As if it wasn’t enough for the Taliban to take complete control of Afghanistan: imposing its will and its murderous tactics on innocent citizens; endangering the Americans still present in the country; and complicating efforts to extract Afghans who provided important support, such as translators; the situation gets worse.
The Taliban also seized tens of billions of dollars in military equipment and supplies, which were previously under the control of Afghan security forces.
More than $28 billion was spent equipping Afghans between 2002 and 2017. Spending thereafter is harder to find, but as deliveries continued into last month, it’s safe to assume that the total amount is much higher.
In fact, the Taliban essentially captured all the elements necessary to fully equip an army and an air force, spanning the range of 600,000 rifles and machine guns; 76 thousand vehicles, including high mobility multifunctional vehicles, armored trucks and pickup trucks; radios, night vision equipment and drones; and 208 fixed-wing helicopters and aircraft.
Equally important are the quantities of supplies it acquired in the process: millions of ammunition cartridges, spare parts, grenades, uniforms, boots, meals, fuel and rockets – enough to sustain the Taliban’s military efforts for years.
While some are concerned about the Taliban’s use of an abandoned aircraft, Heritage Foundation senior defense member John Venable recently explained that this shouldn’t be a major concern.
About 25% of the Afghan air force went to nearby countries, taken by fled Afghan pilots. The fate of these aircraft is uncertain. “For the aircraft left behind,” Venable said, “the lack of replacement parts, contracted support and maintenance means few options for flight.”
The same reasons that brought the Afghan Air Force to a standstill when the Biden government removed all personnel who maintained these aircraft will also leave the Taliban struggling to make some flights. And that presupposes that there are trained pilots.
The United States doesn’t even really need to worry about capturing this equipment, fearing it would reveal any American military secrets. No advanced technology has been captured, such as F-35 fighter jets or Patriot missile systems.
What the Taliban got was basic material – but better than they already had – in huge quantities.
There are many pictures of Taliban fighters now holding the latest US military light weapons, such as the M4 carbine or the M16A4 rifle.
These are weapons far superior to the AK-47s they owned before, many of which dated back to the days of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
Also of concern is the reported capture of 16,000 night vision devices, allowing Taliban fighters the ability to operate at night, negating the normal advantage US forces have in operating during hours of darkness.
There has been some speculation that the US may try to destroy at least some of the high-value equipment left behind, such as helicopters or attack aircraft. However, given the timid response from the government so far, as the situation unfolds, this seems unlikely.
Not that he can’t – the UK, for example, has sent 300 elite troops to Kabul to evacuate its citizens, while US forces remain caged at the city’s airport.
Even though the Taliban and other adversaries uncover no secrets to the equipment, the seizure means it is a much better equipped fighting force than it was two months ago.
If the US or any other nation in the future tried to conduct military operations against them, they would face modern equipment in a firefight, a prospect that no soldier appreciates.
There is also the grim prospect that the Taliban could sell or transfer some of this equipment to transnational terrorist groups, such as ISIS or al-Qaeda, who could use it against US citizens or partner countries.
Once the Taliban began advancing across the country, it was too late to do anything to protect this equipment. It has been found in hundreds of Afghan military units, depots and warehouses across the country.
In fact, luck was cast when the decision was made to hastily remove all US military forces and sign a support contract with the Afghan army – support that previously admitted that its air force and Afghan soldiers realized that no help would come from Kabul.
US President Joe Biden ignored human nature when he predicted it was “highly unlikely” that the Taliban would invade everything. About the war, Napoleon once said: “Moral is to the physical as three to one”.
That is, although there were supposedly more than 300,000 members of the Afghan security forces, without morals and confidence, those numbers didn’t make sense against a determined enemy.
When the officials who kept the Afghan planes in the air and the small but significant presence of US forces were abruptly removed, it created a crisis of confidence that spread like wildfire.
And now, with this massive transfer of military equipment, the Taliban will be a more capable force for years to come. This didn’t need to happen.
Thomas W. Spoehr, a retired Army Lieutenant General, is director of the Heritage Foundation’s National Defense Center.