynamics Corp. and other equipment. Congress was notified of the proposal, which could be worth as much as $2.4 billion.
The Iraqi government will use the tracked vehicles "to facilitate progress towards increasing its ability to mobilize and defend its border," states a release from the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which overseas so-called foreign military sales. "Iraq will have no difficulty absorbing this equipment into its armed forces."
The question, however, is not whether the government of Iraq but rather militants affiliated with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, an al-Qaeda-inspired extremist group that has overtaken large areas of both countries, will have trouble commandeering the weaponry.
Extremists with ISIS, also known as ISIL -- and, if Arab allies have their way, "Daeshi," a derogatory term for bigots who try to impose their will on others -- reportedly destroyed or damaged many pieces of U.S.-made hardware as they conquered military bases in Iraq.
That reportedly includes roughly a third of the 140 Abrams tanks the U.S. already delivered to Iraq. What's more, ISIS militants were seen driving around AM General LLC-made Humvees owned by the Iraqi military, among other combat vehicles. Today, Iraqi forces only have about 40 usable tanks, according to Foreign Policy.
The Iraqi tanks are not the same as those in the U.S. Army inventory, as James Dunnigan of StrategyPage.com notes:
Iraq received newly built tanks, largely equipped to the "SA" (Situational Awareness") standard the U.S. Army developed in 2006. The M1A1-SA includes the latest thermal (FLIR, or heat sensing) sights, a special engine air filter system developed to deal with the abundant sand and dust in Iraq, the telephone on the rear fender, which allows accompanying infantry to communicate with the crew, and numerous small improvements.The State Department also on Friday approved a similar but separate deal with Iraq valued at almost $600 million for 1,000 armored Humvees and assorted weapons and equipment.
There are several items that American M1s have the Iraqi SA tanks did not get. The Iraqi M1A1s had no depleted uranium armor, no ERA (Explosive Reactive Armor), and no additional protection against anti-tank missiles. Also missing was Blue Force Tracker (a U.S. satellite tracking system that shows the location of all American vehicles and aircraft in the vicinity).
U.S. military vehicles coming back from Afghanistan are reportedly being detoured to a depot in Kuwait in preparation for use in a possible offensive against the Islamic State, according to an article by Paul Shinkman of U.S. News and World Report. The facility now houses some 3,100 vehicles, mostly mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, or MRAPs, he reported.
Meanwhile, the new defense spending bill includes $120 million for tanks that the Army has repeatedly said it doesn't want.