Were American weapons left behind in Afghanistan amid chaotic withdrawal?

Taliban fighters patrol the streets of Kabul on Thursday (AP)
Taliban fighters patrol the streets of Kabul on Thursday (AP)

Black Hawk helicopters, A-29 Super Tocano bombers, armoured Humvees, drones and night vision goggles are among the billions of dollars worth of US military weaponry that has reportedly been seized by the Taliban.

Images of Taliban fighters posing with M4 carbines and M16 rifles and opening crates of firearms, drones and night-vision goggles are circulating in the media, part of a propaganda victory as the militant group tries to establish their credentials as a legitimate governing force.

A US official told Reuters on Thursday that the Taliban were believed to have taken possession of more than 2,000 armoured vehicles and up to 40 aircraft, potentially including UH-60 Black Hawks, scout attack helicopters, and ScanEagle military drones.

“Everything that hasn’t been destroyed is the Taliban’s now,” an unnamed US official told Reuters.

Taliban fighters patrol the streets of Kabul on Thursday (AP)
Taliban fighters patrol the streets of Kabul on Thursday (AP)

Elias Yousif, deputy director of the Center for International Policy’s Security Assistance Monitor, told The Hill that images of the Taliban with control of the American-made weaponry was a “status symbol”.

“It’s a psychological win,” Mr Yousif said

Mr Yousif said the Taliban wouldn’t have the expertise to use the highly technical aircraft, even if it could coax Afghan pilots to fly them.

The aircraft required constant and costly maintenance to keep them in the skies.

“Ironically, the fact that our equipment breaks down so often is a life-saver here,” a US official told Reuters.

The US spent about $83 billion over the last two decades on training and equipping the Afghan military. The sum included more than 75,000 vehicles, nearly 600,000 weapons and more than 200 aircraft, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office reviewed by The Hill.

Just a month before the US withdrawal, it continued to supply the Afghan army with expensive aircraft. The Afghan army touted the arrival of 35 Black Hawks and three Super Tocano in July.

On Tuesday, President Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan admitted they didn’t have a “complete picture” of the military equipment left behind.

“But certainly a fair amount of it has fallen into the hands of the Taliban,” Mr Sullivan said.

“And obviously, we don’t have a sense that they are going to readily hand it over to us at the airport.”

Black Hawk helicopters, such as the one pictured above, have been seized by the Taliban (US Army)
Black Hawk helicopters, such as the one pictured above, have been seized by the Taliban (US Army)

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Wednesday that the decision on what equipment to withdraw and what to destroy had been “very deliberate”.

The Taliban overwhelmed the Afghan army as it swept to power and claimed much of its US-supplied military equipment.

In its haste to depart Afghanistan, the US military was forced to destroy or abandon much of the arsenal it had built up over the 20-year occupation.

It’s not only military equipment that was left behind.

When the US abandoned its Bagram base in July without even informing the Afghan army commander, it left behind an estimated 3.5 million items.

The Associated Press reported that this included thousands of civilian vehicles, many of them without keys to start them, and hundreds of armored vehicles.

General Mir Asadullah Kohistani, Bagram’s commander, told AP that the US also left behind small weapons and the ammunition for them, but took heavy weapons with them.

Non-weapon items included tens of thousands of bottles of water, energy drinks and meals.

Afghan officials at Bagram surrendered to the Taliban on Sunday. A prison on the base held 5,000 Taliban and Islamic State fighters.

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