When a group of Taliban fighters stormed the hastily abandoned presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan earlier this week, they carried a powerful symbol of the changing times: original M16 and M4 rifles. American.
It is not just a propaganda stunt. As the Taliban took full control of Afghanistan this week, they also claimed a cornucopia of military gear, equipment and weapons that had been supplied to the Afghan government by the United States. There is no way to determine how much US military materiel ended up in the hands of Taliban fighters, but “the current intelligence assessment was that the Taliban would control over 2,000 armored vehicles, including US Humvees. , and up to 40 planes potentially including UH-60 Black Hawks, scout attack helicopters and ScanEagle military drones, “Reuters reported Thursday, citing an unnamed US official.
Planes and drones are probably useless without training and support personnel. But Humvees and small arms are exactly the sort of thing a new regime could use to impose its will on the Afghan people. After nearly 20 years of fighting, the Taliban America leaves behind are almost certainly better supplied than they were when the US military invaded in October 2001.
During the occupation, the United States transferred more than 600,000 firearms (including M16 and M4 rifles), 76,000 vehicles and 162,000 communications equipment to Afghan security forces, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) of 2017 (the report itself has apparently been deleted from the GAO website).
Since these numbers are several years old, the actual totals are almost certainly higher.
“We obviously don’t have a complete picture of where every piece of defense material went,” Jake Sullivan, White House national security adviser, said tuesday. “But certainly a lot of it fell into the hands of the Taliban, and we obviously don’t have the feeling that they are going to hand it over to us easily at the airport.”
Be careful not to draw unrealistic conclusions about all of this. After nearly 20 years of war in Afghanistan, there is no scenario in which the US military would not leave tons of weapons and other equipment behind. Despite what former President Donald Trump suggested in a statement this week, setting up a lengthy military occupation of a foreign country isn’t as easy as taking out “all the gear” and “then you bomb. the bases in pieces “.
It’s not that simple because much of the US military equipment was already in the hands of the Taliban before the collapse of the US-backed Afghan army. A 2016 Pentagon audit found that poor record keeping was the source of more than $ 1 billion in small arms that went missing during the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Many Western weapons and equipment distributed like candy to partners on the battlefield in Iraq and Afghanistan since the start of the global war on terror have found their way into the hands of terrorists regardless of surveillance efforts,” military blog Task and objective concluded in 2017 after reviewing the Pentagon audit.
Much more US military equipment would have fallen into the hands of the Taliban even if the Afghan army and government had managed to hold out for a few more weeks or months, as the Biden administration seemed to expect.
Indeed, after the (first) more orderly withdrawal of the United States from Iraq in 2011, there were numerous reports of militias from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) circulating in American vehicles and using American ammunition, including mortar shells and M16 rifles like the ones the Taliban are now displaying. A 2015 Amnesty International report concluded that most of the weapons used by ISIS militias came from “stocks captured by the Iraqi army and Syrian rebels allied with the United States” armed by the United States and their allies.
The war is disorderly. Nation building is complicated, bordering on the impossible. Cleaning up after decades of occupation is out of the question, so the only way to prevent this sort of thing from happening again is to not invade in the first place.