The Taliban were transformed from an insurgent rabble armed with castoff Soviet-era weapons into one of the most well-equipped forces in the region in the space of a few days during their lightning-fast advance across Afghanistan.
Following the complete collapse of the U.S.-equipped Afghan army, the Taliban were able to scoop up a trove of advanced military hardware: thousands of rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers, artillery pieces and night-vision goggles.
The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANSDF) also left behind thousands of military vehicles from U.S. taxpayers, everything from Humvees to heavily armored Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) trucks.
And then there are the tactical aircraft now believed to be in Taliban custody: hundreds of helicopters, including top-of-the-line Blackhawks; dozens of heavy transport, reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft; and A-29 Super Tucano light attack fighters.
Biden administration officials concede they don’t know how much U.S.-supplied military hardware was lost. Last week, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said he was confident that a “fair amount” is now in the hands of the Taliban.
“I don’t have an exact inventory of what equipment the Afghans had at their disposal that might be at risk,” chief Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Monday. “We don’t want to see any weapons or systems fall into the hands of people who would use them in such a way to harm our interests or those of our partners and allies.”
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President Biden and his generals assured the public that after two decades under U.S. tutelage, the Afghan army was a competent force, capable of mounting a credible campaign against the Taliban insurgency.
But that apparently wasn’t the case. U.S. officials, both military and civilian, blamed a lack of leadership for the failure.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill now want answers from the Department of Defense. On Monday, two Republican members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee sent a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, asking what he intends to do about the billions of dollars worth of U.S. weapons now under Taliban control.
“We are left wondering if the Biden Administration has a plan to prevent the Taliban from using our weapons against the U.S. or its allies or selling them to foreign adversaries like China, Russia, Iran or North Korea,” wrote Reps. James Comer of Kentucky and Glenn Grothman of Wisconsin.
“I don’t have any policy solutions today about how we would or could address that going forward,” Mr. Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon.
The U.S. spent more than $80 billion over the past two decades to equip and train an Afghan army that in some cases surrendered to the Taliban and turned over its weapons without firing a shot.
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American taxpayers also paid the salaries of the Afghan troops, which led to allegations that some commanders kept nonexistent “ghost soldiers” on the roster so they could collect their pay.
In addition to firepower and vehicles, the Taliban may have seized several aerial drones, radio monitoring technology and ground-based surveillance systems that had been handed over to the Afghan military.
Pentagon officials said there are several possible options on the table, such as launching airstrikes to destroy helicopters and other large pieces of military equipment.
Rep. Mike Garcia, California Republican, is a former Navy pilot who flew multiple combat missions in the Iraq War. He said that an enlisted soldier is severely disciplined for misplacing a single rifle, but nothing seems to happen if the government loses weapons worth billions to a terrorist organization.
“None of the guys who are accountable for this will be fired,” Mr. Garcia told The Washington Times. “There is an economic and national security impact in all of this. It’s extremely dangerous to watch.”
According to media reports, some Afghan aircraft did make it out of the country, with pilots reportedly flying dozens of them to neighboring Uzbekistan before they could be grabbed by the Taliban.
Rep. Brian Mast, Florida Republican, said the Biden administration is responsible for creating “the most well-armed and dangerous Taliban in the organization’s history” due to a lack of preparedness.
Like other lawmakers, he is calling for the Department of Defense to provide Congress with an accurate inventory of all military equipment that was abandoned during the chaos as the Afghan government fell.
“What proprietary technology do they now have access to? What plans are being made to neutralize this equipment,” Mr. Mast said. “It’s clear that without aggressive oversight from Congress, the Biden administration is not capable of cleaning up the mess they created.”
The disposition of American weapons, vehicles and equipment was a major element of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Some of them were destroyed or brought back to the U.S., officials said.
“And yes, some of them were turned over to the Afghans,” Mr. Kirby said. “We’re working thoroughly right now to try and get a better sense of what it looks like.”