As the United States nears the end of its military presence in Afghanistan, the Biden administration is being criticized for leaving high-tech military equipment behind, besides the American citizens and Afghan allies. These military assets have now been taken over by the Taliban who have, in turn, been flaunting the spoils on social media.
While some are worried that Washington might have indirectly militarily boosted the terror group’s strike and defensive capabilities, many others are questioning whether the Taliban has the expertise to actually use some of the higher-end military techs.
Between 2003 and 2016, Washington gifted Kabul with 599,690 weapons, 75,898 vehicles, 208 aircraft, 162,643 communication equipment, as well as 16,191 pieces of equipment used for intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance. Between 2017 and 2019, the United States transferred 7,035 machine guns, 20,040 hand grenades, 1,394 grenade launchers, 4,702 Humvees, 2,520 bombs, and other equipment. As of June 30, 2021, America had given 211 aircraft to Afghanistan.
In total, the U.S. spent close to $83 billion training and equipping Afghan security forces over the past 20 years. How much of this equipment has been taken over by the Taliban is something that’s causing worry for security experts.
White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan defended the Biden administration’s decision to leave all the equipment. He admitted to not having exact data of assets left behind and taken over by the Taliban.
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“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… And obviously, we don’t have a sense that they are going to readily hand it over to us at the airport,” Sullivan said to reporters.
Images from Afghanistan show the Taliban driving Humvees and carrying U.S. weapons like M4 rifles. Four Black Hawk helicopters, each costing $10 million, are also now in the possession of the insurgent group.
How much of the looted American equipment the Taliban will be able to use, might depend on the level of technology. In an interview with NPR, Jonathan Schroden, director of the Countering Threats and Challenges Program at the Center for Naval Analyses, said that the Taliban could easily put into using small arms and tools like night-vision equipment since such items “don’t need a lot of skill or training to use.”
However, high-end equipment, like a Black Hawk helicopter and advanced weaponry might be challenging. Bradley Bowman, a former Black Hawk pilot, told the media outlet that flying the helicopter is “not something” anyone can do in a short period of time.
“Someone could get in there, maybe find some operating manuals and figure out how to get the engine started, the rotors turning and get it up in the air… But they’d probably be more of a danger to themselves than to anyone else at that point,” Bowman says. However, he admitted that this wouldn’t be an “insurmountable problem” for the Taliban.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Joseph Dempsey, a research analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, stated that the Taliban would find it difficult to operate most U.S. aircraft due to the complexity involved in the technology.
Another issue the Taliban will face when trying to use high-end U.S. military equipment would be regarding its maintenance and securing of spare parts. According to Schroden, the Taliban is likely to break such tools and would not be able to fix them. Black Hawk helicopters have “fairly sophisticated maintenance requirements.”
The Taliban might also decide to sell off the equipment they are unable to use. For example, the avionics and communication equipment on the Black Hawks would be saleable. Bowman believes that countries like Iran, Russia, and China might show interest in such a trade.
Meanwhile, a group of Republican Senators has written a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin stating that they were “horrified” to see American equipment in the hands of the Taliban.
The letter asks Austin for a full account of (a) the military equipment supplied to Afghan security forces, (b) the number of equipment destroyed or removed prior to U.S. withdrawal, (c) the number of equipment that remains operational in Afghanistan, (d) what equipment has been seized by Taliban, and so on.
“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,” the letter said.