However, providing missiles of undeniably American origin would also have sharply escalated the conflict between the United States and Russia. Unlike the widely exported TOW missiles or various Russian weapon systems, there was no credible way for such weapons to end up in Ukrainian hands without American authorization. Thus: no Javelins for Ukraine.
Theoretically, the same policy applies to various Syrian rebel groups being supplied arms by the United States, including Kurdish groups opposed by Turkey. The United States acknowledges supplying them with older TOW missiles, not Javelins.
But then we have images like this.
In February of this year, Kurdish forces near El Shadadi are seen firing a Javelin missile that destroyed truck-born IED hurtling towards their lines, destroying it before it could hit friendly forces. You can see the action in this clip.
The report of Javelin armed Kurds caused quite a stir, even while the U.S. government insists that it is not arming the rebels with Javelins. This may be disingenuous, or it could be that the Javelin came from a U.S. Special Forces unit operating alongside the Kurds, and the provisioning was ad hoc rather than part of a systematic program. Another possibility is that the Javelin came out of the stocks of a Middle Eastern country sympathetic to the rebels.
The Turkish Land Forces have lost nearly a dozen Patton tanks this year to anti-tank missiles wielded both by ISIS and Kurdish fighters, whom it also opposes. So far, it doesn’t seem any have been hit by Javelin missiles, however.
In any case, the Javelin missile remains one of the United States’ most potent systems on the ground, and one that seems set to increase in capability and be deployed on a greater number of platforms Its presence, or absence, on battlefields around the world will remain both consequential and highly scrutinized.
Sébastien Roblin holds a Master’s Degree in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring.
This first appeared in October 2016 and is being reprinted due to reader interest.