Thursday, July 29, 2010

Insurgent Stinger MANPADS in Afghanistan

The keys news, in last week's WikiLeaks "bombshell" exposé, that Taliban insurgents armed with shoulder-fired heat-seeking missiles have raised that stakes in Afghanistan, wasn't actually surprising. What's interesting to me is the supply origins of the missiles, for example, whether these were in fact the "Stinger" missiles the U.S. introduced against the Soviet Army in the late-1970s? Don't know for sure, although the Times of London reported last fall that Iran was shipping SA-14 Gremlins to the Taliban to help defeat allied forces in the region. Despite this, MSM press outlets are going wild with stories on the threat. See CNN for example, "Shoulder-fired missiles a threat to US troops in Afghanistan." The piece indicates that the threat could be from old Stingers supplied to the mujaheddin: "Perhaps the best known and most effective MANPADs are American-made Stingers, which the United States supplied to Afghan militia to fight the Soviets."

In any case, check the front-pager at today's Los Angeles Times (FWIW), "
Reference to missile-downed helicopter in leaked Afghanistan reports highlights a threat."

Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan, and Washington — Wherever there are Western troops in Afghanistan, the clatter-thump of helicopter rotors serves as the soundtrack. Choppers are the workhorses of this war, with hundreds of them moving soldiers and supplies daily across a rugged landscape.

Because of the NATO force's heavy reliance on them, one of the most eye-catching revelations in a trove of classified documents posted on the Internet this week was that insurgents apparently used a portable heat-seeking surface-to-air missile to shoot down a twin-rotor CH-47 Chinook in Helmand province in May 2007, killing seven Western service members.

If the Taliban and other insurgent groups possessed large numbers of these weapons, it could dramatically alter the dynamics of a war effort that already is struggling. Shoulder-launched missiles downed scores of Soviet helicopters in the 1980s, helping ragtag Afghan rebels prevail against a vastly superior force.

Most experts believe that the antiaircraft threat currently posed by the insurgents is relatively limited, and that they don't have significant stocks of surface-to-air missiles, at least for now.

The shooting down of choppers remains a relative rarity in the Afghan conflict, and heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades are almost always found to have been used.

"After nine years, if they had a lot of them, we would have seen them by now," said a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the subject on the record. Sporadic reports of attacks with surface-to-air missiles have often turned out to involve other weapons, the official said.

But portable surface-to-air missiles can be procured from many illicit sources in the region. Afghanistan's neighbors include Iran, Pakistan and China. NATO said this month that an intercepted memo from Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar suggested that the insurgents were redoubling efforts to obtain a variety of sophisticated armaments.

"It's wartime, and our warriors are searching for new weapons," said Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid, reached by telephone.
So that pretty much answers the question. Insurgent forces are simply shopping the global arms bazaar, and no doubt rogue regimes from Damascus to Tehran and beyond are all too willing to pump up the supply as the arc of terror stretches to South Asia. I guess the irony is lost on America's antiwar foes, but all of this demonstrates that American interest in AfPAK are as large as ever. (And the media's going to hype the threat, despite expert analysis to the contrary: "Stop Panicking About the Stingers.")

More Dems oppose new war funding."

U.S. Military Scrutinizes Leaks for Risks to Afghans."