Taliban forces are conquering Afghanistan with the very same equipment the US provided to help defeat them.
Reports and photos confirm the insurgents have their hands on M4 carbines, M16 rifles, Black Hawk helicopters, A-29 Super Tucano attack aircraft, Humvees, and other armored vehicles. Experts worry the Taliban may have seized biometric devices capable of identifying Afghans who assisted American forces.
“We don’t have a complete picture, obviously, of where every article of defense materials has gone,” admits National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. “And obviously, we don’t have a sense that they are going to readily hand it over to us at the airport.”
It is unclear if the Taliban will be able to use or maintain the more advanced equipment, but simply having it sends a clear signal to the rest of the world.
“When an armed group gets their hands on American-made weaponry, it’s sort of a status symbol. It’s a psychological win,” explains Elias Yousif, deputy director of the Center for International Policy’s Security Assistance Monitor.
Of primary concern are small arms, which are easy to use and even easier to sell.
“It is unconscionable that high-tech military equipment paid for by US taxpayers has fallen into the hands of the Taliban and their terrorist allies,” writes Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL). “Securing US assets should have been among the top priorities for the US Department of Defense prior to announcing the withdrawal from Afghanistan.”
The Taliban’s swift takeover of Afghanistan is sure to stain President Joe Biden’s reputation even though former presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump supported troop withdrawal.
“The problem of the US withdrawal is that it sent a nationwide signal that the jig is up – a sudden, nationwide signal that everyone read the same way,” says Stephen Biddle, a professor of international and public affairs at Colombia University.
In other words, the announcement that US troops would be leaving the region emboldened Taliban insurgents and stole the fire from Afghan government troops (if there was any fire to begin with).
“Morale, discipline, leadership, [and] unit cohesion are more decisive than numbers of forces and equipment,” notes retired Army Lieutenant Doug Lute. “As outsiders in Afghanistan, we can provide materiel, but only Afghans can provide the intangible moral factors.”
Since 2001, the United States has invested more than $980 billion training and equipping Afghan soldiers, fighting the Taliban, and attempting to rebuild the nation’s government. This includes paying the salaries of Afghan soldiers and delivering more than 75,000 vehicles, 599,000 weapons, 162,000 pieces of surveillance equipment, and 200 aircraft.
In April 2021, under pressure to follow through with Trump’s plans to remove US troops from an ‘endless war,’ President Biden announced the withdrawal of all US troops from Afghanistan to be complete by September 11th.
By May, the Taliban had started to make major territorial gains in northern Afghanistan. By August, they had seized control of several provincial capitals. On August 15th, Taliban forces captured Kabul and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled in a helicopter packed with cash.
“Clearly, this is an indictment of the US security cooperation enterprise broadly,” argues Yousif. “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, [o] East Asia.”
Despite its obvious failures, the Biden Administration continues to insist that troop withdrawal was conducted in the best way possible. Deciding what equipment to destroy and what equipment to give Afghan forces as US forces departed was a “very deliberate” process, said Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby.