The Taliban´s Latest Toy – European Anti-Tank Missiles

by Florian Flade

On October 18th 2008, French troops stationed in the central Afghan province of Kapisa, northeast of Kabul, were attacked by insurgents in the Alasai Valley. About 300 French NATO soldiers ran into ambush set by the Taliban and were then engaged in a long fierce battle with approximately 100 insurgent fighters resulting in 14 Taliban being killed and one French soldier being injured. Just two months prior to this incident 10 French troops were killed by the Taliban in a deadly ambush lasting for several days in the very same region.

In the October skirmish, the French military´s greatest concern therefore was to get the troops out of Alasai valley alive. For that reason, the soldiers retreated when they were attacked by the Taliban from various sides, while air strikes were called in. During the retreat, the French soldiers abandoned some equipment of theirs, including a MILAN missile launcher and two medium-range missiles. In a French ISAF statement released later it says: „A Milan firing system and two missiles couldn’t have been retrieved“.

Herve Morin, then France´s Defence Minister, said the capture of the MILAN system by Taliban forces was not that significant as the survival of all French troops in that ambush was regarded as far more important. „The essential thing is that everyone is alive,“ Morin said, adding that the Milan anti-tank missiles abandoned would be difficult to use for anyone without the proper training.

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Two years later, in December 2010, Taliban fighters in Eastern Afghanistan released a proof of their use of a MILAN system in combat against NATO troops. A short sequence of a new Taliban propaganda tape produced by the Haqqani-wing of the Afghan/Pakistan Taliban shows insurgents firing a MILAN missile at what appears to be a joined US/Afghan military convoy. Because of the video quality and the shacky camera-work, it is almost impossible to say wether or not the wire-guided missile actually hit the target and caused casualties.

Fact is Taliban seem to use the fairly modern weapon system against NATO troops. Big question is wether or not the shown MILAN is the one captured in the October 2008 battle with French troops or if the militants were supplied with the missile launcher from other sources. About 40 countries are using the French/German-built Anti-Tank-Missile system „MILAN“, including Germany, France, the United States, Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Qatar, the United Kingdom, India, Belgium and Australia. More than 10,000 missile systems have been produced and about 100,000 missiles were built under license in countries like Spain and India.

The MILAN, which weighs only about 17 Kilos and can be operated by two men, has been used in several wars and conflicts since the 1970s, for example in the Iran-Iraq War, the Falkland-War, in Lebanon, Chad and also in Afghanistan when the United States supplied the Afghan resistance with guided Anti-Tank missiles to fight the Soviet troops. Although possible it is very unlikely the MILAN seen in the latest Taliban tape is one of the Soviet-era systems delivered by the CIA. Most of those have either been used in the 1980s against the Russian tanks and later in the 1990s Civil War raging in Afghanistan, or been sold after the Soviets withdrew in 1989.

Some MILANs made their way to the Caucasus where Islamic militants used them to attack Russian troops in Dagestan and Chechnya. Propaganda tapes from the 1990s conflict in the Caucasus show militants firing MILAN and MILAN-like missile systems at a convoy in the Dagestan Mountains.

I contacted the MILAN producer MBDA last week to ask about the missile launcher and its appearance in the hands of Taliban fighting NATO troops. Until now MBDA did not reply to my request.

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