December 1, 2022

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'Worth the risk': US rushes MANPADS into Ukraine despite proliferation fears

‘Worth the risk’: US rushes MANPADS into Ukraine despite proliferation fears

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States and NATO are shipping weapons to Ukraine at breakneck speed, including highly sensitive items such as shoulder-fired missiles called man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) that can shoot down aircraft. .

Western arms shipments, another shipment expected in the coming hours, were needed to enable the Ukrainians to fight invading Russian forces more effectively and ferociously than US intelligence had anticipated.

But moving those arms to Europe’s largest conflict since World War II carries the risk of some falling into the wrong hands – a possibility the West has considered.

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“Frankly, we think the risk is worth the risk now because the Ukrainians are fighting skillfully with the tools at their disposal and using them very creatively,” a senior US defense official said Friday when asked about this risk.

Highly portable missiles such as Stinger surface-to-air missiles – a type of MANPADS – can help win wars, but in the past they have been lost, sold, or ended up in the arsenals of extremist groups.

For example, hundreds of Stinger missiles supplied by the United States were seen as essential to helping mujahideen insurgents oust Soviet forces from Afghanistan in a conflict that spanned the 1980s and 1990s.

But then the United States spent years trying to recover unused MANPADS from that country and from other conflict zones around the world.

In a Pentagon-funded study in 2019, RAND Corp. More than 60 civilian aircraft have been bombed by MANPADS since the 1970s, killing more than 1,000 civilians. As of 2019, 57 non-state armed groups have been confirmed or suspected to possess MANPADS.

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RAND said Russia was the “largest single exporter of MANPADS,” selling more than 10,000 systems between 2010 and 2018 to countries including Iraq, Venezuela, Kazakhstan, Qatar and Libya.

The United States and NATO have not disclosed how many MANPADS have been transferred to Ukraine since the start of the invasion, now in its third week.

So far, Russia has not targeted Western arms convoys bound for Ukraine, and a senior US defense official said the United States has not seen any Western stockpiles of weapons fall into Russian hands.

But this could change.

At a meeting of the Russian Security Council on Friday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu spoke of a possible future seizure of Western Javelin and Stinger anti-tank weapons. He said it should be handed over to Russian-backed forces in the breakaway region of Donbass in eastern Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has publicly endorsed the idea.

“With regard to the delivery of weapons, especially those made in the West and that fell into the hands of the Russian army – of course I support the possibility of giving them to military units of the Lugansk and Donetsk republics,” Putin said.

“Please do this,” Putin said to Shoigu.

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(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Idris Ali) Editing by Mary Milliken and Daniel Wallis

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