July 28th, 2010
06:36 PM ET

Shoulder-fired missiles a threat to US troops in Afghanistan

Among the 90,000 secret U.S. military documents posted on the internet this week by WikiLeaks are more than a dozen reports of possible attacks on Afghanistan coalition aircraft using heat-seeking shoulder-fired missiles.

It was that type of missile that brought down numerous Soviet military aircraft when the Soviet Union tried to occupy Afghanistan in the 1980s.

But among all the reports, one day stands out: May 30, 2007.

In the first of three attacks on that day, an American CH-47 helicopter code named "Flipper" was, according to a leaked report, "engaged and struck with a missile."

"The missile struck the aircraft in the left engine," the report says. "The impact of the missile projected the aft end of the aircraft up as it burst into flames, followed immediately by a nose dive into the crash site."

All seven troops on board died, including five Americans, a Briton and a Canadian.

The report goes onto say, "Based on description of launch, size of round, and impact force of the projectile, it is assessed to be bigger than an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) and possibly a surface-to-air missile. Witness statements ... suggest Flipper was struck by MANPAD (man-portable air-defense system)."

MANPADs are shoulder-fired missiles that can home in on the heat from an aircraft's engine to destroy it.

A U.S. military official in Afghanistan said the reports don't tell the whole story.

"We're aware of the report on surface-to-air missiles. What's being presented is a pretty broad and somewhat random selection of documents that includes information that in some cases is incomplete or not verified by other sources or studies," the official said. "There's been no recent activity suggesting that these weapons are a threat, as attested by the volume of our daily air activity and the causes of aircraft incidents, which we report."

Within half an hour of the first attack, two Apache helicopter gunships were fired on by what the pilots thought was a missile. The helicopters were not damaged.

Another half hour later, another attack came from the ground on the same Apaches. The report on that incident reads, "This was possibly the second MANPAD engagement against this flight of Apaches in a 30-minute period. Clearly, the Taliban were attempting to down an Apache after downing the CH-47."

Many more reported MANPAD attacks or possible MANPAD attacks were reported in 2007, but none brought down a coalition aircraft.

Perhaps the best known and most effective MANPADs are American-made Stingers, which the United States supplied to Afghan militia to fight the Soviets.

At least two of the reports indicate that a Stinger missile could have been used to attack coalition aircraft, albeit unsuccessfully.

One report details that case of a missile fired at an American F-18 Hornet by what was believed to be a MANPAD. And because the missile blew itself up as it approached anti-missile flares, the report's author suggested it was a Stinger.

"A Stinger Basic would have likely been the only MANPAD (currently known to be in Afghanistan) capable of a proximity detonation onto the dispensed flares," the unidentified commander wrote. The Hornet was not damaged and no one was hurt.

Most of the reports mentioning the specific type of MANPADs refer to older, less sophisticated missiles of Chinese or Soviet design. "The 1st or 2nd generation MANPADs generally encountered in Afghanistan (HN-5, SA-7, SA-14, SA-16) would have had to have made direct contact with one of the flares (in order to) initiate the detonator," the report on the F-18 Hornet attack says.

There's no doubt MANPADs are in Afghanistan. One coalition raid on a weapons cache in 2005 found four MANPADs in storage. And during a meeting between U.S. military leaders and a provincial governor, "the governor reported that a man claiming to have MANPADs for sale has been in touch with his staff, presumably to give CF (coalition forces) an opportunity to buy them and get them out of circulation," one of the leaked reports says. "The governor referred to them as Blowpipe missiles. The seller is going to show the governor a picture to prove that he has them."

It is unclear from the report whether the coalition ever secured the missiles the governor talked about.

soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. Smith in Oregon

    The only reason this subject is even being discussed is because Wikileaks revealed what the US Commanders were NOT telling the Helicopter Pilots and their flight crews. For an effort at accuracy here for CNN and my fellow bloggers, the new Russian shoulder fired heat seeking missiles in question also have UV filtering which ignores flares which flight crews routinely spewed out to confuse and evade the old 1980's US made Stinger missiles. Some of the US Commanders involved in the coverup have made public propaganda statements in a callous attempt to distort and confuse the public. Those statements were the left over 1980's Stinger missiles were the ones in question. NO, the electronics in those has long lapsed into non-operational service. Those are entirely outdated by the newer generations which employ UV (Ultra Violet) filtering in their sensors.

    How do the 'treason' and 'throw wikileakers into prison' wing-nuts justify US Commanders not telling the helicopter pilots and their flight crews the Taliban were given shoulder fired heat seeking missiles by the Pakistani ISI and the result being the largest loss of American and NATO troops being killed in any single day in Afghanistan. Silence resulted in a large number of American and NATO deaths, let the 'treason' and 'throw the leaker in prison' justify their position on that.

    Large numbers of American and NATO soldiers DIED because they didn't know this information before Wikileaks released it. You can't justify the 'throw them in jail because this 'might' place troops in harms way. Large numbers of American and NATO troops DIED because the US Commanders were silent about this information.

    July 28, 2010 at 8:48 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Ralphie

    Let's suppose your technical information is true and complete (doubtful, but that doesn't matter). Do you really think pilots thought they were safe in the air over Afghanistan, or that flares guaranteed their survival? Do you really think commanders know exactly what weapons the enemy will field? There's a certain element of society that just loves to spin these yarns of coverup, but the reality far from your comfortable armchair is that war is messy, uncertain, and deadly. Get a life.

    July 28, 2010 at 10:56 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Ranger

    I was stationed in Afghanistan for 13 months in 05 and 06. We were briefed that the bad guys may in fact have MANPADS. I am not sure how you come up with "it was a cover up". Granted, I wasn't in an Avn unit and wasn't present for their mission briefs, but I rode in the back of many CH47s and UH60s and was briefed by my intel folks that there could be MANPADS present in Afghamnistan.

    July 29, 2010 at 8:37 am | Report abuse |
  4. Afghan Historian

    While in Afghanistan during 1986, 1987, 1990, 1991 and 1997 I noted the availability of Soviet SA-7s, British Blowpipes, and Chinese clones of SA-7, 14 and 16s. The Soviet SA-7s were retrieved form battlefield pickups during the Arab/Israel Wars by the Israel Defence Force and sold to the U.S. in order to hide American involvement in supplying arms to the Mujahideen. The SA-7s were nototiously inefficient. They would, for example, hone in on a distant snow patch or rock heated by the sun.They also left a very visible signaturee resulting in retributive fire from the Soviets. The British "Blowpipes" were difficult to deploy do to ergnomical idiosyncrasies. The Afghans learned to use the FIM-92A (Stinger) effectively. I would doubt, as has been posted earlier, that they remain effective due to deteriorating power drain.

    July 29, 2010 at 9:34 am | Report abuse |
  5. evan Mark

    Please learn about the TALIBAN and how evil these men really are.
    You absolutely MUST see this!

    August 8, 2010 at 9:29 pm | Report abuse |
  6. baby bliss

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    April 28, 2012 at 9:09 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Gofish

    While in Afghanistan from 2007 – 2010 several times flying in C-130's on most occasions flares were discharged during the approach. Seems as early as 2007 heat seekers were suspected by i never witnessed any.

    September 25, 2012 at 8:53 pm | Report abuse |