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Taliban fighters hold weapons

Taliban patrol in Herat city after they took control in Herat, Afghanistan, on August 18, 2021. (Photo: Mir Ahmad Firooz Mashoof/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Adding to US Failures in Afghanistan, Taliban Have Grabbed Billions in Weaponry

"Clearly, this is an indictment of the U.S. security cooperation enterprise broadly."

Andrea Germanos

The Taliban are now in effective control of billions of dollars in U.S. weaponry—from thousands of grenades and machine guns to Black Hawk helicopters—American forces poured into Afghanistan over the past two decades.

The equipment amassment follows months of surrenders by U.S.-backed Afghan security forces that "failed to defend district centers," the Associated Press reported.

"Bigger gains followed," AP added, "including combat aircraft, when the Taliban rolled up provincial capitals and military bases with stunning speed, topped by capturing the biggest prize, Kabul, over the weekend."

Over the past 20 years the U.S. spent over $83 billion in weaponry and equipment for Afghan security forces, whose "collapse was years in the making," as a Washington Post headline put it.

"It really should raise a lot of concerns about what is the wider enterprise that is going on every single day, whether that's in the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia."

As the Taliban gained further control over territory this summer, the group showed off the weapons they gained from government-backed forces who surrendered. And this week, reported Agence France-Presse, "the Taliban's social media is awash with videos of Taliban fighters seizing weapons caches—the majority supplied by Western powers."

The White House acknowledged the extremist group's weapons gains on Tuesday.

"We don't have a complete picture, obviously, of where every article of defense materials has gone, but certainly a fair amount of it has fallen into the hands of the Taliban," White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters. "And obviously, we don't have a sense that they are going to readily hand it over to us at the airport."

A day earlier, a Pentagon official declined to say what efforts were underway to stop further weapons gains.

Asked by a reporter if the U.S. was "taking any sort of steps to prevent aircraft or other military equipment from falling into the hands of the Taliban," Army Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor responded, "I don't have the answer to that question."

Elias Yousif, deputy director of the Center for International Policy's Security Assistance Monitor, said the Taliban's weapons gains deserve scrutiny.

"Clearly, this is an indictment of the U.S. security cooperation enterprise broadly," he told The Hill. "It really should raise a lot of concerns about what is the wider enterprise that is going on every single day, whether that's in the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia."

"The concern for all small arms is that they are durable goods and they can be transferred, sold," said Yousif. "We've seen this before where a conflict ends and the arms that stay there make their way to all parts of the world."

Also seized by Taliban, The Intercept reported this week, citing information from current and former U.S. military officials, are American military biometrics devices. These Handheld Interagency Identity Detection Equipment (HIIDE) devices could have biographical information on Afghans who helped U.S. forces, and it's possible the Taliban could seek help from Pakistan's spy agency to process the data.

The reporting on the weapons gains came the same week as the latest assessment from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the Congress-created watchdog.

"If the goal was to rebuild and leave behind a country that can sustain itself and pose little threat to U.S. national security interests, the overall picture is bleak," wrote John Sopko, the head of the agency.

Among the key conclusions in the rpeort was that "the U.S. government did not understand the Afghan context and therefore failed to tailor its efforts accordingly" and that "U.S. government agencies rarely conducted sufficient monitoring and evaluation to understand the impact of their efforts."

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