There are still a large number (no one knows for sure how many) shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles kicking around Afghanistan and Pakistan. Back in th '80s, the U.S. shipped hundreds of Stingers to the mujaheddin to fight the Soviets and not all of them were fired before the Red Army had had enough and bailed. In addition, the Afghan National Army of the time had some Soviet-made SAMs and there were even a few British Blowpipes shipped to the Northern Alliance.
The presence of all these portable anti-air missiles has made the Pentagon nervous for the last nine years but there have been few credible reports of any of them actually being used by the Taliban. While the missiles and launchers themselves are fairly robust, they weren't designed to be buried in some Afghan's backyard for twenty years. Time, heat, moisture and dirt take their toll. In addition, the batteries required to run the things were not designed to last for twenty years either.*
*It's not like you can just pop in a few D-cells and fire away. The batteries are manufactured specifically for the launchers, and one can't just buy new batteries off the shelf.
Still, the possibility exists that there are some functioning launchers and missiles out there and that sooner or later the trogs will find a way to get them in proper working order. There's also the chance that their friends in Iran or Pakistan could procure some more modern versions for them. Either way, it would be extremely hazardous to be a pilot in Afghanistan (especially a chopper pilot) if the bad guys get their hands on a number of SAMs.
So, in typical Pentagon fashion, DARPA throws a lot of money at the question of how to effectively counter surface-to-air missiles. Flares, chaff and jammers are pretty much standard on NATO aircraft nowadays (not so for the civilian and charter aircraft here), but those are only of partial effectiveness, especially during the lift-off and landing phases of a flight, when an aircraft is particularly vulnerable.
However, some smarty-pants at the University of Michigan is working on a cheap, solid-state laser to mount on military aircraft that will spoof or decoy incoming missiles. It's still in the early testing phases at this point, but looks promising.
*And is further anecdotal proof that the truly great ideas and most impressive people come out of the Big Ten, not those ivy-choked bastions of tweed and boat shoes on the East Coast.
The reason for this post is not actually to discuss SAM-counter measures but to draw attention to the name of the researcher at U of M who's working on this project. In one of life's little ironies, his name is Professor Mohammad Islam. He's actually named after both the prophet and the religion. Kind of like if his name was Doctor Jesus Christian.
I bet this year's Eid celebration at his house is going to kind of awkward.
Mrs. Islam: "So, what have you done for the faithful this Ramadan, dear?"
Prof. Islam: "Umm......invented a device that will make it harder for us to kill the infidel?"
Mrs. Islam: "Excuse me? You invented what?"
Prof. Islam: "Never mind. This mantu is delicious. Is there anymore tea?"
h/t to Danger Room