After leaving Afghanistan- “These weapons fell into the hands of the Taliban”

The US military has left Afghanistan and the country is now under the control of the Taliban. In their advance, they were able to steal weapons and military equipment. An overview of the new equipment used by the Islamists.

A turning point begins in Afghanistan , the troops of the Western Alliance have fled the country after 20 years. What remains, above all, is a frightened population, numerous weapons and military equipment with which the West has upgraded the Afghan army.

Taliban fighters: The Islamists advanced mainly with pick-ups, motorcycles and machine guns.  (Source: AP / dpa)

Taliban fighters: The Islamists advanced mainly with pick-ups, motorcycles and machine guns. (Source: AP / dpa)

This equipment is now in the hands of the Taliban, who have taken control in large parts of the country and are consolidating their power. Before that, the Islamists mainly had pick-ups, motorcycles, bazookas and machine guns from Soviet or Russian stocks. Now the Taliban, which the West has fought militarily since 2001, are better equipped than ever before. 

The Islamists will not be able to use some of these weapon systems, or only to a limited extent. They lack training, professional maintenance, and ammunition. But the Taliban could sell the weapons abroad in order to get urgently needed foreign currency. 

But which weapon systems are we talking about – and which are not? A look into the Taliban’s arsenal: 

Air force

With the advance of the Taliban and the rapid surrender of the Afghan security forces, there were initially concerns that warplanes might fall into the hands of the Islamists.

According to initial findings, this scenario did not occur. The US Air Force launched attacks on the Mazar-i-Sharif airport on August 14  after the province was surrendered to the Taliban without a fight. The Afghan army’s fighter jets went up in flames. Another large part of the pilots of the Afghan Air Force were also able to flee to Uzbekistan with their planes – one was apparently shot down by the Uzbek air defense. 

This graphic from the British Times shows how many weapons and military equipment were left behind in Afghanistan  –  and could now have fallen into the hands of the Taliban:

Which aircraft made it to the Uzbek capital Tashkent and which remained behind can be easily seen from satellite images published by the British television broadcaster BBC .

The Islamists captured a total of nine military airfields in the country, but it is difficult to quantify which machines they captured. However, the pictures they  shared on social networks give an impression  .

The following aircraft were identified on videos and photos of the Taliban:

Aircraft: Several American  Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucano, one American Cessna 208, at least eight Soviet Antonov An-26 or An-32.

Helicopters:  At least eleven Soviet Mil Mi-17s, at least 13 Soviet Mi-24 / Mi-35 attack helicopters, at least four American Blackhawk helicopters, at least ten American McDonnell Douglas MD-500 attack helicopters.

The Islamists were able to capture significantly more helicopters than airplanes.  (Source: Twitter / @AsaadHannaa)

The Islamists were able to capture significantly more helicopters than airplanes. (Source: Twitter / @AsaadHannaa)

Drones:  At least seven American Boeing ScanEagle reconnaissance drones.

In fact, significantly more machines could have been conquered – only the aircraft that have been documented so far are listed here.

Military vehicles

The Taliban also captured many armored vehicles. The US provided the Afghan army with over 20,000 Humvees – plus hundreds of M1117 and M113 armored vehicles and thousands of military trucks.

Kabul: Taliban are sitting in American Humvees in front of the airport.  (Source: AP / dpa)

Kabul: Taliban are sitting in American Humvees in front of the airport. (Source: AP / dpa)

There are hardly any heavy tanks in Afghanistan – if they exist, they still come from old Soviet stocks and are often not operational. In the hilly terrain of Afghanistan, lighter but armored and mine-proof vehicles have proven their worth anyway. Now it is precisely these vehicles that are owned by the Taliban.

Firearms and ammunition

In the past 40 years, the ongoing wars and conflicts have repeatedly brought weapons and ammunition from abroad into the country like an epidemic. They came from the USA, from the Soviet Union, from Europe, then from Russia. In the meantime, Chinese replicas have also been discovered. 

The Hindu Kush is a marketplace for the international arms trade and, above all, lucrative for US companies – this also contributed to the ongoing chaos in the region.

The withdrawal of the West has once again significantly increased the availability of modern firearms. According to the BBC, from 2003 to 2016 the US supplied over 358,000 rifles, more than 64,000 machine guns and over 25,000 grenade launchers to the Afghan army. In 2017 alone, almost 20,000 M16 rifles were added, and between 2017 and 2021 at least 3,600 M4 rifles were added. Your whereabouts? Not clear.

However, that is only the tip of the iceberg: More than 130,000 handguns, military protective clothing or even radios and night vision devices were shipped to Afghanistan from the USA alone. The amount of German weapons in circulation in the country, on the other hand, is considered “insignificant,” said Justine Fleischner of the British organization Conflict Armament Research (CAR) of “Wirtschaftswoche”.

Equipment at Kabul Airport

Nevertheless, the US troops recently disabled   numerous aircraft and armored vehicles as well as the missile defense system at the airport in Kabul so that they do not fall into the hands of the  Taliban  or other Islamist groups. 27 Humvees and 70 armored MRAP vehicles – which can cost up to a million dollars each – have been rendered unusable, said the chief of the central command of the US armed forces, General Kenneth McKenzie, on Monday (local time). The vehicles “will never be used by anyone again.”

Taliban with US military equipment: The Islamists were able to conquer numerous Western weapon systems.  (Source: AP / dpa)

Taliban with US military equipment: The Islamists were able to conquer numerous Western weapon systems. (Source: AP / dpa)

The US also left behind the C-RAM missile defense system, which was used to protect the airport from missile attacks. Among other things, the system contributed to repelling the fire with five rockets by the jihadist militia ” Islamic State ” on Monday morning. “We decided to keep these systems running until the last minute before the last US plane took off,” said McKenzie. “It is a complex and time-consuming process to dismantle these systems. So we are demilitarizing them so that they are never used again.”

Likewise, 73 aircraft that were already at Hamid Karzai International Airport were “demilitarized” or made inoperable by US troops, McKenzie said.

How do the Taliban use their weapons?

Independently of this, the Islamist Taliban celebrate their spoils of war. They present themselves in the uniforms and with the weapons of the USA on propaganda videos. But not all of them will be able to use them equally.

They are already driving through the streets of Kabul in the archenemy’s vehicles. In contrast, many US experts assume that the Taliban cannot do anything with the helicopters and airplanes. They would not be properly trained to use them. In addition, the machines were serviced by US companies and equipped with ammunition. That makes it impossible for the Taliban to operate without foreign help.

But the Islamists could force former Afghan pilots into air missions by threatening the families of forces trained by the West. 

How the Taliban can use Western weapons in general will depend on other countries. The Taliban could sell parts of their arsenal to countries like Pakistan or Iran. On the other hand, Russia and China could set up new arms supply chains to Afghanistan – after all, the West is gone, some arms companies will see this as an opportunity. Firearms in particular could end up on the black market – the Taliban need money.

Even if the Islamists may not benefit directly from the captured weapon systems, the result is tragic: The US in particular has invested an estimated three-digit billion sum in upgrading the Afghan army. As a result, Islamists were armed with this taxpayer’s money. It is another chapter of Western disgrace in Afghanistan.

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