The Taliban in Afghanistan have seized billions of dollars of US weapons following the quick collapse of Afghan security forces that were armed with the American military equipment.
Black Hawk helicopters and A-29 Super Tucano attack aircraft are among the items captured by the Taliban, according to reports published on Thursday.
Taliban fights were seen in photos circulating on media clutching American-made M4 carbines and M16 rifles instead of their iconic AK-47s. And the militants have been spotted with American Humvees and mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles.
“When an armed group gets their hands on American-made weaponry, it's sort of a status symbol. It's a psychological win,” said Elias Yousif, deputy director of the Center for International Policy’s Security Assistance Monitor.
“Clearly, this is an indictment of the US security cooperation enterprise broadly,” he added. “It really should raise a lot of concerns about what is the wider enterprise that is going on every single day, whether that's in the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia.”
The United States claims it has spent more than $80 billion on training and equipping Afghan security forces over the last twenty years that failed to stop the Taliban onslaught on Kabul. Rather, according to reports, a significant percentage of the US-trained Afghan security forces have joined the Taliban force.
The United States handed over 75,898 vehicles, 599,690 weapons, 162,643 pieces of communications equipment, 208 aircraft, and 16,191 pieces of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance equipment to the Afghan forces between 2003 and 2016, according to a 2017 Government Accountability Office report.
Washington also gave Afghan forces 7,035 machine guns, 4,702 Humvees, 20,040 hand grenades, 2,520 bombs and 1,394 grenade launchers, among other equipment, from 2017 to 2019, according to a report last year from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).
Some 46 of those aircraft are now in Uzbekistan after more than 500 Afghan government troops used them to flee Afghanistan following the collapse of the government last week. The rest have been taken over by the Taliban.
The Biden administration has acknowledged a “fair amount” of weapons have 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,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Tuesday. “And obviously, we don't have a sense that they are going to readily hand it over to us at the airport.”
The United States kept aircraft flowing to the Afghan forces even when the US military was withdrawing from Afghanistan, and in July sent 35 Black Hawk helicopters and three A-29s.
“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 [Afghan] President [Ashraf] 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 continued. “Both of those options had risks. He had to choose. And he made a choice.”
The Taliban are poised to run Afghanistan again 20 years after they were removed from power by American forces following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
The US invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 and removed the Taliban from power. American forces occupied the country for about 20 years on the pretext of fighting against the Taliban. But as the US forces left Afghanistan, the Taliban stormed into Kabul, weakened by foreign occupation.