One of the major revelations to come out of the 92,000 previously classified documents recently released by wikileaks is that apparently the Taliban have on several occasions fired at U.S aircraft using surface to air missiles better known as MANPADS (Man Portable Air Defense Systems). The media has seized upon this story as yet another government blunder since, after all, wasn't it the U.S. government who originally supplied the Mujahideen with stinger missiles back in the 80's when they were fighting the Soviets? However, a closer examination of the specs on these stingers leads one to a far different and perhaps more dangerous conclusion; that Pakistan has begun to supply the Taliban with their own surface to air missiles to use against U.S. forces.
I had often heard that there were several hundred stingers unaccounted for after the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan and when I was there this summer I asked the crews of helicopters I was flying on why it was that we no longer considered these weapons a threat. According to weapons experts, the batteries on stinger missiles are good for one shot each and they must be changed out if the delivery system is to be used more than once. Furthermore, the average shelf life of unused batteries is only 4-5 years. Meaning that any stinger missiles given to the Mujahideen in the 80's would no longer be effective today. While it is not beyond the realm of contemplation that a skilled technician could jerry-rig some sort of alternative battery for these devices, such skill is likely out of the range of the vast majority of Taliban. These weapons are however still capable of exploding, only the delivery device is deactivated. As such a great deal of the remaining stingers left over from the 80's have probably since been turned into IEDs.
The fact remains however that the Taliban are getting fully functioning MANPADS from somewhere, which in all likelihood have been constructed in the last 4-5 years. The most likely candidate is Pakistan which is both the traditional patron of the Taliban and has for the last twenty years been a manufacturer of their very own surface to air missile known as the Anza. The Anza has an effective range of up to 5000 meters and could certainly have been behind the downing of several US helicopters in recent years. In recent years, Pakistan has advertised the Anza series for export,displaying it at the International Defense Exhibition (IDEX) 2007 event in the UAE.
Worst case scenario: The Pakistani ISI is directly providing the Taliban with surface to air missiles.
Best Case: Pakistan is irresponsibly selling MANPADS on the open market and they are ending up in the hands of the Taliban through a middleman.
The Taliban has typically relied upon weapons that can be conveniently obtained either from abandoned Soviet weapons caches or the Pakistani black market. Knowing that convenience is their modus operandi, the worst case scenario unfortunately appears to be the more likely.
Originally Posted on Demagogues and Dictators