Taliban Seized Billions Of U.S.-Supplied Military Weapons

Taliban Seized Billions Of U.S.-Supplied Military Weapons

Mona Salama
Mona Salama
August 20, 2021

The Taliban has seized billions of up-to-date U.S military weapons left behind by Afghan forces, including crates of new assault rifles, rockets, 2,000 armored vehicles, 40 aircraft including UH-60 Black Hawks, military drones, and night-vision goggles, according to reports.

In a matter of two weeks, the Taliban seized most of Afghanistan following President Biden’s hastily and botched handling of the withdrawal of U.S. troops. On top of the Taliban toppling the Afghan government, the insurgents were also able to seize most weapons and equipment left behind by fleeing Afghan forces. Photos and videos circulated on social media show Taliban militants inspecting the massive new war chest — a supply of at least 600,000 infantry weapons, along with 162,000 pieces of communication equipment and 16,000 night-vision goggles. The insurgents in the video were seen triumphantly opening crates of the newly seized firearms, including M-4 and M-16 assault rifles, M24 sniper rifles, and M2 .50 caliber machine guns. Other images and videos showed the Taliban surrounding U.S Humvees and A-29 Super Tucano aircraft.

“Everything that hasn’t been destroyed is the Taliban’s now,” a U.S official speaking on the condition of anonymity told Reuters.




Between 2003 and 2016, the U.S. gave the Afghan military an estimated $28 billion in weaponry. A Government Accountability Office report in 2017, the U.S. transferred roughly 75,898 vehicles, 599,690 weapons systems, and 208 aircraft to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF). From 2017 to 2019, according to a report last year from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the US gave 7,035 machine guns, 4,702 Humvees, 20,040 hand grenades, 2,520 bombs, and 1,394 grenade launchers.

Last month, following former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s visit to the White House, the U.S. kept delivering aircraft flowing to the Afghans while sending 35 brand new Black Hawk helicopters and three A-29s to Kabul, adding to the Afghan inventory of the reported 211 U.S.-supplied aircraft.

Another official told Reuters the current assessment includes 2,000 armored vehicles, including US Humvees, and up to 40 aircraft, potentially including UH-60 Black Hawks, which were supposed to be the Afghan military’s biggest advantage over the Taliban, scout attack helicopters, and ScanEagle military drone. The night-vision goggles — which the US has supplied at least 16,000 since 2003 — is a huge advantage and a “real game-changer” for the Taliban, giving them the ability to operate at night.

On top of the war equipment, the Taliban also seized U.S. military biometrics devices that could aid in the identification of Afghans that assisted with diplomatic and coalition forces, in addition to those working with the military. The devices, known as HIIDE (Handheld Interagency Identity Detection Equipment), contain identifying biometric data such as iris scans and fingerprints and biographical information used to access large centralized databases. Such devices have been one of the U.S. military’s biggest assets in the global war on terror and were used to help the U.S. identify Osama bin Laden during the 2011 raid on his Pakistani hideout.

According to The Intercept, a Joint Special Operations Command official and three former U.S. military personnel don’t know how much of the biometric database on the Afghan population has been compromised from the Taliban but worry the Taliban could use the sensitive data to identify those Afghans who helped the military during the last two decades. While the Taliban may need additional tools to process the HIIDE data, officials expressed concerns that Pakistan’s spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, who is known to work closely with the insurgents, could help uncover

U.S officials fear those weapons seized by the Taliban could be used to kill civilians or could be handed to U.S adversaries like China and Russia — or even worse to other Islamic militant groups such as Islamic State (ISIS) to be used to attack the U.S. allies and interests in the Middle East.

The Biden administration is considering several options to pursue — such as launching airstrikes against the larger equipment, such as helicopters. However, they have raised concerns that it would antagonize the Taliban at a time the U.S is focused on evacuating American citizens.

Earlier this week, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan admitted the weaponry being in the Taliban’s hands, telling reporters that the Biden administration currently does not “have a complete picture” of what “has fallen into the hands of the Taliban.”

“We don’t have a complete picture, obviously, of where every article of defense materials has gone, but certainly, a fair amount of it has fallen into the hands of the Taliban,” Sullivan said Tuesday during a White House daily press briefing. “​​And obviously, we don’t have a sense that [the Taliban] are going to readily hand it over to us at the airport.”

Sullivan defended Biden’s decision-making to recently supply the Afghan forces with high-end weaponry while blaming them for handing over the weapons to the Taliban without a fight.

“Those Black Hawks were not given to the Taliban. They were given to the Afghan National Security Forces to be able to defend themselves at the specific request of President Ghani, who came to the Oval Office and asked for additional air capability, among other things,” Sullivan said.

“So the president had a choice. He could not give it to them with the risk that it would fall into the Taliban’s hands eventually, or he could give it to them with the hope that they could deploy it in service of defending their country,” Sullivan added. “Both of those options had risks. He had to choose. And he made a choice.”

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby on Wednesday also reiterated what Sullivan said, citing that the Biden administration had a “very deliberate” process in deciding to give the Afghan army the weaponry at the same time the U.S. forces were rapidly withdrawal from the country or redeploy them elsewhere like in the Middle East.

“We don’t obviously want to see our equipment in the hands of those who would act against our interest or the interest of the Afghan people and increase violence and insecurity inside Afghanistan,” Kirby said in the Pentagon daily press briefing. “There are numerous policy choices that can be made, up to and including destruction, and what I would tell you at this point is those decisions about the disposition of that level of equipment in Afghanistan haven’t been made yet.”

Rep. Mike Waltz (R-FL) said the U.S has made the Taliban more powerful than they were before 9/11 because of the weapons the Taliban just seized.

“Now the Taliban have access to massive caches of heavy weaponry, artillery, armored vehicles, ammunition,” Waltz said on Fox News Sunday. “We have no bases, no allies, no-host government, not even a northern alliance. This is far worse.”

Meanwhile, U.S officials are clinging to the hope that the aircraft, since the U.S. “equipment breaks down so often,” according to the official, will be “too tricky to maintain and fly” for the Taliban to properly manage the long-term sustainment, maintenance, servicing, effectively. During their first press conference earlier this week, the Taliban leader admitted that his militant group does not currently have trained pilots to use the air weaponry left behind.

“Ironically, the fact that our equipment breaks down so often is a life-saver here,” the official told Reuters.

On Wednesday, over two dozen GOP senators led by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin demanding “full account” of the “high-tech military equipment” that is in the hands of the Taliban and their terrorist allies” and what are the Pentagons plans to retrieve the seized weaponry or to destroy them.

“As we watched the images coming out of Afghanistan as the Taliban retook the country, we were horrified to see U.S. equipment—including UH-60 Black Hawks—in the hands of the Taliban,” Rubio and 24 GOP senators wrote in a letter. “It is unconscionable that high-tech military equipment paid for by U.S. taxpayers has fallen into the hands of the Taliban and their terrorist allies. Securing U.S. assets should have been among the top priorities for the U.S. Department of Defense prior to announcing the withdrawal from Afghanistan.”

Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declined to comment if the Pentagon is considering the possibility of destroying the war equipment, saying the U.S. military focus right now is on evacuation operations.

No matter how the Taliban plans to use the weaponry or sell them to U.S. adversaries, it is already seen as the biggest embarrassment for the U.S. and the amount of wasted funds on military efforts in Afghanistan over the last 20 years.

Mona Salama

Mona Salama

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