Taliban appears flying in helicopter; how big is the arsenal left by the US in Afghanistan?

US-equipped Taliban forces patrol Hamid Karzai International Airport following the US withdrawal from Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 31, 2021.

US-equipped Taliban forces patrol Hamid Karzai International Airport following the US withdrawal from Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 31, 2021.| Photo: STRINGER / EFE Agency

This Monday (30), a video of a Black Hawk helicopter of the American army that was being piloted by a member of the Taliban was released on social networks. The video was recorded the day before the United States ended its withdrawal from Afghanistan. It is not known exactly who piloted the helicopter, however many other videos and photos from Taliban using other military equipment Afghan forces were reported on social media.

In one of them, a pilot taxis a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter, one of the most modern battle aircraft in the US Army. The craft belonged to the Afghan government before the invasion of the Taliban, who have now left behind the image of guerrillas with AK-47 assault rifles and old pickup trucks to become one of the best equipped military forces in the world.

The exact amount of ordnance that the Taliban obtained with the fall of the government and the withdrawal of the United States is still unknown, but it is a lot, even if the American army has done everything possible to make useless the equipment it could not take with it.

The loss of military materiel to the Taliban was one of the main criticisms of Joe Biden for the disastrous way in which the American withdrawal took place. Former US President Donald Trump even issued a statement asking the US government to charge $85 billion from Afghanistan, referring to the total invested in the purchase of the country’s arsenal. But that number refers to everything that has been used from 2001 to date to train the Afghan police and army. In military equipment, it is estimated at around 24 billion dollars.

This money was used for the acquisition, over 20 years, of 76,000 vehicles – including 43,000 pickup trucks, 22,000 high mobility multi-purpose vehicles (called HMMWV) and 900 light tactical military vehicles (called MRAP – capable of resisting mines) and explosives) – in addition, 600,000 weapons and more than 200 aircraft.

Luckily for the Americans, much of this material has been destroyed or will soon be unusable.

How much equipment did the Taliban get?

According to the Afghan Reconstruction Special General Inspectorate, of the 211 aircraft of the Afghan Air Force, only 167 were operable, as follows:

  • 43 MD-530 helicopters;
  • 33 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters;
  • 32 MI-17 helicopters;
  • 33 single-engine C-208 aircraft;
  • 23 A-29 attack aircraft;
  • 3 C-130 transport planes.

Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., head of US Central Command, said that prior to the withdrawal, the army had “demilitarized” 70 MRAPs, 27 HMMWVs, and 73 aircraft. “These vehicles will never fly again. They can never be operated by anyone,” he assured.

It is even suspected that some of these aircraft managed to escape before the fall of the government in Kabul. Satellite images taken by the BBC show two dozen helicopters and several American-model planes parked at Termez airport in Uzbekistan.

It is not known, therefore, how many aircraft were captured by the Taliban, and of these, it is also unknown whether they are operational. If any of them are operational, the Taliban will face a series of practical difficulties as pilots with the necessary training to operate them and parts for maintenance, the lack of which could render them inoperable within a few months.

The Russian government has also reported that 100 helicopters manufactured by them would be in Taliban hands, but the problems listed above also make it uncertain how many of those are operable.

While the Taliban air force can be quite dubious, the amount of weapons and ammunition obtained has equipped its army in a way never dreamed of. Since 2017, Afghanistan has received more than 23,000 M16 rifles that are much more accurate than the AK-47. About 16,000 night vision equipment would also be in Taliban hands, giving them a huge advantage in night combat, which they previously lacked.

This is without taking into account the hundreds of ground vehicles that could not be evacuated or rendered useless. Although the actual number of booty captured by the Taliban is much lower than Donald Trump claimed, it is undeniable that the group’s military strength has increased considerably.