Stinger missiles in Afghanistan

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    SUMMARY: The alleged performance of STINGER missiles in Afghanistan in the 1980s was grossly exaggerated. By comparing the number of STINGERs provided to the Afghans with the number of aircraft downed, the impossibility of the accepted claims about effectiveness is shown. The success rate of the STINGERs against all aircraft is calculated to have been, at best, in the 20% range. Even after the STINGERs arrived in Afghanistan, the majority of aircraft continued to be downed by less sophisticated weapons, and the maximum total number of aircraft that may have been downed by STINGERs is calculated as 150 over three years, with the actual number most likely less than that. A well documented chronology of events shows that the STINGERs did not initiate, or increase the rate of, the decline in air attacks against the Afghan Resistance in the latter years of the war. Logical analysis refutes the idea that the relatively small military and economic costs that resulted from the STINGERs had any significant influence on the course of the war, or on the Soviets’ decision to withdraw from Afghanistan which evidence indicates had been made before the deployment of the STINGERs..



    In the late 1980s, among the Americans who had been involved in the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, I was virtually alone in my effort to refute the almost universally accepted propaganda claims about the supposedly decisive role of the STINGER missiles provided to the Afghan Mujahideen. The following analysis was originally written in 1989.

    In response to my proposal of such an article, David Saw, then editor of the magazine Military Technology (published by the Mönch Group of Germany, with editorial offices in Britain), commissioned me to write it for Military Technology, though as part of the deal I was pressured into also writing some other articles for other magazines produced by the same publisher, on subjects which I had no particular interest or quantitative data of the sort I did in relation to the STINGERs. I completed the articles, and submitted the "STINGER in Afghanistan" article in the summer of 1989, closely following what I had set forth and outlined in my original proposal, and meeting the guidelines/ requirements that had been given me. The article was accompanied by several very good quality 35mm transparencies of Soviet and DRA helicopters in operation in Afghanistan in 1987 and 1988, taken by Jim Emery, an American journalist who was one of the few to accurately and objectively report on the war. The photos, some showing helicopters at tree-top level searching for signs of resistance activities, contradicted the claims that the STINGERs had "cleared the skies". Although the helicopters were avoiding the most vulnerable mid-altitudes, some of the photos showed them at distances at which they would have been vulnerable even to RPG rounds, graphically refuting the claims that after the arrival of the STINGERs, helicopters flew only at very high altitudes and avoided any situations where they would have been within range. After not hearing from the editor over the next six months, and not seeing the article appear in the magazine, I began inquiring about its status, but got absolutely no response. Events in my life pushed the matter to the background through much of 1990, during which time Saw was replaced as editor. Then at the beginning of 1991, I moved to Britain to begin work on my doctoral degree in London, and contacted the Military Technology editorial office, where the new editor eventually conceded that, there was a record of the fact that I had been commissioned to write the article, and that it had been logged in as having been received, but that it, and the accompanying photos, seemed to have been "lost" during the changes in editorial staff. I then offered to send a copy of the article and obtain copies of the same or similar photos to go with it, and requested that the magazine honor its end of the commissioning agreement by either running the article and paying me for it, or declining to run it and paying me a "kill fee" as is customary in cases where a commissioned article, can not, for whatever reason, be run. The new editor refused to discuss that contractual obligation the magazine had to me, and only offered to consider for publication any future work I might wish to submit. With my needing to concentrate on my doctoral research work, I didn’t consider it worthwhile to try to pursue the matter in an unfamiliar court system in a different part of the country. I was never able to determine if the failure to run the article was due to editorial incompetence, sloth, and/or internal turmoil which are commonly encountered in the magazine publishing business, or whether my article had been commissioned at the behest of some third party entity which wanted to see the full details of my analysis while making sure a wider audience did not, with the departure of the editor involved leaving his replacement reluctant to take money from his current budget to satisfy an obligation not incurred by him, for an article that was never intended to be published.

    At that same time, however, the first Gulf War was underway. In its aftermath, it became obvious that a similar exaggeration of effectiveness had taken place in relation to the PATRIOT missile system, which finally caused the more intellectually honest analysts to accept the evidence I presented that something similar had indeed gone on in relation to the STINGERs in Afghanistan where the truth was easier to conceal. So, while I never attempted to have the article published elsewhere, my analysis and conclusions on this subject have circulated among the few scholars and military analysts who have wanted to understand what truly took place in Afghanistan, and who thus made the effort to seek me out and personally inquire about those events and the role of the STINGER missiles.

    I am making this version available on the web to help counter some of the great historical distortions that have been, and continue to be, perpetrated on scholars, military analysts, and the general public. The article below is essentially that written in 1989, with a few updates and additions of information, the adjustment of time references and grammatical tense to reflect the passing of almost two decades, and the removal of some material discussing such weapons in their more general military context that is less relevant now in light of technological advances and new military hardware.


    Leonard Leshuk, 1989

    The image of Afghan resistance fighters shouldering STINGER missiles and shooting down Soviet aircraft became an icon of the latter years of the Cold War era. The shoulder-fired, heat-seeking STINGER was the state-of-the-art Man Portable Air Defense System (MANPADS) at the time, and it did shoot down a number of Soviet aircraft in Afghanistan. The claims related to its use against the Soviets in Afghanistan thus became deeply ingrained in Western military thinking about close air defense. However, its use and effects in that war need to be critically examined.

    STINGER missiles were provided to the Afghan resistance forces in a manner which made it impossible for US personnel to observe the weapons' performance in a direct or coherent manner. Yet, most Western analysts accepted reports concerning the STINGERs without questioning the often implausible, and sometimes impossible, claims coming out of a war well known for generating confused, exaggerated, and frequently totally false stories. The accuracy of many of the news stories concerning STINGER missiles can be judged from the fact that the missiles' alleged effectiveness in use against Soviet aircraft in Afghanistan began being reported in detail at least six months before the time the weapons first arrived in the field. These "phantom" STINGERs were usually presented as evidence of strong US support for the Mujahideen, and their imagined performance hailed as a triumph of Western technology over Soviet brute strength. One report though, went equally far in the opposite direction. A story in a major US newspaper months before the weapons actually arrived in Afghanistan, claimed that 18 of 18 STINGERs fired there failed to down their targets; apparently a merging of premature reporting of the arrival of STINGERs with garbled accounts of defective SA-7 shoulder-fired missiles. Ironically, the article was accompanied by a note that the author, a well known journalist and commentator, was writing a book on intelligence analysis.

    Analyzing the Reports and Numbers

    Once the STINGERs did arrive in late September 1986, most accounts claimed that 70% or 80% were downing their targets, or, slightly less optimistically, that there were"1.5 missiles fired per aircraft downed". In early 1987 it was claimed that the STINGERs had been downing aircraft at rates of "one a day", "over one a day", or "1.2 per day".US government officials were often quoted as the source of these numbers, and the information was said to be confirmed by Western observers. A few reports did mention that other sources estimated the weapons' effectiveness to be considerably less, e.g."closer to 40%", and some of the same sources which originally presented the very high figures subsequently conceded that the effectiveness had to be "well below 50%". Its now known that during the first 6 - 7 months, only about 20 STINGERS per month were sent into Afghanistan -- making a prolonged rate of more than one aircraft downed per day impossible during that period even if every one had hit and critically damaged an aircraft.

    Regardless of the percentages or numbers claimed, there was a curious common factor in the reports; they never mentioned aircraft hit/damaged but not "downed" by STINGERs, even though less-than-lethal hits had been frequently observed with BLOWPIPE and SA-7 missiles. Although the better fuse and warhead system of the STINGER made it more likely that aircraft hit would be damaged to the point they could no longer remain airborne, it was extremely unlikely to have been 100% of them. An explanation may be found by analyzing how "kills" were "confirmed".When a militarily and technically knowledgeable Australian independently helping the Afghans carefully questioned a British journalist about his reporting of an early "confirmed kill", something much less definite emerged from his account. His supposed confirmation of the "kill" had consisted of seeing a STINGER missile fired at a helicopter at a range of over 3000 meters (approximately 2 miles), observing detonation (at that range the point of detonation and any damage done was impossible to determine), and then watching the helicopter, trailing some smoke, make a controlled descent behind a ridge line. No crash was heard or felt, no attempt was made to get to a position even within sight of where the helicopter or wreckage was assumed to be, nor was any smoke seen rising above the ridge. While one can only speculate on the fate of that particular helicopter, it is relatively certain that slightly damaged and undamaged aircraft which quickly took cover behind terrain features when fired upon, but which continued flying, were among those counted as "kills" even by Western observers. The British journalist just mentioned was one of the more honest and knowledgeable members of that profession there. The majority were seeking to create the most sensational, and thus salable, stories, and thus willing to distort or misrepresent the reality, with some even found to have faked combat footage. An American video journalists who played a major role in creating the image of the war seen on the television news in the US was an especially disreputable sort; an ex-convict with a long record of lying and swindling before he began working for CBS.(1)

    Western intelligence agency estimates of yearly combined Soviet/Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA) aircraft loses had reached 70 - 100 as early as 1983 -- the reality probably being at the low end of that range at most. At that time, the resistance forces had small arms, 12.7mm and 14.5mm heavy machine guns (HMGs), RPG shoulder-fired anti-tank rockets (sometimes used to good effect against low-flying helicopters), and a very limited number of (frequently defective) SA-7 missiles. During 1985, the last full year before the arrival of the STINGER missiles, the same sources estimated 150-200 aircraft were downed. The increase was due to more HMGs, especially 14.5mm ZPU-1s, in the hands of the resistance, and an increase in air operations by the communist forces. The number of aircraft downed "by all causes" in 1986 and in 1987 (the first full year STINGERs were in use) were estimated by Western intelligence agencies to be 150 - 200 each year. Resistance sources confirmed that a large percentage, most likely the majority, of aircraft shot down continued to be downed by HMG fire even after the arrival of the STINGERs. In 1988 the estimate of the number of aircraft downed dropped to less than 50. In 1986 and thereafter, the Mujahideen also had better quality SA-7 missiles. Between the arrival of STINGERs in late 1986, and the departure of Soviet combat forces from Afghanistan, it has been claimed that approximately 200 aircraft were downed by SA-7, BLOWPIPE(2), and STINGER missiles (that number seems too high to fit within the overall aircraft losses during those years, and no documentary or other convincing evidence has been show to support that number, but it will used as a starting figure for calculations), with the STINGERs accounting for 70% - 80% of those; i.e. about 150 attributed to the STINGERs. Although no one knows for certain how many STINGERs were fired in combat against Soviet/DRA aircraft, 800 is a reasonable estimate that would reconcile with what is known about those delivered and those bought back or otherwise located after the war, and provides a number with which to work. If the high estimate of aircraft downed by SAMs is accepted, that would mean somewhere in the range of 20% of the STINGERs fired were successful in taking down their targets. If more than 800 STINGERs were fired, and/or the number of aircraft downed was lower, then the success rate would be proportionately lower. If fewer than 800 STINGERs were fired, and the high estimate of aircraft downed is accurate, it could push the success rate up to perhaps 25%-30%, but would further weaken the claims about the wide distribution and use of the missiles.

    The Decline in Soviet Air Attacks

    The arrival of the STINGERs appeared to have coincided with a dramatic reduction in Soviet air operations preceding the Soviet withdrawal. Most journalists, many Western analysts of Soviet military affairs, and even a former US National Security Advisor, immediately jumped to the conclusion that it was a cause and effect relationship. It was thus said that the STINGERs "neutralized Soviet air power", "turned the tide of the war", "cleared the skies over Afghanistan" and "caused the Soviets to withdraw". Although these claims were being stated in less absolute terms by 1989, and other weapons, supplied even later, were sometimes mentioned as possible co-factors, the idea of significant strategic impact persisted. In the decades since the Soviets’ departure from Afghanistan the myth of the STINGERs having "won the war" persisted, and in some quarters even grew. The facts and the chronology of events clearly refute those claims and ideas.

    In 1985, 1986, and 1987 this writer was director of a US funded project which established and supplied medical facilities throughout the resistance controlled areas of Afghanistan. Soviet/DRA military activities, including air attacks, were seen escalating through the summer and fall of 1985. Early in 1986 though, reports from the medical and support personnel working under me in that project indicated a dramatic decrease in air attacks in almost all areas of Afghanistan. This wide-spread, overall decrease was accompanied by observations of some increase in localized attacks on a few supply route choke-points and strategic resistance strongholds. Given the consistency in these reports from personnel of known reliability working at 30 facilities in geographically, ethnically, politically, and militarily diverse areas, and who had traveled between those facilities and Peshawar, Pakistan, they formed a convincing body of data in themselves. Those reports were later confirmed, and the decline quantified, by much more comprehensive data gathered in the most extensive and controlled survey ever done in the country during the war.(3) In 1987, the highly experienced and respected Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, which conducted the largest educational/agricultural/medical aid program in Resistance-held territories, sent trained and supervised teams into all areas of the country to conduct a survey of the agricultural situation. As part of that survey they gathered data about air attacks which had taken place during the years of the war. Bombing and rocketing of villages and farms peaked in 1985 (approx. 53% of those questioned reported such attacks for that year) and began declining dramatically in 1986. The decline continued at virtually the same rate through both 1986 (approx. 38% reporting such attacks) and 1987 (approx. 22% reporting such attacks). With the first few STINGERs deployed, primarily in the border areas, in late 1986, and a much larger number deployed all across the country during 1987, there should have been only a small decline in 1986 and a much greater one in 1987, if the STINGERs had been the initiating and/or major cause of the decline. Obviously, as the earlier reports told, the decline began six to eight months before the arrival of the STINGERs; before the final approval had been given in the US Congress to supply them to the Mujahideen. In fact, since the Swedish Committee data were gathered before the end of 1987 (i.e. not all bombings that year had yet taken place), it is likely that the rate of decline for 1987 was actually less than in 1986. This is not to say that the STINGERs had no effect on Soviet air operations, but rather, that their influence was not significant on the rate of the decline in air operations which had started long before their arrival.

    By early 1986 the Soviets were clearly moving towards a pullout from Afghanistan, and by mid-year had announced the first withdrawal of troops (albeit, largely illusionary), which took place later that year. To maintain bargaining power in the Geneva peace negotiations, they did not make a public commitment to total withdrawal until early in 1988. However, in late 1986 and early 1987, high level US State Department officials in Pakistan were saying with great certainty in private, that the Soviets would definitely be leaving Afghanistan "...but not in 1987". It therefore appears that the Soviet decision to withdraw, along with a general timetable, had been known to US officials either before the first STINGERs reached Afghanistan, or at the very latest, before they had been used in any significant numbers.

    The Number of STINGERs Provided

    The quantity of STINGERs said to have been provided has tended to grow in media reports over the years since the war -- perhaps to make the claims of their having a major impact more plausible. The number generally accepted in the late 1980s was 1000. Various sources have since reported 2000, 2500, and even as high as 3000, However, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, both the UN and the US Government’s Congressional Research Service, in discussing the problem of the STINGERs believed to remain unused in Afghanistan, were using 1000 as their number for the total provided to the Afghans. One UN report on the subject contended that 550-700 of those 1000 were unaccounted for(4), though that probably included many that had been fired in combat but could not be absolutely confirmed as such, while most other sources used numbers in the 200- 300 for those which remained unaccounted for at that time. Although 1000 remains the most credible and best documented number, it is plausible that it may have been as high as 1500, but how many STINGERs actually reached the Afghans is another question, with some possibly being diverted to other, truly covert, CIA operations, others being retained by the Pakistani military for their own use, and yet others siphoned off by corrupt CIA or Pakistani personnel involved, and sold on the black market for personal profit .

    Putting the Soviet Losses in Perspective

    Postwar calculations of the aircraft losses deal almost exclusively with the aircraft of the Soviet military, with numbers for Democratic Republic of Afghanistan aircraft being elusive. Serious attempts to document the numbers have generally come up with slightly less than 350 Soviet helicopters, and less than 150 Soviet fixed-wing aircraft, lost due to all causes during the entire war. The resulting figure of less than 500, if matched by a similar losses by the DRA, would fit approximately with the more conservative end of the yearly estimates of aircraft losses for the combined forces made during the war. In any event, given the distribution patterns and schedules over more than two years, deployment of 1000, or even 1500, STINGER missiles could hardly have "cleared the skies" of a country of 637,397 sq. km. In many cases, regional commanders operating over many thousands of square kilometers of strategic territory, received only two or three launcher units, and five or six missiles at a time.

    Additional perspective on the numbers involved can be gained by comparison to the numbers of aircraft the US lost in Vietnam. US aircraft of all types downed in Vietnam numbered in the 8500 - 14,000 range. Officially, only 4857 helicopters were "lost". However, as many as 5000 more were substantially destroyed, but as long as the section on which the aircraft’s number was painted could be retrieved, the fiction was maintained that the crashed helicopter had only been damaged and had been sent back to be repaired/rebuilt in the US, even if all that had been recovered and incorporated into the new helicopter was a couple of square feet of the old one’s aluminum skin bearing its number. Before the arrival of the STINGERs, Western intelligence sources calculated that 700 - 1000 Soviets/DRA aircraft had been downed (with the low end of that estimate now seeming to have been closest to the actual number). Even if the 1000 STINGERs provided had been as effective as the most optimistic projections and reports, they could have raised the total to only a small fraction of the number of US aircraft lost in Vietnam. Additionally, official figures attribute over 4600 of the US aircraft losses (including the majority of helicopter losses) in Vietnam to accidents - over 20 times as many aircraft as the Soviets/DRA forces are estimated to have lost to STINGER missiles. Thus, had the Soviets merely been lured into carrying out more air operations in the last years of their occupation of Afghanistan, it is likely they would have lost as many, or more, additional aircraft to accidents as they did to STINGER missiles.

    Effects on Resistance Military Activities

    The STINGERs did give the resistance forces some increased operational capabilities. They allowed the Mujahideen to extend the range of air defense over and around their bases. The Mujahideen units which received STINGERs were able to provide themselves with better air defense when transporting supplies and conducting raids. Despite these advances, the STINGERs did not significantly enhance the Mujahideen's offensive capabilities. No Soviet-manned bases, nor any air bases, were taken between delivery of the STINGERs and the Soviet withdrawal. Despite the continual belief by most Western analysts all through the war that the Afghan communist forces could not last more than a few weeks at most if the Soviets withdrew, the Mujahideen required many months to take even the cities and air bases closest to their own bases along the Pakistan border. And it was only after the defection of one of the top communist officers and the large force under his command that the fighting turned decisively in favor of the Mujahideen. Anecdotal reports, such as from the 1989 offensive against Jalalabad, indicated that the Mujahideen experienced frequent attacks by DRA aircraft despite the presence of many STINGERs on the ground.

    The Soviet Reaction

    Some changes were made in Soviet air tactics after the arrival of the STINGERs, but to say that the Soviets were severely restricted in their air operations would be a gross exaggeration. As early as 1983, knowledgeable observers had reported aircraft operating more cautiously in many areas in response to the presence of SA-7s and the Mujahideen's increased understanding of aircraft vulnerabilities. At that time, infrared countermeasures such as flare dispensers, exhaust heat diffusers, and IR jammers, which had been incorporated into the designs of newer aircraft, were retro-fitted onto older models. Tactics such as higher altitude bombing, stand-off attacks, and nap-of-earth flying were used to avoid both SAMs and HMG fire. But by late 1984, Soviet/DRA aircraft, making use of countermeasures, were reported to have lowered their minimum attack altitudes back to pre-1983 levels. The initial reaction to the introduction of the STINGERs in 1986 didn’t involve any more radical change in operations. The Mi-8 helicopters, which had previously been used extensively as weapons platforms, were largely relegated to the transport role for which they had originally been designed.(5) Other helicopters and fixed wing aircraft began to adhere more closely to standard combat flight procedures, and became more cautious as the Soviet withdrawal became imminent. Even then, Afghans and Westerners encountered numerous helicopters, including the more vulnerable Mi-8s, operating much as before in many areas of the country in 1987, 1988, and 1989. The introduction of 30 new MIG-27s to Shindand air base in western Afghanistan late in 1988 indicated that the Soviets did not feel that these very expensive aircraft were especially vulnerable to STINGERs. After the arrival of the first STINGERs, and again after the second, larger, consignment arrived, the Soviets actually increased the frequency of their air raids on resistance bases across the border in Pakistan; clearly not retreating in fear of the STINGERs, even though one Soviet MIG was downed by a STINGER during such a raid. An American journalist who traveled with the Mujahideen in Afghanistan in 1987 and 1988 observed and photographed Soviet helicopters at very close range -- a couple even passing and hovering over villages at altitudes at which they literally could have been hit by stones fired from slingshots. He observed that although the Soviets were exercising increased caution, especially in areas where there were major concentrations of resistance fighters, and thus possibly SAMs, and avoiding any unnecessary exposure, their helicopters were still very much in operation. In the majority of the country, due to the limited number of such weapons supplied, it was highly unlikely that small groups of Mujahideen would have STINGERs. Thus tehre was little chance that they would be encountered anywhere other than around certain stronghold and along main transport routes.

    Stories which portrayed the STINGER as a "magic bullet" with sure lethality and the ability to change the course of the war were useful to virtually everyone involved in the US military aid program, as well as to those promoting increased STINGER acquisitions by US and other military forces. The Mujahideen, who traditionally did not need any encouragement to exaggerate their military prowess, were required to report hits to receive additional STINGERs, so they were unwilling to admit less than perfect performance. Even the Soviets, who all through the war had blamed aircraft downed by SA-7s and RPGs, or even by HMG fire, on "US supplied" or "US made" missiles, were more than willing to place blame on the STINGERs after they were deployed. With nearly everyone standing to benefit from the claims of the effectiveness of the STINGERs, there was little incentive for critical analysis among those generally consulted by the news media. It was somewhat different in the remote interior regions of Afghanistan, where some resistance fighters complained bitterly that the supposedly "covert" delivery of the STINGERs had received so much advanced publicity, and was carried out so gradually, that the Soviets had developed substantial countermeasures before the weapons ever reached those Mujahideen operating deep inside the country, thus removing any element of surprise and making the weapons even less effective than they had initially been in the areas more accessible and visible to the outside world.

    Appropriate and Inappropriate Weapons and Applications

    The facts and figures which are available clearly show that the performance of the STINGERs in Afghanistan was not as good as claimed, and, by extension, that the air defense potential of shoulder-fired SAMs in general needs to be viewed cautiously. Even if the claim that the STINGERs influenced the outcome in Afghanistan had been true, an overconfidence in, or over dependence on, these or any other weapons, based on information from a limited war in which the enemy, already planning to depart, was obviously more interested in cutting losses than in battlefield gains, could prove disastrous in an all-out conflict. It should be noted that the Soviets incorporated STINGER technology into their later shoulder-fired SAMs. Since Soviet (and now Russian) helicopters were generally built more ruggedly and their engines run approx. 150 degrees C cooler than their Western counterparts, the latter may be more vulnerable to these types of weapons.

    With expensive equipment and other assets to protect, it could be cost effective for the ground forces of a wealthy country to put enough expensive shoulder-fired SAMs into the field to provide a reasonable level of air defense. For the forces of poorer countries and for most guerrilla forces, such an allocation of limited financial resources would be impractical. Such forces need to devise cheaper, more appropriate air defenses and ways to attack and destroy the enemy's aircraft, unless they are prepared to depend on the superpowers for donations of large quantities of SAMs. However, giving STINGERs to the Mujahideen was definitely more cost effective than the bizarre US program in 1984 which provided approximately forty 20mm Oerlikon AA cannons (a weapon which weighs 1,200 pound, totally unsuitable for guerrilla forces that may be required to flee quickly into the mountains), supplied without HE ammunition or even adequate tracers, at a reported cost (by the time they were delivered to the Afghans) of $1 million each. These inappropriate and most cost-ineffective weapons were pushed on the Afghans by the CIA , via their Pakistani Intelligence arms conduit, at the insistence of US Congressman Charles Wilson who was reported to have directly or indirectly benefited personally from most such arms purchases during the war, and later was hired as a lobbyist by the arms manufacturing branch of the Israeli government.(6) There was not a single Soviet aircraft loss attributed to these cannons.

    Had SA-7s in good condition(7), with training as extensive as that given the STINGERs, been provided early in the war, they undoubtedly would have taken a significantly higher toll on Soviet aircraft. Given the unequal manner in which they were actually provided, any meaningful, quantitative comparison between SA-7s' and STINGERs' effectiveness is impossible. Similarly, had the Mujahideen received an adequate amount of training and basic, low-tech equipment, they could have carried out more effective attacks on air bases to destroy aircraft on the ground; a most sensible place for foot-borne guerrillas to engage enemy aircraft. They could have been provided with low cost, off-the-shelf weapons. One such item available at the time was a grapefruit-sized, rocket propelled explosive charge that could be launched from the end of a rifle by simply shooting a standard rifle round through it, that would have given every fighter the capability of taking out light armored vehicles and even low hovering helicopters within a few hundred yards. Afghanistan would also have been the ideal testing ground for every low tech weapon that had any possibility of being effectively used against helicopters. However, instead of encouraging or facilitating such research and development, the US military aid program did quite the opposite, quite likely because the last thing that was wanted was to give the Afghans any military self-sufficiency. Despite those disincentives, one ingenious Afghan salvaged the 57mm rockets from a helicopter rocket pod and improvised a man-portable, even if not shoulder-fired, SAM system. And before logistic difficulties and political pressures caused them to move the project to another part of the world, a couple of Westerners who were providing independent technical aid to the Mujahideen, demonstrated the viability of a very low cost, anti-helicopter/anti-light armor, rocket system built around standard, simple munitions components, that could be produced in local workshops.


    Although the numbers are imprecise and somewhat murky, comparison of the number of aircraft lost by Soviet and DRA forces with the number of STINGERs fired, no mater how far the plausible ranges are adjusted in favor of the STINGERs, shows their effectiveness could have only been a small fraction of that which was claimed. The total number of Soviet aircraft losses was relatively low, and the annual losses were realtively constant throuh the years, both before and after the STINGERs arrived. Analysis of the time line of events further supports the finding that the STINGERs did not play a decisive role.


    1. Columbia Journalism Review, "Mission:Afghanistan", Mary Williams Walsh, January/February 1990

    2.) The BLOWPIPE was a difficult weapon to use, and the Afghans were given little training with the initial supplies of them. There were reportedly some aircraft hit and possibly downed with them in the earlier years of the war. Brigadier Mohammad Yousaf of the Pakistani ISI had a low opinion of them, and in his book, Afghanistan - The Bear Trap, first published in the early 1990s, he said that he was unaware of any aircraft being downed by them in the latter years of the war. However, Yousaf was primarily interested in portraying himself as the defacto commander and sole strategist of the Afghan’s resistance effort in those last years of the war, and he generally ignored the larger portion of Mujahideen activities that took place outside his direction and control.

    3.) "The Agricultural Survey of Afghanistan", The Swedish

    Committee for Afghanistan, May 1988, Peshawar, Pakistan/

    Stockholm, Sweden. The figures concerning bombing of

    villages are those gathered from farmers who remained in

    Afghanistan. Information obtained from farmers who left as<

    refugees in 1987, and statistics for other types of

    attacks showed similar patterns.

    4.)E.g. UN General Assembly, Report of the Governmental Panel of Experts on Small Arms, 27 August 1997, "General and Complete Disarmament: Small Arms"

    A copy of the report can be found online at:


    5.) Military Technology, 8/86, "Evolution of Soviet

    Military Helicopters: from Freighters to Fighters".

    Charles O. Pflugrath.

    6.)Although Brigadier Mohammad Yousaf rather ego-centric book has to be viewed cautiously in relation to the larger events, he was in a position to assess the motivation behind the provision of the various weapons . His observations on the lack of military knowledge applicable to Afghanistan among those in the CIA, and on the profiteering on arms transactions, support what I saw and inferred was taking place. He was especially bitter both about the waste of money on the Oerlikon guns and about them being forced on the Mujahideen, straining their logistical resources. Although his editor made him take out the specific mention of the name of the US congressman who insisted on the purchase and provision of the Oerlikon guns, it is obvious that he was talking about Charles Wilson, and anyone involved with Afghanistan at the time will confirm that the Oerlikon guns were one of Wilson’s pet projects.

    Afghanistan - The Bear Trap, Mohammad Yousaf & Mark Adkin, Casemate, Havertown, PA, 1992, pp 85-90.

    7.) The SA-7 missiles provided to the Afghans in the earlier years of the war were purchased by the US from the Israelis at about 5x the going black market rate. They had been captured by the Israelis in their various wars and incursions, but since they generally controlled the skies in such conflicts and also could obtain as many US Redeye shoulder-fired misfiles as they desired, they considered the SA-7s of little or no military value. Thus, those they captured were treated roughly and stored improperly. When they were provided to the Afghans by the CIA, via Pakistani Intelligence (ISI), the Afghans received only the most minimal training in their use. As a result, a very large percentage malfunctioned, and even when they did function properly, they were often fired in circumstances and ways which gave them a low probability of successfully hitting their targets. To cover up the purchases of defective weapons from the Israelis at grossly inflated prices, the CIA circulated highly implausible stories about those missiles having been purchased from current stocks in Warsaw Pact countries, but the markings and features of the missiles themselves showed them to be those which had been provided many years earlier to Arab countries in the Middle East. I am inclined to believe Brigadier Mohammad Yousaf’s claim that he, the other ISI officials, and President Zia did not know about the purchases from, or the involvement of, the Israelis, or at least not until late in the war. Although I and a few others sensitive to such matters and knowledgeable of the situation in Washington knew that some such dealings were taking place, the full extent did not become clear until later.


    EPILOGUE, 2007:

    The STINGERs certainly did not "defeat the Soviets" or "win the war" in Afghanistan. The Mujahideen won a pyrrhic victory by not losing, and the Soviets lost by not winning in the sense of breaking the resistance and incorporating Afghanistan in the (then already disintegrating) Soviet empire. The Soviets were not defeated in a military sense of victory and loss on the battlefield, and thus definitely not by any particular weapon(s) or tactic(s). More significantly, the STINGERs, and better weapons in general, were only supplied to the Afghan Resistance after the Soviet Government, which had never committed anywhere near the number of troops the history of counter-guerilla warfare indicated would have been needed to defeat the number of resistance fighters in Afghanistan, was already moving in the direction of withdrawal. I, and a number of other observers and analysts, believe that this was intentional timing; giving the Afghans more lethal weapons when there would soon only be other Afghans to use them against. The prolonged and vicious post-withdrawal civil war helped ensure that whatever government emerged in the wake of the Soviet withdrawal would be weak -- an outcome desired both by the Soviets who did not wish a strong Afghanistan on their Central Asian border, and by the US which wanted an easily manipulated Afghan government.

    Even apart from the "high tech v. appropriate technology" argument, the fact is that while providing small numbers of high profile, expensive weapons to the Mujahideen, the US failed to ensure adequate supplies of even the most basic military gear reached the Afghans. The Mujahideen were fighting their war on the ground, yet even after the STINGERs were being provided, many of the fighters still lacked boots of any sort and were traversing the mountains in sandals and plastic shoes. Useful items of basic military gear and instructional materials which any 12 year old in the US could purchase at his local military surplus store were totally unknown to the Afghans. Militarily useful maps were not supplied. Although they had previously been available for purchase by the public in the US, early in the war the US Defense Mapping Agency stopped selling the Joint Operation Graphic maps of Afghanistan which would have been helpful in navigation and basic tactical planning even if being of limited use for tactical operations. Some detailed maps and satellite photos were made available to Pakistani Intelligence, but were not put in the hands of the Afghans. When I confronted US Congressman Charles Wilson in 1986 on the Afghans’ need for useful maps, he responded with the militarily ignorant, and very prejudicial, statement that "...The Afghans don’t need maps, they know the country like the backs of their hands. And besides, they wouldn’t know how to read maps if they had them...." In fact though, there were numerous cases in which, after taking a wrong turn, or forced from the familiar main trails by ambushes or blockades, Afghan Mujahideen had perished from heat stroke or exposure while lost in the mountains and deserts. Many of the Afghan fighters had grown up in the major cities, and thus had little familiarity with the mountainous wilderness and trackless deserts in general, much less detailed knowledge of the areas into which they fled, and operated from, when the Soviets invaded. Much time and many tactical opportunities were lost due to having to scout out unfamiliar terrain on foot, and then having to rely on crude hand-drawn maps or guidance from those who had done the scouting, when traveling or conducting operations there. Desperate for detailed maps of any sort, Mujahideen commanders from the northern areas were known to wait for days for me to stop in at a photocopy shop I patronized in the bazaar in Peshawar, Pakistan. They did so seeking copies of Soviet produced geological survey maps of their areas of operation that I had obtained in the US (technically in violation of US law which seemed to be intentionally protecting the Soviets who meanwhile could have walked into any US Geological Survey map outlet and legally purchased similar maps of any place in the US), which they had learned I sometimes recopied there and provided to the Mujahideen. Militarily knowledgeable analysts agree that had adequate supplies of basic items such as boots, maps, communications equipment, etc. been provided, they would have increased the military capabilities of the Resistance more than the small numbers of sophisticated weapons, and with far greater economic efficiency.

    There are extensions of the claims about the STINGERs which say that they, and the other weapons provided by the US to the Mujahideen, "bled the USSR dry", "caused the collapse of the USSR", and "brought about the end of the Cold War". The cost of the Soviet misadventure in Afghanistan is generally agreed to have been about US$5 billion a year, for a total of US$48 billion. In that same period, it was costing the Britain US$1 billion to $2 billion a year for troop operations in Northern Ireland to cope with the Provisional Irish Republican Army which had about 300 active fighters and another 1000 in its reserves, with the total cost of maintaining British presence and control in Northern Ireland running in the $5 billion range. The US in 2007 is spending far more, even figuring in the dramatic decline in the value of the dollar over the past two decades, on its war in Afghanistan than the $5 billion that the Soviets were spending with much a larger military force fighting a much more numerous enemy in 1987. Additionally, the Canadians are spending over US$1 billion per year (in 2007 dollars), and the British, approximately US$3 billion, to keep their approximately 2500 and 7000, respectively, troops in Afghanistan; they being just two among several other NATO nations’ forces there.

    The exposure of the even greater discrepancy between the initial propaganda concerning the PATRIOT missiles and their actual performance in the first Gulf War in 1991 caused at least a few of those who had initially been skeptical of my findings and conclusions concerning STINGERs in Afghanistan, to concede that a similar deception not only could have, but did, take place. For those who do not recall the events and story: The US PATRIOT missiles were deployed in Saudi Arabia to protect US forces, and in Israel to protect the country at large, from SCUD missiles fired by Iraq. In theory, the PATRIOTS would intercept the SCUDs, destroying them in the air, with only scattered debris falling to the ground rather than the SCUDs’ powerful explosive warheads detonating on impact. The US military began issuing reports that the PATRIOTs were intercepting SCUDs with a 100% success rate. (The US commander, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, whose press briefings on such matters earned him the nickname of "Disinformin’ Norman" not only touted the supposed 100% success rate of the PATRIOTs, but also claimed photos of attacks on such things as water tanker trucks showed SCUDs being destroyed on the ground by the US.) The deception enabled the manufacturers of the PATRIOTs to make many large sales of the weapons on the basis of their supposed flawless performance in the Gulf. When the fog of war cleared, it became obvious that many SCUDs had detonated after reaching their targets, an that the intercept rates could have had been nowhere near 100%. Ultimately it emerged that the PATRIOT missiles’ performance had been abysmal, with the only disagreement about the effectiveness of those deployed in Israel being whether they had successfully intercepted one SCUD or none at all. (Compounding the failures, when the PATRIOTs failed to intercept their SCUD targets in the air, they generally caused significant damage of their own when they hit the ground.) Those deployed in Saudi Arabia are reported to have done a bit better, but even there they were found to have had success rate of about 10%. The problem was blamed on a computer software error, and keeping the missiles’ computers on too long (apparently they were designed for wars that lasted minutes rather than days). No one was ever held accountable for having misrepresented the capabilities of the PATRIOT missiles which led to unnecessary fatalities due to over dependence on them, nor for the attempt to cover up their failure in actual use, nor was anyone held accountable for having signed off on the purchase of such ineffective weapons, even though it is known to be common practice for Pentagon officials with such authority to be less than prudently critical in return for the implicit promise of high paying jobs with the relevant arms producers after they retire from the military. However, with such lack of outrage over such more recent deceit concerning missile performance that led to the deaths of US military personnel, it became obvious that there would never be any serious official investigation of the STINGER missile deception, even though it had set the precedent.

    At that point, having had my work on the STINGERs issue validated by history repeating itself because no one had been willing to believe that such great deceptions could have taken place, I felt vindicated and pursued it no further. However, having seen the great discrepancy between the reality and the almost universally accepted claims about the STINGERs in Afghanistan, and how the most simple mathematical analysis had never been applied to the propaganda figures, did prove useful to me when, starting with my knowledge that there had been a great body of spurious but widely accepted claims about use of chemical and biological weapons in Afghanistan, I began to investigate the long history of propaganda concerning the supposed extraordinary effectiveness of such weapons. (That research, begun at the University of Pittsburgh, ultimately led to my book on the subject, A More Insidious Enemy: Exposing the dangerous lies and misinformation concerning chemical and biological weapons) Similarly, my having seen firsthand the incredible deceit, incompetence, and corruption on the part of US politicians, diplomats intelligence officials, and those in the news media carried on in the name of opposing the Soviets in Afghanistan, provided a model to use in analyzing the US intelligence operations and political policies directed at the Soviets prior to the Cold War era in my doctoral research. (My doctoral dissertation became the basis for my book, US Intelligence Perceptions of Soviet Power, 1921-1946)

    During and immediately after my involvement in the war in Afghanistan, my observations and experiences caused me to assume that the highly publicized provision of the STINGERs and other less than cost effective weapons was motivated primarily by politicians and CIA officers acting as public relations and sales staff for weapons producers who were trying to persuade the US and other governments to make large purchases of their weapons for the use of their own troops. Similarly, the relationships between the US political and intelligence personnel and the arms dealers involved in the lower tech weapons transactions, which included perks and financial links long after the aid program ended, indicated to me that those too were guided primarily by what could produce the most personal gain rather than what the best mix for the battlefield would have been. I considered a lack of desire to cause any real harm to the USSR, or to promote an independent, self-sufficient military and government structure among the Afghans that could sustain itself after the Soviets left, the secondary motivation. In the years since, in light of events and additional information, I have reversed my assessment of the order of importance of those two motives.

    When the relatively pragmatic elements of the Afghan Mujahideen, first under Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, then under Burhanuddin Rabbani and the military leadership of Ahmed Shah Massood, assumed control of the post-war Afghan government, they were largely shunned by the US because they wished to develop ties to the West through relationships with a number of countries such as Germany and France, and not become a dependent client state controlled by the US no matter how much they were offered in personal gain. When they were driven out of Kabul by the Taliban, politically influential elements in the US began to court the Taliban leadership whom they felt could be "bought". Prominent among them was Zalmay Khalilzad who had been an Under Secretary of Defense in the elder George Bush’s administration, and then taken a position with the Unocal Oil company during the Clinton years. Thus in the late 1990s when I accompanied Afghans from the United Front forces who had then been fighting the Taliban for several years, to Capitol Hill congressional offices as they requested such basic aid as military supplies and aerial intelligence photos of Taliban positions and troop movements, only to be told even by the most sympathetic congressmen that they could not expect any help from the US, Khalilzad was negotiating with the Taliban on behalf of Unocal, and defending them in Washington and the news media against accusations that they were supporting terrorism. After the younger George Bush took office, he appointed Khalilzad to the National Security Council (which did not require Senate approval), then after the invasion of Afghanistan, appointed him Special Envoy there, then later appointed him the US ambassador to Iraq. Khalilzad’s close association with leading Neo-conservatives such as Paul Wolfowitz, and his participation in drafting of the foreign policies of the younger George Bush’s administration, have convinced me that he has been part of a group which began working in the early 1980s to the ensure that only a weak government controllable by the US would emerge in postwar Afghanistan. Similarly, during the war I had been aware of, and extremely uncomfortable with, involvement of the Israelis, and that of strong supporters of the Israelis in the US (largely among those who we now recognize as Neo-cons), in both the arms transactions and in the formation of US policy for the region. As the extent and nature of that involvement has become clearer over time, I have concluded that they had a hand in influencing and manipulating the type of military aid given and the timing of its delivery.

    Meanwhile, when the Soviet Union was collapsing, the US Government had no plans ready for dealing with that event (despite, as my doctoral research uncovered, it having been pointed out repeatedly and as early as 1921 that it was critical to US national interests that such plans be made, and resources to deal with that eventuality be in place and kept ready), which would not have been the case had there actually been the intention to bring about such a collapse through the war in Afghanistan or any other means. Instead, the administration of the elder George Bush worked frantically to prop up and perpetuate the communist government in the USSR.

    Although it is impossible to know all that went on behind closed doors, the information I have pieced together points to Pakistan’s President Zia ul-Haq having figured out what the true agenda was as the Soviets started to withdraw from Afghanistan. Righteous indignation, and confidence that most of the Muslim world would support him, may have led him to openly confront the US officials involved rather than let himself continue to be used by them against his wishes. Those officials themselves were probably no more than easily manipulated dupes, or corrupt, self-serving hirelings, but would have immediately made Zia’s stand known to those who were in actual control of the agenda. Zia’s assassination in 1988 was never definitely attributed to any specific persons or entity. Whether or not such was the motive of his assassins, his death did ensure that he (along with the head of Pakistani intelligence, Gen. Akhtar, and the US ambassador to Pakistan, who were on the sabotaged plane with him) could not talk about what had taken place in the preceding years relative to the war in Afghanistan, and it removed him as an impediment to any future activities of foreign powers in Afghanistan.

    As mentioned, the US government had, until the very end of the 1990s, been unwilling to give support to those Afghans opposing the Taliban. As much as help was wanted in the fight against the Taliban by the United Front (a.k.a Northern Alliance), I can not believe that Ahmed Shah Massood would have stood by and allowed another foreign occupation of Afghanistan; something which was implicitly confirmed by Rabbani’s post-American invasion statement that the foreign troops should remain in Afghanistan no longer than six months. Massood’s assassination on September 9, 2001 cleared the way for an invasion from the north and a long term US occupation of Afghanistan, and then the events two days later on September 11, 2001 provided the US with cause to invade. That either represents incredibly poor planning and strategy on the part of the Taliban and bin Laden, or good planning on the part of some other entity. Whichever was the case, I have always found it more useful to analyze events of recent years from the perspective of the pivotal event having taken place on September 9th, rather than on September 11th.

    Although I don't think that the US invasion and occupation of Afghanistan in the way they ultimately took place was envisioned in the mid-1980s, or even the mid-1990s, I do think that it was the policy to keep whatever government came to power in Afghanistan so weak that it could be manipulated, or, failing that, forced, into doing whatever political and financial interest groups in the US wanted. Creating "fire breaks" in the Islamic world by turning strategically place countries into weak client states of the US seems to have been a goal of Israel even before the 1980s, though the extent of resistance that would require them to be made garrison states may not have been forseen. If the longer term agenda was already formulated and being implemented in the mid-1980s, as it now appears to have been, then the STINGERs provided to the Afghans had a role akin to that of the attractive, flashy, assistant to a stage magician who hands him his props and stands off to one side. Yes, she does provide some minor, though largely unnecessary, help, but she has no critical part in making the main events happen. Rather, her presence and appearance are intended mainly to distract the audience’s attention, allowing the magician’s true actions to go undetected and thus enabling him to create the desired illusions. In that case, trying to precisely quantify the performance of the STINGERs in Afghanistan would be of as little value in understanding that war, as obtaining an accurate count of the sequins on the assistant’s costume would be in understanding how a stage illusion was performed. Thus, what is important is to recognize that the "covert" provision of the STINGERs which was continually reported on the front pages of American newspapers starting long before it took place, and the claim that they gave the Afghans the ability to defeat the USSR, were part of a propaganda campaign which distracted attention from an agenda designed to ensure that the Afghans would remain militarily and politically weak.

    Unfortunately, the myth of the STINGERs having changed the course of the war in Afghanistan has been so firmly planted in the American public’s mind by the news media, picked up so widely in popular literature, and accepted by so many at all levels of the US government and military, that it will undoubtedly be one of those enduring historical inaccuracies that no amount factual information to the contrary will dispel. Thus it is likely that the myth will only be challenged and refuted in the most serious scholarly works which research the subject in depth and apply critical analysis to the propaganda claims in light of the available data.

    LETHALFORCE Moderator Moderator

    Feb 16, 2009
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    Stinger Missile :

    Stinger Missile The Silver Bullet

    During the Soviet occupation the CIA armed the mujahideen. They had a rule that no weapon in Afghanistan could be traced back to the west, so they supplied Soviet designed equipment from Egypt and China. In the mid-eighties the Soviets threatened to shut down the insurgency with aggressive and highly trained spetnaz commandos and the Hind helicopter.

    The CIA responded by arming the mujahideen with the SA-7, a shoulder fired surface-to-air-missile built by the Soviets and once used by the Vietcong. An imitation of the American Redeye, The SA-7 was a heat-seeker small enough to be carried on mule-back. Unfortunately the Soviet technology was inferior and the supply limited. The SA-7 didn't cut it.

    The British-built Blowpipe followed. Sold on the open market, it was possible to claim it was not CIA supplied. But the blowpipe relied on line of sight guidance. Only a well trained operator could connect a truck-sized airship and a tiny missile in the absolutely huge sky. After the Falklands the British had to admit even well trained operators couldn't score hits reliably. Strike two.

    One option remained, the American Stinger. The Stinger was an upgrade of the user-friendly and reliable Redeye. The Redeye searched the sky for something hot, slid up behind it faster than sound, thrust itself in the exhaust-pipe and pow! The Stinger upgrade was twice as fast and could hit targets face-on; a nice quality since one might be dead before seeing the back of a Hind. But as the Stinger was not sold on the market, any found on mujahideen had to have come from the United States. The CIA decided to risk an open war with the Soviets by arming the mujahideen with the Stinger. After a few were shot down, the Hinds took to flying higher and faster, losing much of their punch.

    When the war ended the CIA panicked a little. They needed the unused Stingers back before one downed a commercial jet in a terror attack. The CIA bought Stingers back for $150,000 each, accounting for most of them. There were fears in 2001 that the Taliban still had a few left, and that we might lose aircraft to our own weapons. Osama is supposed to have Stingers posted in his convoy, although I suspect they are all bought back or used up by now.
  4. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

    Mar 10, 2009
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    EST, USA
    Some bits of information that I can recall but are unverified:
    • Most of the victims of the Stinger were Mil-17 transporters.
    • Very few Mil-24/35s were brought down by Stingers.
    • In many cases, escort Mil-24/35s took hits to protect cargo planes.
    • Not all successful Stinger hits on Mil-24/35s resulted in death to the crew.

    LETHALFORCE Moderator Moderator

    Feb 16, 2009
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    Some claims report stinger had a 20% successful kill percentage.
  6. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

    Mar 10, 2009
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    EST, USA
    Against Mil-24/35, yes definitely. They were more successful against Mil-17, but overall success % was lower than expected because the Mujahideen were not well trained. That 20% sounds reasonable. With US Army operators, it could have been higher.
  7. debasree

    debasree Regular Member

    Feb 7, 2011
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    Calcutta, India, India
    come on 350 hellicopter is not a small number ,and when under the land babarian terrorists wait for the ill fated crews ,u can understand the mental situation of soviet airman.

    LETHALFORCE Moderator Moderator

    Feb 16, 2009
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    Taleban Claim New Missiles Downing Aircraft - IWPR Institute for War & Peace Reporting - P142

    Taleban Claim New Missiles Downing Aircraft

    The Taleban say new missile consignments are allowing them to down increasing numbers of NATO aircraft. However, military officials and defence experts cast doubt on the claim, saying some helicopters have made forced landings after suffering technical problems, and any direct hits probably came from existing weapons.

    An estimated 20 helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft belonging to both NATO and Afghan forces have either crashed or been forced to make emergency landings in the last six months.

    In the deadliest incident of its kind since international forces entered Afghanistan ten years ago, a Chinook helicopter carrying 30 United States soldiers and eight Afghan colleagues crashed in Wardak province on August 6. NATO officials said the aircraft was probably hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, RPG.

    It was only one of several incidents involving helicopters within a matter of days. Helicopters were reported coming down in the southern Paktia province on August 8, in Khost on August 6 and in Kandahar on August 5. On July 25, a Chinook was brought down in the eastern Kunar region. NATO reports indicated that the aircraft were able to land and no one was killed in these incidents.

    Taleban spokesman Zabihollah Mojahed told IWPR that the insurgents were hitting more aircraft because they had got hold of consignments new surface-to-air missiles.

    Without specifying the make or model, he indicated that they were portable, shoulder-launched weapons, and were being gradually rolled out to insurgent forces around Afghanistan. So far, they had been delivered to units in about half the country’s provinces.

    “This is a very successful weapon, and the mujahedin in all provinces will soon be receiving it,” he said.

    Mojahed would not say what the country of origin of the new weapons was; he merely laughed and said the United States was making new enemies every day. “We can obtain anything we want, with the help of God,” he said.

    The Taleban spokesman said the international forces in Afghanistan “rely on their air power, but this will be defeated soon”.

    A spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, Brigadier-General Carsten Jacobsen, said three of the force’s helicopters had been shot down by the Taleban, while other crashes and emergency landings were caused by technical problems.

    In the case of the helicopter crash that killed 38 people in Wardak, Jacobsen said, “It is not clear whether the Taleban have obtained a new weapon, or used old weapons.” He said an investigation was still ongoing, but all the indications were that a new weapon was not used in this case.

    As well as NATO, the Afghan armed forces have their own fleet of helicopters. Defence ministry spokesman General Zaher Azimi acknowledged that some had come down, but blamed this on technical breakdowns.

    “Such things happen during military operations,” he said, “but they don’t mean the opposition has acquired new weapons or become stronger.”

    General Abdul Wahab Wardak, commander-in-chief of the Afghan Air Force, said the insurgents’ claim to have sophisticated new weapons was just talk.

    “The Taleban use this kind of propaganda to boost the morale of their fighters,” he said.

    After 30 years of conflict, weapons like Soviet-made machine guns were in plentiful supply, he said, and it was most likely these that were bringing down aircraft as part of bolder, more aggressive tactics employed by the Taleban in anticipation of the withdrawal of foreign troops, scheduled for 2014.

    “Afghanistan is a mountainous country and NATO pilots aren’t familiar with the topography,” the general said. “They also make the mistake of flying at low altitude, so they can be targeted even with ordinary anti-aircraft weapons.”

    These general was referring to weapons like the antiquated but powerful Soviet-manufactured DShk heavy machine gun, RPG launchers and other arms capable – with a good aim – of hitting a low-flying helicopter, and still widely available.

    From 1986, the US government supplied hundreds of Stinger missiles to Afghan mujahedin to allow them to strike at Soviet military helicopters, specifically the low-flying gunships that could pin them down. After Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, the Americans bought back as many of the missile systems as they could. Experts say that even if the shoulder-launched missiles the Taleban claim to have do exist, it is unlikely they are Stingers from the 1980s.

    Not everyone dismisses the Taleban’s claims of hitting more aircraft.

    Nurolhaq Olumi, a politician from Kandahar and one-time general in the Afghan military, believes NATO is losing more helicopters to hostile fire than it is letting on.

    “NATO generals are not telling the truth when they say their helicopters are carrying out emergency landings because of technical problems,” he said. “The opposition forces really are hitting their aircraft as they fly at low altitudes.”

    Olumi said that if the Taleban had not yet got hold of new anti-aircraft systems, it was more than likely they would do so, and this would prolong the conflict. He said they would source such weapons in Iran or Pakistan – both countries that he believes “want NATO to fail in Afghanistan”.
    pmaitra likes this.

    LETHALFORCE Moderator Moderator

    Feb 16, 2009
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    Last edited by a moderator: May 10, 2015
  10. Kunal Biswas

    Kunal Biswas Member of the Year 2011 Moderator

    May 26, 2010
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    They have all kinds of MANPADS their including Chinese & Iranian...

    LETHALFORCE Moderator Moderator

    Feb 16, 2009
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    The Stinger's Impact (Soviet-Afghan-War)

    The following text is from "The Stinger Missile and U.S. Intervention in Afghanistan" by Alan J. Kuperman
    I shorten the post to the Stinger's impact; the beginning text details the policy decisions to provide the

    The Stinger’s Impact

    A number of important questions about the Stinger’s use in Afghanistan have never been addressed satisfactorily. Most fundamentally, what was the Stinger’s military impact? Second, what was its political impact, if any, on the Soviet decision to withdraw and on the end of the cold war, and did it match U.S. expectations? Third, was the Stinger supply program, once approved, handled responsibly by the CIA? Finally, from a longer-term perspective, what was the net impact of the Stinger decision on global security in light of the hundreds of missiles apparently still unaccounted for?

    U.S. Intentions

    Before assessing the Stinger’s impact, it is necessary to explore precisely what the Reagan administration hoped to achieve by this watershed escalation. Former officials concur on the basic rationale—the Stinger would increase the Soviets’ costs in Afghanistan, convince them it was unwinnable, and compel a decision to withdraw. In the words of Peter Rodman, deputy assistant to the president for national security affairs at the NSC, the United States intended to show the Soviets that Afghanistan was “indigestible.”

    However, Reagan officials differ on several important points. One is the extent to which the Stinger decision was a reaction to Gorbachev’s ascension to power. According to former Undersecretary of Defense Fred Iklé, a scholar of war termination and author of the seminal work Every War Must End, the decision was not spurred by the presence of a new Soviet leader but rather was part of an older U.S. strategy to escalate the war gradually. Indeed, as early as 1983, President Reagan had signed NSDD 75, stating: “The U.S. objective is to keep maximum pressure on Moscow for withdrawal and to ensure that the Soviets’ political, military, and other costs remain high while the occupation continues.” In 1985, NSDD 166 boosted aid for the rebels with the explicit goal of helping them compel a Soviet withdrawal. Thus, the Stinger decision of 1986 can be seen as but one step—albeit a major one—in a steady escalation of U.S. pressure against the Soviet occupation. For Iklé, Gorbachev was “just the beneficiary” of this gradually escalating policy.

    According to Mort Abramowitz, however, Gorbachev was the key. The administration’s assessment of the new general secretary as a moderate, not personally committed to the war, led it to conclude that escalating the war would compel withdrawal rather than counter-escalation. “If it had been another Stalin, you might have thought about it differently,” he explains.

    Another bone of contention is whether the Stinger escalation was informed by secret intelligence from high-placed sources in the Kremlin or public reports on Red Army tactics and the deteriorating condition of the Soviet Union. The Washington Post reported in 1992 that: “An intelligence coup in 1984 and 1985 triggered the Reagan administration’s decision to escalate the covert program in Afghanistan. The United States received highly specific, sensitive information about Kremlin politics and new Soviet war plans in Afghanistan.... The Reagan administration moved in response to this intelligence to open up its high-technology arsenal to aid the Afghan rebels.”

    Similarly, Peter Schweizer’s book Victory reports that, “In January 1985, the administration received detailed knowledge of Soviet plans to dramatically escalate the war in Afghanistan.” According to an account Schweizer attributes to Robert McFarlane, President Reagan responded by telling his national security team: “Do whatever you have to to help the Mujahedin not only survive but win.”

    Pillsbury likewise was impressed by the “super information about KGB and General Staff decision-making” available to the administration, at least until the CIA’s Aldrich Ames began exposing U.S. agents at the end of 1985. Based on the reams of unconfirmed intelligence reports that crossed his desk, as well as CIA studies, Pillsbury says he perceived a serious schism in the Kremlin. General Zaitsev, together with the General Staff and KGB, were escalating the war aggressively and distorting their reports to the Kremlin on the war’s status and prospects. “I believed the information was going through several filters before reaching Gorbachev and Shevardnadze,” says Pillsbury. It was this filtering, he argues, that made it necessary for U.S. officials to find a way to convey directly to Gorbachev that the United States would not permit a Red Army victory. Shooting down Soviet aircraft with American-made missiles, he says, was the perfect solution.

    Many other administration officials, however, discount the influence of secret intelligence. Iklé says his support for the Stinger was prompted by the well-publicized 1985 Soviet escalation and by his assessment—based on public reports on the unhealthy state of the Soviet military and economy—that the Red Army would not respond by invading Pakistan. Abramowitz says that while the United States knew “there was a controversy” in the Kremlin about what to do in Afghanistan, he recalls the information coming from open sources rather than raw intelligence. “The highly sensitive intelligence came later,” he says. Rodman reports the administration found out only subsequently about the General Staff’s secret plan to win the war within two years and that “we just saw they were going for broke.” Rather than secret intelligence reports, he says, the Stinger escalation was based more on “objective factors” and “changes in Gorbachev’s rhetoric.”

    The Initial Military Impact

    Without question, the Stinger had an immediate military impact. Although initial estimates may have been somewhat overblown—claiming the Stinger downed approximately one aircraft per day during the first three months of its deployment—the missile clearly represented an enormous qualitative improvement in the rebels’ air-defense capability. As ISI’s Yousaf details in his memoirs, previous antiaircraft technology provided to the rebels paled in comparison. The Oerlikon, for example, required “some twenty mules to transport a section of three guns... [making] the weapon more of a liability than an asset.” It was especially ill-suited to Afghanistan’s mountainous terrain, since “the long, heavy, cumbersome barrel had to be positioned across the animal, making it impossible to go through defiles, where it snagged on every bush.” Likewise, the Blowpipe, which arrived in 1986, “was a disaster.” During one engagement, thirteen of the missiles were fired at exposed enemy aircraft without a single hit—“a duck shoot in which the ducks won.” The weapon was not man-portable “over any distance,” says Yousaf, who cannot “recall a single confirmed kill by a Blowpipe” before he left ISI in 1987.

    The Stinger was different. While the kill rate and number of targets destroyed are still disputed, the missile unquestionably shot down Soviet and especially Afghan aircraft at an unprecedented rate in its first few months of use. Selig Harrison has attempted to rebut this conclusion relying on Soviet statistics, but even if the reported statistics are accurate, his argument is flawed by several lapses. First, in attempting to prove the Stinger did not trigger an increase in downed aircraft, he counts 1986 as a pre-Stinger year because the missile was used only in its final four months. However, 1986 was the year of the missiles’ greatest effectiveness, as opposing pilots had yet to adopt counter-measures. Second, he fails to grasp the significance of his own findings that while the Soviets themselves experienced no significant increase in aircraft losses, there was a sharp jump in the loss of Afghan government aircraft. Rather than indicating any Soviet imperviousness to the Stinger, as he implies, such evidence is consistent with reports the Soviets responded to the missile by abstaining from dangerous missions, shifting them to Afghan pilots. From the Mujahedin perspective, the nationality of pilots was of little consequence so long as enemy aircraft finally were being shot down.

    Third, Harrison appears to conflate aircraft losses with aircraft shoot-downs, a key distinction underscored in an earlier analysis by Scott McMichael. As McMichael states: “During the first two years of the war, the great majority of Soviet aircraft losses (75-80 percent) must be attributed to non-combat causes, plus losses suffered on the ground due to raids, rocket attacks, and sabotage.... There can be no doubt at all that the Stinger turned the ratio on its head.” The Stinger’s effectiveness was due mainly to six technological advantages: it required little training; it was truly man-portable, weighing just 35 pounds; it was a “fire-and-forget” weapon; it was faster and had greater range than earlier SAMs; it could attack fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters from any angle, unlike the relatively primitive SA-7 and Redeye, which could focus only on a jet engine’s exhaust from the rear; and once locked on target, it could not be deflected by flares.

    Yousaf presents a detailed accounting of the Stinger’s first ten months in service until his departure from ISI in August 1987. During this time, he claims, 187 Stingers were fired, of which 75 percent hit their target, for a total of approximately 140 downed aircraft. Such detailed statistics must be based on Mujahedin self-reporting, the reliability of which is unknown. Nevertheless, these figures are more reliable than those in an oft-cited September 1987 U.S. analysis, which estimated “the destruction of about 270 aircraft per year.” That study’s author, Aaron Karp, acknowledged his projections were pure conjecture based on arbitrary assumptions the Mujahedin would fire all their missiles and achieve a low kill rate of 33 percent. While these two assumptions may have seemed reasonable at the time, evidence suggests both were mistaken. Unfortunately, Karp’s study has contributed to popular confusion about the Stinger’s performance, as his estimates have been widely reported without indication of their lack of empirical basis.

    A more rigorous U.S. Army analysis was conducted in early 1989 by a team sent to “go sit with the Mujahedin” in Pakistan for several weeks. It concludes that by war’s end the rebels had scored “approximately 269 kills in about 340 engagements” with the Stinger, for a remarkable 79 percent kill ratio. Selig Harrison rejects such figures, quoting a Russian general who claims the United States “greatly exaggerated” Soviet and Afghan aircraft losses during the war. However, the findings of the U.S. study are not necessarily out of line with the Soviets’ own statistics that he cites. From 1986 through 1988, the years that include all Stinger launches, Harrison reports that Soviet and Afghan forces lost a total of 310 aircraft. If one discounts for the number of aircraft shot down in 1986 prior to introduction of the Stinger in September, those lost to attrition, and those shot down with other weapons, it is not implausible that somewhere in the range of 269 were shot down with Stingers.

    As for the kill ratio, it is impossible to confirm. A U.S. Army analyst involved in the study claims that “several levels of verification” were used to ensure that rebel descriptions of the engagements were consistent with each other, with the limited amount of available physical evidence, and with known characteristics of the missile system. Among factors reportedly responsible for the rebels’ high success rate is that distribution of the weapons was limited to their best educated, most effective warriors, who were trained to hold fire unless a kill was extremely likely. Yousaf also cites the rebels’ daring tactics, which included positioning Stinger teams at the ends of Soviet runways. Another tactic was for one team of rebels to stand vulnerably in the open, acting as bait to draw enemy aircraft into range, while a second hidden team waited to fire the missiles. By contrast, the Pakistan Army utilized more conservative tactics, necessitated in part by having to stay on its own side of the border, which led to miserable results. Yousaf reports that, to his knowledge, the army “fired twenty-eight Stingers at enemy aircraft without a single kill.”

    War correspondent Mark Urban, however, claims the Mujahedin Stinger kill ratios reported by the U.S. Army were grossly inflated, venturing his own alternative estimate of only 10 percent. While Urban’s skeptical views have been widely cited, it is rarely noted that the primary basis for his conclusions appears to have been the anecdotes of TV journalists, who reported great difficulty in videotaping successful missile hits. In retrospect, there are several plausible reasons why journalists might have observed a lower kill ratio than occurred overall, including: taping Stinger firings on the safer, Pakistani side of the border, where the Pakistani Army reportedly had much lower kill ratios than the Mujahedin; viewing launches of missiles other than Stingers, without knowing the difference; observing Stinger firings during the war’s last year or two, after Soviet adoption of counter-measures that significantly reduced the Stingers’ effectiveness; and for logistical reasons, being unable to tape Mujahedin employing their most daring and dangerous—and, therefore, most successful—tactics. In sum, a host of selection effects may have distorted the sample of missile firings that TV journalists were able to view, making it unrepresentative of the total universe. In this light, it is possible that the reports of both Urban and the U.S. Army are essentially accurate—the Mujahedin achieved a high Stinger kill ratio overall, but TV journalists witnessed a low kill ratio in the firings they observed.

    Soviet Counter-Measures

    In response to the Stinger’s immediate success, the Red Army initially restricted its pilots to less dangerous missions, shunting the rest onto Afghan flyers. The Afghans, however, soon lost their nerve as well. According to Yousaf, they would pretend to go out on missions, fire off their ammunition, return to base, and falsely report success. A former Afghan pilot confirms that he and his fellow “pilots went on strike and refused to fly in areas where Stinger missiles were present.”

    Fairly quickly, however, Soviet forces adopted a series of technical and tactical countermeasures that mitigated the impact of the Stinger. In the technical area, Soviet aircraft were retrofitted with improved flares, infrared beacons, and baffles on their exhausts to impede the Stingers’ ability to lock on target. Aircraft also were equipped with a missile radar warning system to notify pilots of the need for evasive action.

    Tactically, the Soviets had numerous responses. Fixed-wing aircraft flew at higher altitudes outside the Stinger’s three-mile range, which averted the missile threat but reduced the pilots’ effectiveness, earning them the derisive sobriquet “cosmonauts” from Soviet ground troops. Helicopter pilots pursued the opposite strategy, adopting low-altitude, nap-of-the-earth techniques to hide from the Stingers, which function best when hot aircraft are silhouetted against a cool, blue sky. At the lower altitude, however, helicopters became more vulnerable to small-weapons fire. Interestingly, the same tactical countermeasures had been reported as early as the first year of the war and several times thereafter in response to earlier-model SAMs. However, the Stinger’s introduction apparently triggered a dramatic renewal and expansion of their use.

    The Soviets also reportedly shifted many air operations to cover of darkness, as the rebels initially were not equipped with night-vision equipment. They increasingly relied on human intelligence to discover the location of Stingers, then either destroyed the missiles, purchased them, or avoided the locations entirely. Some daredevil Soviet pilots utilized a tactic that was a mirror-image of the rebels’ own: flying in tandem within the Stinger’s range but separated by a large distance, the first of two Soviet aircraft would make itself vulnerable in order to flush a Mujahedin Stinger team from its perch, after which the second aircraft would appear and fire on the exposed rebels. For important air support missions that could not be conducted safely in the presence of Stingers, such as facilitating insertion of special operations forces, the Soviets sometimes substituted long-range suppressive artillery fire, which was effective but required more ground forces and sacrificed the element of surprise.

    Despite the army’s claim that the “Stinger was the war’s decisive weapon” —echoed by many others including 60 Minutes, which declared, “The Stinger is generally credited with having won the war for the Mujahedin” —the net effect of Soviet counter-measures eventually was to offset the Stinger. David Isby, an expert military analyst of the Afghan conflict, concluded in 1990 that, “although none of the Soviets’ countermeasures were totally successful, the Stinger... did not succeed in forcing Soviet helicopters out of the sky.” A leading French expert on Afghanistan, Olivier Roy, confirms from his experience among the rebels in late 1988 that, “by 1989, the Stinger could no longer be considered a decisive anti-aircraft weapon.”

    Ironically, one of the JCS’s original concerns had been vindicated. The combat effectiveness of the Stingers—at least in their original configuration—was indeed compromised. The resulting impact on American security interests, however, was minimal. By war’s end, U.S. Stinger technology had already advanced two generations and, more importantly, the cold war was drawing to a close.

    Impact on Soviet Withdrawal

    A key question is what impact, if any, the Stinger’s deployment had on the power struggle between Gorbachev—already seeking withdrawal—and General Staff hardliners claiming Soviet escalation could enable military victory. As commonly reported, “the supply of high-tech American weaponry to the Mujahedin played a key factor in the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.... [T]here is evidence it helped convince the Kremlin that the war was unwinnable.” Likewise, the NSC’s Cannistraro says that when the Stingers arrived, the Soviets “started taking losses that were unacceptable.” His NSC colleague Rodman attributes the diplomatic breakthrough in part to “the escalation of U.S. military aid to the Mujahedin, especially the furnishing of ‘Stinger’ antiaircraft missiles.”

    Former Soviet Foreign Minister Shevardnadze, however, presents a contrary view: “The Stinger definitely prolonged our stay.... It made our military men, our hawks, much more determined than ever not to withdraw, not to appear to be giving in under duress.” This view is shared by Georgi Arbatov, Andrey Kokoshin, and General Akhromeev, and is the main thesis of Harrison and Cordovez in Out of Afghanistan. More generally, George Kennan and Raymond Garthoff argue that the militarized version of U.S. containment strategy, including the Reagan Doctrine, prolonged the cold war as a whole. As Garthoff puts it, “Gorbachev pressed ahead... not owing to the Reagan hard line and military buildup, but despite it.” According to these authors, reduced U.S. pressure would have enabled an earlier withdrawal by permitting the Soviets to save face while doing so.

    Rodman rejects such revisionist assessments of the Stinger as “liberal fantasy.” Abramowitz, despite being present when Shevardnadze made his comment, says, “I don’t believe that for a minute.” Iklé cautions that “too much face-saving might have saved the Soviet regime.” He believes the humiliating defeat of the Red Army in Afghanistan was integral to reducing the status and influence of hard-liners in the Kremlin. “Otherwise, we might still have the Cold War.” French expert, Olivier Roy, concurs that “by undermining the prestige of both the old Brezhnevian guard and the army, [the failure in Afghanistan] gave Gorbachev more room for manoeuvre.”

    Implicit in all such assessments of the political impact of the Stinger decision are counter-factual claims—that is, what would have happened in its absence. These must be separated from actual facts and evaluated for plausibility. Two facts are clear. First, when Gorbachev came to power in 1985, he initially escalated the war. Second, had the United States not countered with NSDD 166, followed by the Stinger and other U.S. technology, the Soviets would have gained militarily against the Mujahedin. However, at least three important counter-factual questions remain: How badly damaged would the Mujahedin have been? Would this have reversed the rebels’ opposition to the unfavorable negotiated settlement then on the table? How would this military progress have affected Politburo decision making? While counter-factual reasoning never is certain, answers to these questions can be found with relative confidence.

    First, despite the claims of some, it is highly unlikely that the Soviet escalation of 1985-1986, if not countered by the United States, would have succeeded in eliminating the Mujahedin. Indeed, the Mujahedin had proved able to survive even in the early 1980s, when they were considerably more out-matched than they would have been in this subsequent scenario. The Soviets’ fundamental problem was their unwillingness to increase troop levels, forcing them into a strategy of coercion based mainly on air power. Throughout the twentieth century, such an approach had failed to produce victory against a people on its home territory.

    Second, it is extremely unlikely that even substantial Soviet military progress would have compelled the rebels to accept a negotiated settlement that left a pro-Soviet government in Kabul. As demonstrated in subsequent years, the rebels preferred to face death rather than cede power even to each other, let alone to a pro-Soviet regime.

    Third, regardless of the situation in Afghanistan, Gorbachev was intent on his two-track strategy of consolidating power, by placing allies in key Communist party positions, and establishing nontraditional sources of expertise. By late 1986, therefore, he likely could have pushed his views through the Politburo despite any military gains in Afghanistan. The ultimate question, therefore, is whether Gorbachev’s own preference would have changed had the 1985 Soviet escalation gone unopposed and produced military gains in Afghanistan. The key fact here is that Gorbachev’s primary objective in Afghanistan was to eliminate a thorn in East-West relations that inhibited Soviet economic revitalization. The West, especially the Reagan administration, would not have dropped its insistence on Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan as a precondition for renewed détente, regardless of progress in the war. Thus, it is very likely that Gorbachev still would have pushed for the withdrawal deadline in late 1986, even had the Soviets made gains against the Mujahedin. Red Army hard-liners would have protested, as they did in any case, but Gorbachev had sufficient votes in the Politburo to prevail.

    Although counter-intuitive and contrary to popular wisdom, it appears the U.S. counter-escalation of 1985-1986 was largely irrelevant to the Soviet withdrawal decision of November 1986. This is clearly the case for the Stinger, which was not utilized in Afghanistan until September 1986, a mere two months before the Politburo’s decision to adopt a withdrawal deadline. At the key November 1986 Politburo meeting, no mention was made of the Stinger nor any other U.S. escalation. Rather, Defense Minister Akhromeev blamed Moscow for capping troop levels and Kabul for failing to coopt the opposition. Moreover, the Stinger effectively was neutralized by technical and tactical counter-measures well before the Soviets actually completed their withdrawal. Thus, there is no evidence the Stinger even hastened Soviet withdrawal. Neither is there evidence it delayed the Soviet pullout.

    Had Gorbachev not decided autonomously to withdraw, it is unlikely the Stinger could have chased him out of Afghanistan. Prior to his entering office, the Red Army’s strategy in Afghanistan had presumed a protracted occupation, relying only on holding key cities and garrisons as bases for attacks on population, infrastructure, and supply lines in rebel-controlled areas. These bases were never seriously threatened by the Mujahedin even after they acquired the Stinger. Previous Soviet conquests had required occupations of far greater duration. Indeed, in the mid-1980s, there was a cottage industry among U.S. Sovietologists trying to figure out which historical model the Soviets would use to absorb Afghanistan: Mongolia, Central Asia, Finland, Eastern Europe generally, or Poland specifically. In 1982, General Secretary Yuri Andropov reminded Politburo colleagues that it had required almost fifteen years to subdue Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kirgizstan. In June 1985, the United States Central Command, unaware of the changes Gorbachev was bringing to the Kremlin, concluded the Soviets could “be expected to show their historical persistence in Afghanistan, anticipating a slow, gradual domination of the country.... [where] time may be on their side.” The study, citing previous Soviet triumphs over indigenous anticommunist movements, concluded that “the Afghans will likely suffer a similar fate.” According to a key Pakistani official, Islamabad likewise believed Soviet “costs [in Afghanistan] were not intolerable and appeared to be on the decline.”

    Unintended Consequences: Stinger Proliferation

    As the JCS and Senator DeConcini had warned, Stinger accountability proved grossly inadequate. First, Pakistan skimmed off a percentage of the Stingers for itself—a missile tax—with some reportedly winding up on the black market. Of those that reached the Mujahedin, perhaps half were sold for cash, given to allies such as Iran, lost in ambushes, or hoarded for future conflicts.

    According to press reports, Stingers now have proliferated around the globe. While not all of this spread can be confirmed or attributed solely to the Mujahedin supply operation, the missiles originally destined for Afghanistan likely account for much of it. Reportedly, Stingers already have shot down aircraft twice in Bosnia and once in Tajikistan. In 1987, an Iranian boat fired a Stinger that reportedly hit a U.S. helicopter in the Persian Gulf but failed to explode. Tunisian fundamentalists are reported to have used a Stinger in a failed 1991 assassination attempt. Stingers also reportedly have been acquired by Kashmiri militants, Indian Sikhs, the Iranian drug mafia, Iraq, Qatar, Zambia (most likely from Angola), North Korea, Libya, and militant Palestinian groups. In addition, authorities reportedly have broken up plots to acquire the missiles by the Irish Republican Army, the Medellin Cartel, Croatian rebels, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Chechen secessionists, and Cuban exiles.

    Under President George Bush, the CIA attempted to stop this hemorrhaging, motivated especially by the connection of some of the former rebels to radical Islamic terrorists. The agency initially requested $10 million to buy back Stingers, and when that proved inadequate, another $55 million in 1993. Former rebel leader and then-Afghan Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar responded that he did “not intend to allow even a round of ammunition to be taken out of Afghanistan.” Although a few dozen Stingers apparently were retrieved by the CIA, the main effect of the buy-back program has been to bid up the black-market price of the missile from its original value of $30,000 to as high as $200,000. Intelligence officials worry that those who sell back the Stingers at such exorbitant prices will recycle the profits to buy an even larger quantity of Soviet SA-14 missiles—reportedly based on the Stinger design—potentially exacerbating the overall terrorist threat. Ironically, the $65 million appropriated by the United States to buy back a fraction of the leftover missiles is about twice the original purchase price of all of them.

    A still unanswered question is precisely how many Stingers are left over from the Mujahedin supply operation. A variety of sources suggest that 300 Stingers were exported for delivery to the rebels in 1986, growing to a total of between 900 and 1200, together with approximately 250 reusable gripstocks. The U.S. Army reported in 1990 that only about 340 Stingers actually were fired by the rebels prior to the Soviet withdrawal, and the Washington Post reported that no missiles were fired subsequently in Afghanistan through 1994. The Times of London reported in 1994 that approximately 200 of the missiles were in storage in Pakistan—never delivered to the Mujahedin—and that the CIA had bought back another sixty. If these reports are accurate, some 300 to 600 of the missiles remain unaccounted for. In January 1995, U.S. intelligence sources were quoted as believing that “over 370 Stingers are still in Afghanistan.”

    Some commentators have downplayed the terrorist threat posed by these remaining Stingers. Cannistraro has said the battery packs on several Stingers recovered from an Iranian boat in 1988 were found to be run-down, rendering the weapons ineffective. He also recalls being told the weapons had “a shelf life of about a year.” However, a partially declassified 1987 analysis by the U.S. Central Command states clearly that, “The BCU, the power source required to activate the Stinger, has a shelf life of at least 10 years with a reliability rate of 98-99%.” Pillsbury recalls that a House Armed Services Committee staff person, Tony Battista, originally proposed modifying the Stingers to shorten their shelf life to several weeks prior to delivery to the rebels, but was turned down. Even if some battery units have deteriorated, however, Cannistraro concedes, “it’s silly to think” that potential users couldn’t buy a battery, or have one engineered, to meet their needs.

    A final consideration is whether the Stinger is any more effective than other surface-to-air missiles commonly available in international arms markets. Among the alternatives are the British Javelin, the French Mistral, the Swedish RBS 70, and the Soviet SA-14 and SA-16. Moreover, missiles similar to the Stinger are produced or are under development by China, South Africa, Brazil, and Egypt. As far back as 1986, terrorism expert Robert Kupperman downplayed the significance of potential Stinger proliferation by arguing that the Soviet SA-7B, widely available even then, was sufficient to shoot down a civilian airliner. Nevertheless, the Stinger appears to be in a category of its own, especially as a threat to military aircraft. Former CIA national intelligence officer, David Whipple, says he “would doubt there are missiles as good as the Stinger out there.” That would explain why the CIA is willing to spend $65 million to try to get them back.

    The CIA’s Performance

    Confronted in 1993 with the worldwide proliferation of Stingers leaking from Afghanistan, former CIA associate director for covert operations, Edward Juchniewicz, responded, “Isn’t the danger posed by a handful of Stingers worth the dissolution of the Soviet Empire?” Surely it would be, had that been the trade-off. However, in light of the far smaller role actually played by the missiles in ending the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, let alone the cold war, the security threat they now pose may be the most lasting legacy of the Stinger decision.

    The obvious question is whether the CIA could have handled the original distribution of Stingers in a more responsible manner. The CIA’s Whipple concedes only that, “in hindsight, that’s indisputable.” However, even at the time, the CIA should have known better, and could have acted more responsibly. In several key respects the agency’s failings were due to poor decision making, not to a lack of concurrent knowledge.

    First, the agency relied on the worrisome ISI distribution network for the Stinger in 1986, even though an expert had written as early as November 1984 that “direct supplies to the resistance are increasingly feasible.” Such an alternative would have enabled restricting the missile to only the most reliable rebels. By contrast, the agency knew that ISI favored the most radical rebels, many with ties to Iran.

    Second, the CIA should have taken into account that the rebels were only a temporary ally of convenience. As later acknowledged by the CIA’s former chief of operations for the Near East and South Asia, Charles Cogan, it was obvious at the time that “the long-range aims of a country in which Islamists were at least beginning to have a say would not be, could not be, wholly compatible with the aims of a Western nation.” This concern turned out not to be so long-range. As early as 1991, Hekmatyar supported Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War. Two years later, in the wake of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing in New York City, Whipple confirmed that “some of the same people who are actual or potential terrorists in [the United States] are former guerrilla fighters in Afghanistan.”

    Third, the CIA should have recognized soon after the initial modest deployment of Stingers that it was unnecessary to follow up with additional supplies of such an advanced weapons system. In 1987, the U.S. Central Command reported that due to the initial success of the Stinger and the “extreme difficulty for pilots to differentiate between shoulder-fired SAMs, Soviet pilots appear to treat all launches as Stinger. In numerous instances it has been noted that Soviet aircraft will depart an area as soon as a SAM is fired.” Thus, the CIA could have reduced the danger of Stinger proliferation by substituting lower-technology SAMs in follow-up shipments—without undermining rebel effectiveness.

    Fourth, the CIA should have known the rebels would hoard Stingers if supplied a surplus. Even an avid Mujahedin supporter, Congressman Charlie Wilson, had earlier acknowledged that the rebels had a troubling habit of “ratholing” weapons for future use. For all these reasons, the CIA should have kept the rebels on a much shorter tether—at least denying them more Stingers until the original ones were exhausted.

    Instead, in its most profound error, the CIA supplied additional Stingers in 1987, just as the rebels were reducing their use of the weapon in response to Soviet counter-measures. Given that the rebels were reported to be downing about one aircraft per day and to be enjoying a 75-80 percent kill ratio, the initial batch of 300 missiles should have lasted at least half a year. At that point, the CIA could have assessed the need for more missiles and found, as Aviation Week later reported, that “the number of launch opportunities has declined due to changes in Soviet operating techniques.” The agency then could have suspended or sharply reduced supply of Stingers in 1987. Instead, the CIA reportedly shipped another 600 or more missiles in 1987, distribution of which continued to the rebels until mid-1988. Making matters worse, the CIA reportedly loosened restrictions on missile distribution in 1987, rescinding the requirement that an expended tube be presented in exchange for each new missile and permitting individual rebels to receive more than one at a time. The Washington Post reported in April 1987 that “so many Stingers are arriving in Pakistan that there is a problem of storing the weapons safely.” A U.S. intelligence official later confirmed, “we were handing them out like lollipops.”

    So far, the United States and its allies have avoided paying a heavy price for this sloppy CIA performance, as no civil airliners outside of Afghanistan are confirmed to have been shot down by Stingers. U.S. intelligence officials, however, do not assume this luck will last and in 1992 established a Federal Aviation Administration study group to assess the terrorist missile threat. Aviation Week reports that less sophisticated SAMs were used in at least twenty-two attacks on civil airliners from 1986 to 1993, generally in countries experiencing civil insurgencies. According to a Rand analyst, as airports and airlines boost security to inhibit hijackings and bombings, terrorists are increasingly likely to turn to missiles.

    The Stinger Decision in Retrospect

    The case of the Stinger provides several cautionary lessons about U.S. foreign policy generally and covert action specifically. First, it raises the question of who actually makes U.S. foreign policy and suggests procedures to help ensure its soundness. Second, it highlights shortcomings in the CIA’s performance of a top-priority covert action, raising questions about the utility of such action as a tool of foreign policy. Third, it provides insight into perennial questions about the strengths and weaknesses of democracies in the conduct of foreign policy. Finally, it underscores the necessity for scholars to engage in painstaking “process tracing” to draw the proper lessons from history.

    Without question, the Reagan administration’s notorious lack of centralized policy coordination significantly retarded the Stinger decision and contributed to a nearly eighteen-month delay from initial proposal to final implementation, which effectively changed a good idea into a bad one. When first seriously proposed in early spring 1985, in the wake of a Soviet escalation in Afghanistan, the Stinger plan fit an overall U.S. strategy to prevent Soviet absorption of Afghanistan by increasing the costs of the occupation. Despite misgivings of the CIA, the JCS, and the State Department, the potential benefits outweighed the risks in light of the intensified Soviet air campaign, a new Soviet leader not personally committed to the war, and the low assessed risk of retaliatory escalation. As events transpired, the missiles apparently were unnecessary to ensure the rebels’ survival or to compel Gorbachev’s withdrawal. However, U. S. officials had no way of knowing that in the spring of 1985, so it does not detract from the merits of the Stinger proposal when originally presented.

    By the time the plan eventually was implemented in late summer 1986, however, it made considerably less sense, given that the Soviets already had signaled their intention to withdraw. At this point, the risks outweighed the potential benefits. Though delivery of Stingers at this later date probably did not prolong the war, it was unnecessary and led to two consequences feared by the JCS: missile proliferation and the development of Soviet counter-measures that effectively neutralized first-generation Stinger technology.

    The Reagan administration’s lack of a strong, hands-on leader in the Oval Office or at the NSC permitted individual agencies to pursue their own agendas even to the point of withholding relevant information. The JCS claimed the Stinger plan could lead to loss of this U.S. technology without disclosing that it already had been compromised in Greece. The JCS claimed as well that the plan would negatively impact the U. S. Army’s missile stockpile, without disclosing that its supplier could increase production to offset any losses. The CIA continued as late as 1986 to report that Pakistani President Zia opposed introduction of the Stinger, even though he had been telling visiting U.S. officials otherwise since 1984.

    As bureaucracies inevitably promote their own interests, it is no surprise the army guarded its stockpile of missiles and the CIA attempted to avoid a covert project that could lead to its embarrassment. However, it is the job of the president, the national security adviser, and their staffs to ensure that such parochial pursuits are subordinated to the national interest. Policy disputes should be brought to a head on a timely basis, debated openly and with full information, decided authoritatively, and implemented with the full cooperation of all agencies. Lack of such decisive leadership was a signal failing of the Reagan administration in the Stinger case. As Rodman observes, President Richard Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, “never would have stood for this.”

    Some scholars have identified two factors as primarily responsible for this Reagan administration shortcoming—bureaucratic structure and presidential personality. In one of its first directives, NSDD 2, the administration intentionally downgraded the structural authority and coordinating role of the national security adviser to reduce risk of his vying for control with the secretary of State, as occurred in the Carter administration. Reagan’s management style, meanwhile, was to avoid making decisions until his subordinates attained consensus. The result was a power vacuum in which “each department was free to pursue its own interpretation of the president’s decisions—or to ignore the president altogether.” As President Reagan’s former chief of staff, James Baker, confirms, the foreign policy apparatus “was often a witches’ brew of intrigue, elbows, egos, and separate agendas”—a dangerous model of inefficiency.

    The CIA’s performance in the Stinger case raises questions about the agency’s resources and capabilities for covert action, the quality of its decision making in such secret activities, and the reliability of its intelligence reporting, which together reinforce doubts about the overall worth of covert action and government secrecy as tools of foreign policy. The CIA’s error in relying on Pakistan’s ISI for Stinger distribution—long after plausible deniability was lost and the agency had established its own connections to the rebels—is often justified on grounds the agency lacked sufficient numbers of trained covert-action personnel. However, the inexcusable error of boosting the supply of Stingers just as their use was waning, which contributed to a gross oversupply of the missiles and worldwide proliferation, can be attributed only to a combination of shoddy intelligence, poor decision making, and bureaucratic inertia. Ironically, the CIA’s program to supply the Afghan rebels, its single largest operation during the Reagan administration, is often cited as a rare example of a covert action success. If the above shortcomings are what can be expected from a top-priority “success,” however, the overall worth of covert action should be reassessed. Assuming U. S. leaders wish to retain this prerogative, despite its potentially inherent shortcomings, the CIA at a minimum must beef up its in-house capabilities to reduce the risk of again falling prey to the whims of another nation’s intelligence service.

    The Stinger case also contributes to the long debate on foreign policy and democracy, suggesting that effective foreign policy is fostered by a moderate level of democracy, but can be hurt by too much or too little. The Reagan administration appears generally to have suffered from too much democracy in its making of foreign policy. Disparate interests represented within the executive branch were able to lobby each other, leak information beneficial to their viewpoint, form coalitions with members of Congress, and continue to fight even after their proposals had been rejected formally. Even lone advocates could affect U. S. foreign policy substantially by applying these tactics with sufficient enthusiasm and disregard for protocol.

    By contrast, the CIA’s problems in the Stinger case were exacerbated by too little democracy. Government secrecy artificially restricted the circle of informed decision makers, contributing to poor decisions. Had there not been insistence on maintaining plausible deniability, the U. S. government might have debated openly which of the rebel groups were most worthy of assistance, rather than quietly delegating this crucial decision to a foreign intelligence agency with an ulterior agenda. More generally, had the program not been covert, Congress, the executive branch, and the press could have scrutinized its implementation—for example, questioning the wisdom of shipping additional Stingers to Muslim fundamentalists just as the missiles’ use was dropping off. Reduced government secrecy also might have prevented the CIA from inaccurately reporting Pakistani President Zia’s views on the Stinger for more than a year, which interfered with sound decision making.

    According to Abramowitz, the government’s interagency process “worked” in that officials eventually were turned around “based on argumentation.” However, the combined effects of too much and too little democracy stretched that process out over eighteen months, which had deleterious consequences. The Stinger proposal was rejected when it might have made sense, approved when it no longer did, and implemented in a manner that unnecessarily raised risks to U. S. national security.

    An important question is whether the degree of democracy in the making of U.S. foreign policy is subject to strategic manipulation or is the product of inexorable social, technological, and historical forces. Those cited above attribute the free-for-all nature of the Reagan administration’s foreign-policy process to specific management style and organizational choices. Others claim, however, that it represented just one step in a historical progression toward the ever-increasing domestic relevance of foreign affairs, which is becoming subject to the intense level of democracy traditionally reserved for domestic affairs. It can be argued that technological advances such as the Internet, CNN, satellite communication, faxes, and copy machines have exacerbated this trend by making global information instantly available to ever widening circles and encroaching on the government preserve of classified information. If such an historical trend does exist, the Stinger case suggests it will be beneficial as it broadens decision making from artificially small circles, but deleterious to the extent it undermines the government’s ability to expedite, centrally coordinate, and implement its decisions.

    Another lesson of the Stinger case is that in order to draw the proper lessons from history, political scientists and foreign-affairs analysts must trace the internal decision making processes of both U.S. and foreign governments, rather than treating them as “black boxes.” Such process tracing of the U.S. Stinger decision reveals a surprising lack of consensus about the means and ends of the so-called Reagan Doctrine. On the Soviet side, such close analysis is essential to understanding that the withdrawal decision was driven not mainly by the direct human, financial, or political costs of the war, but by Gorbachev’s desire to have Western sanctions lifted. Earlier black-box analyses concluded erroneously that Gorbachev was responding to the U.S. escalation.

    Ironically, the two elements of U.S. policy that appear most to have influenced the Soviet decision to withdraw were initiated not by the Reagan administration, but by President Carter immediately after the Soviet invasion of 1979. Carter suspended détente, cutting off access to trade and technology, which the Soviets came to see over time as a significant drag on their economic growth. He also initiated aid to the Mujahedin when they were weakest, establishing a weapons pipeline that helped avert their early defeat by the Red Army. The Reagan administration, spurred by Congress, steadily increased aid to the Mujahedin, no doubt improving the rebels’ military prospects. However, the major U.S. escalation of aid in 1985-1986 appears not to have been crucial to the rebels’ continued survival, nor to have had significant impact on Soviet decision making. Gorbachev eventually obtained domestic support for withdrawal as the result of his own actions, not due to U.S. escalation. He changed personnel, empowered nontraditional experts, and permitted press coverage of the war. Thus, the Reagan administration’s most consequential action to effect Soviet withdrawal may have been holding the Carter line, refusing to normalize economic relations so long as Soviet troops remained in Afghanistan. The Reagan Doctrine, at least in the case of Afghanistan, has been credited with an achievement that had other causes—apparently due to little more than a coincidence of timing.

    The pervasiveness of the myth that the Stinger slew the Red Army and by implication the Soviet empire and communism demonstrates how the distortive effects of the cold war have survived its passing. For almost half a century, Americans were confronted with apparitions such as the missile gap and the evil empire. Those responsible for erecting such exaggerated images of the Soviet adversary are now, perhaps predictably, exaggerating the credit they deserve for destroying it. Despite mounting contradictory evidence, these cold warriors continue to give the Stinger much of the credit for ending the cold war and to promote the simple lesson that the hawks had it right all along. In reality, the Stinger’s impact was far smaller, and the lessons are far more complex.
    Kunal Biswas likes this.
  12. W.G.Ewald

    W.G.Ewald Defence Professionals/ DFI member of 2 Defence Professionals

    Sep 28, 2011
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    North Carolina, USA
    How do they reproduce, these Stingers?
  13. Armand2REP

    Armand2REP CHINI EXPERT Veteran Member

    Dec 17, 2009
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    Stingers from the Soviet invasion would not work within 10 years of being produced so they were inconsequential twenty years ago.
  14. Blackwater

    Blackwater Veteran Member Veteran Member

    Jan 9, 2012
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    Akhand Bharat
    With there Chinese papa by process called reverse engg.
    W.G.Ewald likes this.

    LETHALFORCE Moderator Moderator

    Feb 16, 2009
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    The Stinger Missile That Made Afghanistan's History -

    Launching the Missile That Made History

    Outside Jalalabad, Afghanistan, 25 years ago this week, an angry young man named Abdul Wahab Quanat recited his prayers, walked onto a farm field near a Soviet airfield, raised a Stinger missile launcher to his shoulder and shot his way into history.

    It was the first time since the Soviet invasion seven years earlier that a mujahedeen fighter had destroyed the most feared weapon in the Soviet arsenal, a Hind attack helicopter. The event panicked the Soviet ranks, changed the course of the war and helped to break up the USSR itself.

    Today, Mr. Wahab is general manager of the Afghan central-bank branch near the Khyber Pass, a middle-age man who carries tinted bifocals in his vest pocket and chooses Diet Pepsi over regular. Mr. Wahab and the two other Stinger gunners at the airfield that day—Zalmai and Abdul Ghaffar—have now joined the post-jihad establishment. Mr. Zalmai is sub-governor of Shinwar District, and Mr. Ghaffar is a member of parliament.

    They nurse a gauzy nostalgia for the joys of being young jihadists. "Those were good, exciting times," Mr. Wahab says. "Now I'm a banker. It's boring."

    The Soviet invasion touched off three decades of violent swings in Afghanistan, from socialism to warlordism to Islamic fundamentalism to today's flawed democracy. Amid this tortured history, the U.S. makes occasional appearances—including its mid-1980s decision to supply the mujahedeen with Stingers—the consequences of which often weren't apparent until much later.

    At the time, the Soviets and their Afghan allies were on the offensive, thanks to the Hinds. Heavily armored, the helicopters were indifferent to ground fire as they strafed and rocketed mujahedeen and civilians alike. In 1986, the Reagan administration and its congressional allies put aside qualms about dispatching missile launchers. The move likely contributed to the Soviet withdrawal. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, faced with an imploding domestic economy, was already seeking an exit from a costly war.

    There's no straight line from the U.S. move to arm the mujahedeen to 9/11 and the 2001 American invasion, but the decision has echoed through the subsequent decades of turmoil. After Kabul's fall, and with American attention elsewhere, the mujahedeen fell on each other. Messrs. Ghaffar and Zalmai squabbled over money and weapons.

    "I disarmed his men, and he disarmed my men," says Mr. Zalmai. (They have since reconciled, and Mr. Ghaffar's daughter married Mr. Zalmai's nephew.)

    The Taliban emerged on top, and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency spent years trying to recover 600 unused Stingers, including 53 that found their way to Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader who hosted Osama bin Laden during the 9/11 attacks, according to the book "Ghost Wars" by Steve Coll.

    Key figures from that era, including those who received U.S. support, have ended up on the other side. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the ruthless head of the fundamentalist Hezb-e-Islami mujahedeen, provided the Stinger gunmen. Among Mr. Hekmatyar's other backers was bin Laden, who paid Arab militants to fight in the Afghan jihad and in doing so earned the trust of the Taliban.

    As Mr. Wahab remembers, the Pakistani officials who were acting as a conduit between the U.S. and the Afghan fighters packed him and nine other Hekmatyar fighters into the back of a truck, covered it in a tarp so they wouldn't see where they were going, and took them to a training camp in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.

    For a month, they practiced with dummy Stingers aimed at a hanging light. Pakistani officers then handed over real missiles to the eight successful graduates. One team headed to Kabul to shoot down troop-transport planes. The other, headed by Mr. Ghaffar, an engineer by training, was dispatched to go after the Hind helicopters.

    As they parted, one Pakistani instructor tearfully called Mr. Wahab a "holy warrior" and reminded him to hit the switch that arms the missile's heat-seeking device. After a two-day walk, the fighters spent the night of Sept. 25 in an abandoned village on the outskirts of Jalalabad. The next afternoon, Mr. Ghaffar and his men knelt down for prayers and then made their way into a farm field, where they spotted about 10 helicopters returning to the airfield.

    The best student at Stinger camp, Mr. Wahab took the first shot. The missile made a whirring noise that changed tone as it locked onto a Hind. Mr. Wahab recited a prayer. "In the name of Allah, the supreme and almighty, God is great." He recalls the Hind's tail rotor breaking off, while the front section burst into flames and plummeted to earth, cockpit first.

    "I'll never forget that moment," he says now. "Those helicopters had killed so many people, left so many orphans."

    Messrs. Ghaffar and Zalmai fired next. Mr. Wahab says neither missile hit a Hind; Mr. Ghaffar's, he says, hit the ground, while Mr. Zalmai forgot the heat-seeker-arming switch.

    Mr. Ghaffar remembers one missile hitting a helicopter, but says it could have been either one. Mr. Zalmai says he can't recall for certain but admits he's not a great marksman. (The CIA reported that three helicopters had gone down.)

    What is certain is that Mr. Ghaffar then shouldered a spare Stinger and this time sent a Hind crashing to earth. Mr. Wahab recalls mujahedeen cheering when the helicopters went down. Terrified that the Soviets would send tanks after them, the three scampered back to Pakistan.

    Mr. Ghaffar dined out on his success for months, meeting with the CIA and having tea in Peshawar with Rep. Charlie Wilson, the late Texas Democrat and relentless champion of the mujahedeen.

    The Ghaffar team had proved the Stingers so effective that the CIA sent some 2,300 more. Soon the mujahedeen were shooting down helicopters, transport planes and jets in large numbers. "If we hadn't used them correctly, they probably wouldn't have provided any more Stingers for the Afghan jihad," says Mr. Ghaffar. One Soviet squadron lost 13 of 40 planes in the year that followed, 10 to Stingers. The final Soviet troops retreated from Afghanistan in 1989, and the mujahedeen took Kabul in 1992.

    "We wrote history—I miss those days," says Mr. Ghaffar, now 54. A member of parliament, he denies accusations by some locals that he has become a land-grabbing power broker.

    Mr. Zalmai, who estimates his age at 50, barely had a beard when he took to the mountains in 1980. He smiles when he remembers blowing the tracks off of Soviet tanks. "I was good at it," he says. He admits that his memories are filtered through the haze of age and two brain-jarring attempts on his life during the current insurgency.

    As a local administrator, Mr. Zalmai spends a good deal of time these days complaining that the Americans failed to consult him about plans to raze one government office to build another.

    "When you're young, you're emotional about everything," Mr. Zalmai says of his days as a jihadist. "When you're old, everything can be solved by talking."

    the Taliban takeover, Mr. Wahab fled to Pakistan, where he ran a fabric shop. After the Taliban fell, he returned to Afghanistan and landed the central-bank job. Now 49, he supervises commercial banks adjacent to the Khyber Pass, through which mujahedeen weapons and fighters once flowed.

    "When I was a mujahedeen on a mountaintop, I'd see the lights of Jalalabad and wish I were there," Mr. Wahab says. "Now when I'm in Jalalabad, I miss being in a stone hideout in the mountains with the mujahedeen."

    Mr. Wahab has little patience for today's insurgents. "We had an enemy—the Russians," he says. "These suicide bombers today attack Americans and Muslims. What's the point?"

    LETHALFORCE Moderator Moderator

    Feb 16, 2009
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    Afghanistan war logs: US covered up fatal Taliban missile strike on Chinook | World news | The Guardian

    Afghanistan war logs: US covered up fatal Taliban missile strike on Chinook

    The US military covered up a reported surface-to-air missile strike by the Taliban that shot down a Chinook helicopter over Helmand in 2007 and killed seven soldiers, including a British military photographer, the war logs show.

    The strike on the twin-rotor helicopter shows the Taliban enjoyed sophisticated anti-aircraft capabilities earlier than previously thought, casting new light on the battle for the skies over Afghanistan.

    Hundreds of files detail the efforts of insurgents, who have no aircraft, to shoot down western warplanes. The war logs detail at least 10 near-misses by missiles in four years against coalition aircraft, one while refuelling at 11,000ft and another involving a suspected Stinger missile of the kind supplied by the CIA to Afghan rebels in the 1980s.

    But if American and British commanders were worried about the missile threat, they downplayed it in public – to the extent of ignoring their own pilots' testimony. The CH-47 Chinook was shot down on 30 May 2007 after dropping troops at the strategic Kajaki dam in Helmand where the British were leading an anti-Taliban drive. Witnesses reported that a missile struck the left rear engine of the aircraft, causing it to burst into flames and nosedive into the ground. All on board died, including 28-year-old Corporal Mike Gilyeat of the Royal Military Police.

    Later that day Nato and US officials suggested the helicopter, codenamed Flipper, had been brought down by a rocket-propelled grenade – effectively, a lucky hit. "It's not impossible for small-arms fire to bring down a helicopter," Nato spokesman Major John Thomas told Reuters in Kabul. A US official said it had "probably been brought down by a rocket-propelled grenade [RPG]".

    But US pilot logs show they were certain the missile was not an RPG and was most likely a Manpad – the military term for a shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile. "Witness statements from Chalk 3 [another aircraft] suggest Flipper was struck by Manpad," it reads.

    Those fears were confirmed by two Apache attack helicopters hovering over the crash site that came under fire from more missiles, twice in 30 minutes. Both missiles missed, and the pilots subsequently reported that they were "not an RPG" but a "probable first-generation MANPAD".

    "Clearly the Taliban were attempting to down an Apache after downing the CH-47," it read.

    The crash and its handling highlight steadily escalating US worries amid a stream of intelligence reports, also captured in the files, that suggest the Taliban were being supplied with missiles from Iran and Pakistan.

    One internal report in September 2005 warned that Taliban commanders in Zabul and Kandahar provinces had acquired missiles they called "number two Stinger", for about $1,000 (£650) each. Nine months later came the first of at least 10 near-miss reports.

    In June 2006 a Black Hawk medevac helicopter came under fire 25 miles from Kandahar. The missile changed course after the American crew launched six diversionary flares. "The crew chief saw only the smoke trail due to evasive maneuvering but determined that the missile was a type of MANPAD," the subsequent report read – the second Manpad attack that month.

    In June 2007, shortly after the American Chinook was shot down in Kajaki, a British Chinook had a close shave when its missile warning system activated 6,000ft over Helmand. "The crew looked out their window and observed a projectile with a white-grey tight spiral smoke trail rising from their 7 o'clock, climbing through their level and exploding 2000ft 3000ft above and 0.5-1nm [nautical miles] ahead of the aircraft," it read.

    "The airburst was described as a dark grey cloud. All crew members heard a loud bang and the projectile passed within 50ft of the aircraft."

    A month later a C-130 aircraft was refueling 11,000ft over Nimroz province when a crew member spotted a "bright flash" followed by a second flash 2 nautical miles away. "A corkscrew smoke trale [sic] was observed and the aircraft dispensed flares" just before projectiles streaked past the plane, read the assessment.

    The anti-aircraft missile threat has a strong historical resonance in Afghanistan. CIA-supplied Stingers punched dozens of Soviet Hind helicopters from the skies in the 1980s, and were considered to have played a key role in forcing the Soviets to abandon the country in 1989.

    Western worries that the phenomenon could be repeated in this war have made surface-to-air missiles a favourite topic among intelligence informers, whose unconfirmed accounts of meddling foreign powers stuff the files.

    As fighting intensified in April 2007 one unidentified source told an American officer that seven Manpads purchased by Iran from Algeria had been "clandestinely transported from Mashhad in Iran across the border into Afghanistan". Other reports, also unconfirmed, accused Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence of supplying weapons or missile-trainers to the Taliban.

    More concretely, the files contain first-hand accounts of Afghan tribesmen slipping into US bases offering to sell their private stock of missiles. In one instance four elders from Balkh, near Mazar-i-Sharif, arrived with a clutch of blurry photographs of missiles. "Their motivation is monetary gain," the report notes.

    The Americans were particularly interested in retrieving unused Stingers from the stockpile of up to 2,000 distributed in the 1980s. One report from Jowzjan in 2005 said an Afghan intelligence chief was authorised to pay $5,000 for older SA-7 missiles and $15,000 for a Stinger. "The NDS [National Directorate of Security] had been ordered to buy all they can acquire, to stop them falling into OMF [opposing military force] hands," it says.

    Military experts say many Stingers may no longer be operational – due to drained batteries, for instance – but on at least one occasion US troops feared they were under fire from their own weapons. A Black Hawk helicopter leaving an airbase in Paktika province in July 2007 came under fire from two missiles that crew members believed were Stingers. It was a "probable Stinger due to flight characteristics, the smoke trail going straight up, then turn towards aircraft and lack of cork screws".

    The assessment was provided by a crew member who said he had previously operated the Stinger system. It is not recorded whether his assessment was later confirmed.

    Another eye-catching intelligence report from January 2009 says an Iranian agent, Hussein Razza, had arrived in Marjah in Helmand carrying four Stingers. There have been no reports since of aircraft being shot down in Marjah, where British and American troops launched a major offensive last February.

    But for all the worries about Manpads and Stingers, the Taliban's most potent weapon against US aircraft was a carefully aimed RPG. In June 2005 a Taliban rocket shot down a Chinook in Kunar, killing all 16 special forces troops on board. Another RPG strike in 2007 forced a Black Hawk in Wardak province to crash-land.

    As fighting surged in the runup to the last election in August 2009, one report noted 32 RPG attacks against aircraft across Afghanistan in the previous month. "RPGs remain the most lethal weapon system used in theatre, accounting for the majority of A/C [aircraft] losses," it said.

    But some missile attacks remained a mystery. In August 2007 two Harrier jets flying at 270mph were circling a target when "an unidentified rocket" passed between them, leaving a thick smoke trail that soared above 21,000ft and took three minutes to dissipate. Task Force Pegasus, the US army aviation command, was puzzled. "The signature reported by the crew does not match any known weapon in Afghanistan. Every MANPAD and known rockets burn out at half the height reported by the crew.

    LETHALFORCE Moderator Moderator

    Feb 16, 2009
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    Stop Panicking About the Stingers - By Matthew Schroeder | Foreign Policy

    Stop Panicking About the Stingers

    Of all the stories being plucked from WikiLeaks' classified Afghanistan war logs, many analysts have picked out the Taliban's use of heat-seeking missiles as the most troubling. Remembering how the mujahideen used missiles to drive Soviet aircraft from the skies, pundits worried that the Taliban would inflict a similar pain upon American planes and helicopters in Afghanistan. But for those of us who follow the illicit arms trade, the documents simply underscore what we already knew: The Taliban has failed to reproduce the devastatingly effective anti-aircraft campaign that brought the Red Army to its knees in the mid-1980s.

    Afghanistan's storied history of anti-aircraft weapons (known as Man-portable Air Defense Systems -- MANPADS) centers around the American Stinger missile, which played a decisive role in the U.S.-funded insurgency that ended nine brutal years of Soviet occupation in the 1980s. Prior to the arrival of the Stinger, none of the weapons procured and distributed to the Afghan rebels by their three main benefactors -- the United States, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia -- had proven effective against Soviet aircraft, which bombed villages, attacked rebel strongholds, and strafed supply caravans with impunity.

    That all changed in September 1986, when a newly trained mujahideen missile team fired its first Stingers at three Soviet Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunships attempting to land at Jalalabad airfield. Locked onto the infra-red signatures of their targets, the five-foot-long, 35-pound missiles raced after the ill-fated helicopters at speeds of over 1,500 mph, smashing into them with "the kinetic force of a mid-sized car traveling at sixty miles per hour," according to a 1987 article in the Arizona Republic. The stricken helicopters fell to the ground and burst into flames, marking the advent of a new chapter in the war.

    Over the next three years, the mujahideen, who received Stingers from Washington and extensive training on their use in Pakistan, staged dozens of attacks that brought down nearly 270 aircraft, contributing in no small part to the Soviet Union's decision to withdraw from Afghanistan in 1989. While no single factor can be credited for the triumph of a rag-tag militia over the formidable Soviet military, the Stinger missile was a game-changer, destroying hundreds of multi-million-dollar Soviet aircraft, killing dozens of highly trained pilots, and disrupting and degrading Soviet counter insurgency operations throughout the country. So pervasive was the Stinger's influence on events in Afghanistan that analysts coined a term around it: "the Stinger effect."

    After the Soviet withdrawal, the U.S. government scrambled to collect the remaining Stinger missiles, fearing they could end up in the hands of terrorists. A top-secret CIA program dubbed "Operation Missing in Action Stinger" was established to buy back the missiles. Details on the classified program remain scant, but the information that is available suggests that, despite rewards of $100,000 or more for each device, the CIA failed to recover many if not most of the loose Stingers. Government officials interviewed by author Steve Coll for his book Ghost Wars claim that an estimated 600 of the Afghan Stingers were still missing as of 1996. Some of the missing missiles ended up in the hands of terrorists, insurgents, and hostile governments as far away as North Korea and Sri Lanka, but many remained squirreled away in rebel arms caches. As recently as 2005, Stingers were seized from a cache near the Pakistan border, and incidents of trafficking in Stinger components have been reported as recently as 2006.

    Today, however, there is nothing comparable to the "Stinger effect" in Afghanistan. Open-source accounts of the Taliban's weapons suggests that, in recent years, the group has had access to limited numbers of first- and second-generation anti-aircraft weapons, including Soviet SA-7s, Chinese HN-5s, and perhaps a few early model Stingers. (It is difficult to tell from the WikiLeaks documents if the devices used were, in fact, Stingers.) In 2009, London's Telegraph newspaper reported that Soviet SA-14s -- a second-generation heat-seeking missile introduced in the 1970s -- had been smuggled into Afghanistan across the Iranian border. While loose missiles of any type are worrisome, none of those reportedly acquired by the Taliban have the game-changing potential that the Stinger had in the 1980s. This assessment is supported both by open-source reporting on insurgent missile attacks in Afghanistan and the classified documents obtained by Wikileaks. Those files contain numerous reports of suspected missile attacks but very few reports of downed aircraft. One assault recounted in the war logs, for example, succeeded in downing a Chinook helicopter in 2007. But a single downed helicopter -- or even 10 or 20 downed helicopters -- over nine years hardly qualifies as a successful insurgent anti-aircraft campaign.

    The Taliban's fortunes in the anti-aircraft game are unlikely to improve anytime soon. The U.S. military is well-versed in this particular missile threat and has developed tactical and technical countermeasures to mitigate it. These countermeasures are not perfect, as evidenced by aircraft lost in Iraq and possibly in Afghanistan, but they appear to be reasonably effective against the MANPADS currently used by the Taliban.

    That could change, of course, if the Taliban suddenly acquired state-of-the-art weaponry. But that seems unlikely. The only reason the mujahideen had access to the Stingers (which are among the most tightly guarded weapons in the world,) was a Cold War cost-benefit calculus that no longer applies. The producers of today's most advanced shoulder-fired missiles have no compelling reason to arm the Taliban. It is conceivable that a country with an anti-U.S. agenda might be interested in giving the insurgency a boost. Still, publicly available information suggests that the least-accountable regimes (that is, the North Koreas of the world) don't yet have access to the most advanced such weapons even if they wanted to send them the way of the Taliban. And lacking a friendly government supplier, the Taliban would have a hard time acquiring the best missiles on its own.

    At least, for the time being. As more missiles are exported to countries with leaky arsenals, the likelihood that groups like the Taliban will eventually acquire more capable weapons can only rise. Securing MANPADS and other advanced conventional weapons will require vigilance, focus, and sustained commitment -- not exactly something that the current panic over the WikiLeaks documents is likely to foster.

    LETHALFORCE Moderator Moderator

    Feb 16, 2009
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    Mystery shrouds ‘rusted missiles of Afghan era’ recovered from Jalozai Camp | DAWN.COM

    Mystery shrouds ‘rusted missiles of Afghan era’ recovered from Jalozai Camp

    PESHAWAR: Nine missiles about two and a half feet long each, were recovered from Afghan Jalozai camp on the outskirts of Nowshera which officials believe might have been used by Afghan Mujahideen during the Soviet war and were dumped at the camp, which once served as a launching pad for the war in Afghanistan, sources said.

    Some intelligence sources however said these missiles might be ‘surface-to-air missiles’ of the Afghan war era – Stingers which were allegedly supplied by the United States to Mujahideen in Afghanistan to fight the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

    An internally displaced person (IDP), Hayat Khan son of Mir Haider from Bara, Khyber Agency, was digging the ground near his tent to stop flow of water to coming to his tent when he had found the missile-resembling objects.

    In-charge of Jalozai police checkpost, Abdul Malik confirmed that the IDP Hayat Khan found the missiles while digging in Phase 6 of Jalozai Camp and informed the police.

    Malik said higher officials were informed about the nine missiles and “we stopped the IDPs from digging further in the vicinity to avert any untoward incident.”

    Describing the missiles, Malik said that each was roughly about three feet in length while the diameter for each was about two to three feet along with the casing.

    The Station House Officer of Pabbi Police station, Shakeel Khan, speaking to said, “The size of the missiles or rockets found was about two and half feet but we are not sure about their make.”

    Regarding a query whether they resemble Stinger missiles, Shakeel Khan said, “They are very old and rusted, covered in a plastic casing and hardly any writing or markings left on them; we could only see the words ‘52 degree’ written on them and only experts can tell the exact make.”

    The intelligence sources, however, said that the missiles are believed to be surface-to-air missiles and might be those which were handed over to the Afghan Mujahideen to fight the Soviet troops during the 1980 invasion of Afghanistan – ‘Stingers’ which were the main power fight against Soviets in Afghanistan.

    Regarding another query, sources said, “These proved to be a huge income source for the Afghan Mujahideen after the Soviet withdrawal, as the Americans allegedly had to purchase the missiles back from the warlords due to the fear that the technology might slip into others’ hands.”

    An elderly local familiar to the Jalozai camp dwellers for many decades, who did not want to be named, said that he had seen such missile-resembling objects being sold by the Afghans living in the camp for lakhs of rupees after the Soviet war ended.

    District Police Officer Hussain Khan told, “They are some kind of mortars and are extremely rusted, may be of Afghan war era which might have been dumped by the Afghans who had been living there,” adding, “they often come across such mortar shells, and RPGs in the abandoned camp.”

    “I wish they were Stingers, but perhaps they are just mortars of some canon or large gun which are greatly rusted and beyond recognition, but surely they cannot not be stingers at all,” Hussain Khan insisted when asked if they found US Stingers.

    The area where these missiles or rockets were found in Jalozai Camp, was reportedly inhabited by Arab fighters belonging to the Abdullah Azam Group. Abdullah Azam was believed to be the founder of the Jihad University in Nowshera and also regarded as the real founder of the Arab fighters group which was later branded as al-Qaeda by the US led coalition.

    The Arab fighters also had an office, Baitul Ansar, in the same area where these missiles were found and most likely the objects discovered might have been their property but there was no credible evidence to confirm this.

    Former Mujahideen leader and the chief of Ittehad Islami, Abdul Rasool Sayyaf’s house was also in the same area of Jalozai, who supervised the Arab fighters at that time.

    A former Afghan Mujahideen fighter, still associated with the Taliban and fighting the US troops in Afghanistan, told, “I believe the objects recovered cannot be Stinger missiles but they might be SAM-7 or Bolo-5, which were supplied by the US to shoot down the Soviet fighter aircraft.”

    Regarding a query, he said, “Most of such missiles were supplied by the US-led coalition to the Mujahideen commanders to fight the Soviets, however, the Stingers came very late,” adding “these missiles used to be very costly; about half a million Pakistani rupees during that time, but don’t know how much they would cost today.”
  19. pmaitra

    pmaitra Moderator Moderator

    Mar 10, 2009
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    EST, USA
    Few points:
    • More people die annually in the Russian Federation today than the Soviet soldiers killed in a year in Afghanistan.
    • Stingers were largely ineffective, and most of those successful were against Mil-17s and transport aircraft.
    • The Mil-24/35 was largely successful in their respective operations.
    • Soviet helicopters incorporated exhaust suppressors to reduce the heat signature of their helos.
    • The Soviets never lost a battle against the Mujahideen, and were not straddled with any political correctness. They did what they were supposed to do - go into a battle, win it, and come back.
    • Right before Soviet withdrawal, a lot of out-of-control territories were captured by the Soviets and handed to DRA control. Never had the DRA government controlled as much of Afghanistan as it did when the Soviets were withdrawing (1988-89).
    • The Stinger's effectiveness has been blown out of proportion.
    W.G.Ewald and LETHALFORCE like this.

    LETHALFORCE Moderator Moderator

    Feb 16, 2009
    Likes Received:
    Stingers had about a 20% success rate.

    LETHALFORCE Moderator Moderator

    Feb 16, 2009
    Likes Received:
    Stingers cost $120,000 for the manpad and each missile costs $40,000. If you can take down a multimillion
    dollar jet for 40,000 it is a very low investment for a high return.
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2012

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