New intelligence on Iran antiaircraft missiles in Afghanistan
An intelligence report recently delivered to the NDS, Afghanistan’s domestic intelligence agency, says that Iran has supplied fresh batteries for some three dozen shoulder-fired SA-7 missiles stockpiled by Taliban forces in Kandahar, in anticipation of a U.S. attack.
Although uncorroborated, the June 25 report from a human intelligence asset fits with information from other sources that the Taliban has obtained Iranian-made SA-7’s and other
, older shoulder-fired missiles, including U.S.-made Stingers left over from the mujaheddin’s CIA-backed war against the Soviet Red Army.
But the rebels' use of the missiles has been hampered by a lack of batteries, multiple sources say, as well as fears of a rapid counterstrike by U.S. drones.
“The real issue" with SA-7s "is battery life,” said a retired former top U.S. military intelligence official in Afghanistan.
“There are three parts to the system: the shoulder grip/sighting mechanism, the rocket in tube and the battery. Batteries are the weak link.”
A former senior CIA operations officer echoed a similar theme, independently.
"They have a bunch of U.S. Stingers left over from the mujaheddin time. But the batteries are dead,” said the former officer, who is under contract to supply intelligence about al-Qaeda and the Taliban to the Pentagon. “The Iranians are trying to get or manufacture new batteries.”
“Iran has provided about three dozen new, Iranian-made, shoulder-fired AA rockets” to the Taliban, the former CIA officer added, “and they are in Helmand and Kandahar now, but being held in reserve for the ‘big battle’ that never seems to come.”
The onset of the Ramadan fast has postponed any coalition forces attack another month, he said.
The spy's June 25 report to Afghanistan’s NDS intelligence agency said, “Maolavi Mohibullah on 25 June 2010 returned from Iran via Kamdai to Garmeshk, carrying 15 fresh batteries for the Iranian made SAM-7s already in Taliban hands.”
Mohibullah was not identified, nor was the name of the agent who supplied the report, a copy of which was made available to SpyTalk by a Western intelligence source.
Any reports linking Iran to the Afghan conflict must be viewed with caution. A previous intelligence report, surfaced by WikiLeaks, describing a 2005 missile-buying mission to North Korea by rebel leader Gulbiddin Hekmatyar and a senior aide to Osama bin Laden, is now suspected of having been fabricated by elements in Washington or elsewhere who wanted to implicate Iran in the Afghan insurgency.
Nevertheless, maintained the former CIA officer, “During the anti-Soviet war, Iran was very open in supporting Shi’a mujaheddin units” in Afghanistan. “The current relations between Afghan Shi’a and Iran, especially those Shi’a in Kandahar, is a story waiting to be told. In short, it is an Iranian ‘fifth column’ representing Iranian interests. We all know about Pak meddling via the ISI, but Iranian meddling via the [Revolutionary Guard] is a story yet to be told.”
A CIA paramilitary operator who recently departed Afghanistan said he “would not discount" the report on the batteries.
But he added that Taliban commanders would be reluctant to deploy the missiles until it could be proven they could be used effectively -- and with impunity.
“If it does happen,” he said, “it will not be part of a protracted campaign but more of a ‘one off’ …”
“Once they turn on that system,” he added, “we are able to track it.”
“It depends on what asset is above -- satellites or drones,” he said, “but suffice to say, as we head into a certain area we have these assets on standby.”
“They also have to do the risk analysis on the system as well,” he continued. “We call it ‘fire and forget’ -- for them it’s ‘fire and watch out,’ as we smoke the ground they were standing on ….
“Additionally, we see [shoulder-fired missiles] as a tactical weapon, but for them it’s a strategic weapon requiring constant commo and people watching as they try to take down a helo or a fast-mover. Quite simply stated, we can ID the signature once they go ‘hot.’ I am not stating that you will not see them used. However it … does not play into the greater picture [of the Taliban’s guerrilla war strategy],” he said.
In addition, coalition aircraft also have effective anti-missile capabilities on board now, he added.
In July 2007 there were news reports of a U.S. C-130 transport plane evading a missile.
"The C-130 attacked in Nimroz was flying at 11,000 feet at the time of the attack, which is within the 1.5- to 3.4-mile range of a shoulder-launched missile system such as the SAM-7," said the London Telegraph.
U.S. military intelligence spent lavishly in 2002-2003 to buy up old Soviet-made missiles, which can be easily obtained in black-market arms bazaars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, said the retired MI official.
“The [truck-mounted] SA-3 was considered the holy grail,” he said.
Likewise, the CIA sought to buy back the Stingers it supplied to Islamic rebel forces in the 1980s. But it failed to get more than half of them, said the intelligence sources, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity so they could speak freely.
“We bought back about 150, leaving 150 unaccounted for,” said the former CIA operations officer. “By now, they would all be unserviceable because of the short battery life -- about one year. And because the battery is Stinger-unique, and no one else has Stingers, [there’s] no real source for new batteries other than US Army, which is not selling.”
| August 12, 2010; 3:17 PM ET
Categories: Intelligence, Military
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