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Ukrainians Will Shoot Down Russian Aircraft With American Weapons

This is a serious turn, as we've seen before in Afghanistan.
IMAGE SERGEI SUPINSKY / GETTY IMAGES

On Tuesday night, the president ruled out any direct combat role for US military forces in Ukraine. This also would mean that no American aircraft would be involved in any no-fly zone, something the Ukrainian government has been asking for ever since the Russian army rolled in. But both the United States and Germany have agreed to give the Ukrainian army the ability to make individual combatants into one-man no-fly zones. From the AP:

The U.S. for the first time has approved the direct delivery of Stinger missiles to Ukraine as part of a package approved by the White House on Friday. The exact timing of delivery is not known, but officials say the U.S. is currently working on the logistics of the shipment. The officials agreed to discuss the development only if not quoted by name. The decision comes on the heels of Germany’s announcement that it will send 500 Stinger missiles and other weapons and supplies to Ukraine. The high-speed Stingers are very accurate and are used to shoot down helicopters and other aircraft. Ukrainian officials have been asking for more of the powerful weapons. The Baltic states have also been providing Ukraine with Stingers since January, and in order to do that had to get U.S. permission.

This is some serious stuff. In the mid-1980s, when the United States covertly supplied the Afghan rebels against the Soviet forces, they initially did so with captured Soviet weapons laundered through Israel and other countries. The roundabout plan was necessary because it was considered too dangerous to shoot down Soviet helicopters with weapons if those weapons had the fingerprints of the American government on them. In 1985, the U.S. directly supplied Stingers to the rebels, which was the first time U.S. weapons were used to kill Soviet soldiers during the entire Cold War. (There were so many Stingers shipped to Afghanistan that it was impossible to account for them after the Soviets bailed, and their proliferation still keeps anti-terrorism experts up nights.) From the National Security Archive:

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In 1984, Wilson used his powerful position on the House Intelligence Committee to tack on an additional $50 million for Afghan covert aid and convinced the CIA to purchase high-quality, Swiss-designed Oerlikon anti-aircraft missiles, which could pierce the heavy armor of the USSR’s most formidable counterinsurgency machine, the Hind Mi-24 helicopter. The CIA went even further in 1985, purchasing the sophisticated British-made Blowpipe anti-aircraft missiles. And in 1986, due to pressure from several congressmen and a number of bureaucrats at the State and Defense departments, the CIA provided the mujahidin with U.S.-made Stinger missiles, the most effective shoulder-held anti-aircraft weapon in the world. It was the first time the CIA had provided U.S.-made weaponry as part of a covert insurgency support operation, and the legislative branch was largely responsible. As a congressional staffer later put it: "We finally broke the Agency’s virginity.”

For years, the unspoken policy was to keep American and then-Soviet soldiers from killing each other. In 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, President John F. Kennedy did everything he could to keep from bombing the missile sites, in order to keep American bombs from killing Russian technicians for fear of what might happen as a result.

Now, there will be no running the Stingers through a geopolitical spin cycle. There is nothing covert about the transactions. Ukrainian soldiers will shoot down Russian aircraft with weapons openly supplied by the United States. This is a turn that events have taken, and it is a serious one.

This story originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.

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About The Author
Charles P. Pierce
Charles P. Pierce, lead for Esquire Politics US, has been a working journalist since 1976. He is the author of four books, most recently 'Idiot America.' He lives near Boston with his wife but no longer his three children.
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