U.S. Now Fears Stinger Missiles It Gave Afghans
By Jim Wolf
Monday October 8 6:03 PM ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - CIA-supplied Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, which helped drive Soviet forces from Afghanistan in the 1980s, have come back to haunt U.S. military aircraft dropping bombs and food packs on the central Asian country, the top U.S. military officer said on Monday.
Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Taliban forces had met the initial wave of U.S. and British attacks with anti-aircraft fire as well as ''man-portable surface-to-air missiles.''
``We just assume that some of those were the Stinger missiles, because we know they have those man-portable surface-to-air missiles, so we assume some of them were fired,'' Myers told a Pentagon briefing.
The Taliban have been reported to have up to 100 of the shoulder-fired, heat-seeking Stingers -- a Raytheon Co. product with the deadliest record against low-flying aircraft of any modern weapon.
The first generation of the Stinger was delivered by the CIA to Afghan rebels in mid-1986. The missiles' mystique has been burnished by the role they played in neutralizing Soviet air power in Afghanistan.
Myers said aircraft used in the first strikes of a projected long war on those held responsible for the Sept. 11 blitz on the United States had flown too high to be hit by Stingers. The Stinger's range is ``more than 3 kilometers,'' or 1.9 miles, according to a Defense Department fact sheet.
``Obviously, the aircraft were at heights above both the anti-aircraft fire and the man-portable surface-to-air missiles (so) that they weren't affected by it,'' Myers told reporters.
Western fighters and bombers are relatively safe from the Stinger not only because they fly high but because they can maneuver quickly and deploy a vast range of defenses and countermeasures.
TRANSPORT PLANES VULNERABLE
Potentially more vulnerable are heavy transport aircraft such as the C-17 Globemasters used to drop 37,500 food packs to starving Afghans barely nine hours after the leadoff U.S. and British blitz.
``The ultimate irony would be the loss to a U.S.-made Stinger
of one of our C-17s on a humanitarian flight,'' said Dan Goure, a Cold War-era Pentagon strategist now at the Lexington Institute, a defense policy research group in Arlington, Virginia.
The two C-17s used in the initial food drops flew at a higher altitude than on any previous such operations, the mission commander, Air Force Col. Robert Allardice told a briefing at Germany's Ramstein Air Base on Monday. He declined to say how high they flew.
In the 1980s, the administration of President Ronald Reagan delivered several hundred Stingers to Afghan resistance groups, including people who ended up siding with Taliban forces now sheltering Osama bin Laden, accused of masterminding last month's attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The CIA, despite strenuous efforts, was never able to recover more than a few of the missiles after the war ended, even with big cash rewards.
After Moscow's withdrawal in 1989, the CIA started a buyback program to recover the Stingers, offering as much as $100,000 each. By all accounts, there were few takers.
Stingers, fired from tubes 6 feet long and fueled by a solid propellant, are probably less lethal now than when they were new because of their aging electronics.
CIA officials have long referred to their fears of U.S.-supplied Stingers and other unintended consequences of building up the Afghan resistance as ``blowback.''
Stingers were credited with destroying 270 Soviet helicopters, fighters and transport planes in Afghanistan.
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