Today, however, there is nothing comparable to the "Stinger effect" in Afghanistan. Open-source accounts of the Taliban's weapons suggests that, in recent years, the group has had access to limited numbers of first- and second-generation anti-aircraft weapons, including Soviet SA-7s, Chinese HN-5s, and perhaps a few early model Stingers. (It is difficult to tell from the WikiLeaks documents if the devices used were, in fact, Stingers.) In 2009, London's Telegraph newspaper reported that Soviet SA-14s -- a second-generation heat-seeking missile introduced in the 1970s -- had been smuggled into Afghanistan across the Iranian border. While loose missiles of any type are worrisome, none of those reportedly acquired by the Taliban have the game-changing potential that the Stinger had in the 1980s. This assessment is supported both by open-source reporting on insurgent missile attacks in Afghanistan and the classified documents obtained by Wikileaks. Those files contain numerous reports of suspected missile attacks but very few reports of downed aircraft. One assault recounted in the war logs, for example, succeeded in downing a Chinook helicopter in 2007. But a single downed helicopter -- or even 10 or 20 downed helicopters -- over nine years hardly qualifies as a successful insurgent anti-aircraft campaign.
The Taliban's fortunes in the anti-aircraft game are unlikely to improve anytime soon. The U.S. military is well-versed in this particular missile threat and has developed tactical and technical countermeasures to mitigate it. These countermeasures are not perfect, as evidenced by aircraft lost in Iraq and possibly in Afghanistan, but they appear to be reasonably effective against the MANPADS currently used by the Taliban.
That could change, of course, if the Taliban suddenly acquired state-of-the-art weaponry. But that seems unlikely. The only reason the mujahideen had access to the Stingers (which are among the most tightly guarded weapons in the world,) was a Cold War cost-benefit calculus that no longer applies. The producers of today's most advanced shoulder-fired missiles have no compelling reason to arm the Taliban. It is conceivable that a country with an anti-U.S. agenda might be interested in giving the insurgency a boost. Still, publicly available information suggests that the least-accountable regimes (that is, the North Koreas of the world) don't yet have access to the most advanced such weapons even if they wanted to send them the way of the Taliban. And lacking a friendly government supplier, the Taliban would have a hard time acquiring the best missiles on its own.
At least, for the time being. As more missiles are exported to countries with leaky arsenals, the likelihood that groups like the Taliban will eventually acquire more capable weapons can only rise. Securing MANPADS and other advanced conventional weapons will require vigilance, focus, and sustained commitment -- not exactly something that the current panic over the WikiLeaks documents is likely to foster.