As images of Taliban fighters brandishing American-made rifles and riding in abandoned Humvees raise concerns about what else was left behind, US national security officials are working to account for more than 20 years worth of weapons provided to the Afghan military.
The Taliban’s newfound American arsenal is unlikely to be limited to small arms, as the group has taken control of large stockpiles of weapons and vehicles, including modern mine-resistant vehicles (MRAPs) and Humvees, once held by US-backed forces.
According to a congressional source familiar with early assessments provided by defense officials, the Taliban may now have several Black Hawk helicopters and other US-funded military aircraft.
According to the source, this could include around 20 A-29 Tucano attack planes, with some indications that only a small number of planes were relocated from a base in Kandahar before it was overrun by the Taliban.
“We are also concerned that some may end up in the hands of others who support the Taliban’s cause,” the congressional source told CNN. “My biggest fear is that the sophisticated weaponry will be sold to our adversaries and other non-state actors who intend to use it against us and our allies.”
According to two defense officials, it’s unclear how much equipment fell into Taliban hands during the Afghan military’s collapse, and the US is unlikely to get a perfect and precise answer because there is no longer a US troop and intelligence presence throughout the country.
“What’s left has no exact accountability,” one official said.
The Biden administration has come under fire for failing to predict the Taliban’s rapid takeover of Afghanistan and the chaos that is unfolding at Kabul’s airport as thousands of people try to flee the country.
The administration’s primary focus remains evacuation operations, but officials at the Pentagon and the State Department are beginning to assess the number of American weapons that have fallen into Taliban hands, an effort that, according to sources, will take weeks or months due to the sheer volume of arms provided to Afghan forces over the last two decades.
In the meantime, images and videos of Taliban fighters wielding M4 carbines and M16 rifles supplied by the United States are raising questions about how much American firepower the militant group now has after seizing military bases across Afghanistan.
While US officials stress that it is too early to provide specifics about the weapons and vehicles now in Taliban hands, Pentagon officials have expressed concerns.
“When it comes to U.S.-provided equipment that is still in Afghanistan and may not be in the hands of ANSF [Afghan National Security Force], there are several options that we have at our disposal to try to deal with that problem set,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Thursday.
“We don’t, obviously, want to see our equipment in the hands of those who would act against our interest or the interest of the Afghan people, and increase violence and insecurity inside Afghanistan,” he added.
At this time, there are no plans for the US to use airstrikes or other means to destroy the weapons unless something poses a direct threat to American troops at the airport, according to administration officials.
The destruction and removal of US equipment in Afghanistan began in earnest shortly after President Trump signed the Doha agreement in February 2020, and the military began reducing its troop presence from 8,500 to 2,500.