HomeWorld NewsFact check: how much US kit have the Taliban got?

Fact check: how much US kit have the Taliban got?




With the war in Afghanistan having officially ended on Monday, the world’s thoughts have turned to how the Taliban will govern Afghanistan – and what equipment left behind by coalition forces they now have at their disposal. Some $88 billion was spent by the US government alone since 2002 on security reconstruction – primarily equipping the Afghan army and police forces with training and kit. Now, with the messy withdrawal complete, much of that equipment has been left behind in Afghanistan.

Caution should be taken with that headline figure however. Much of that $88 billion would have gone to the Afghan army in salaries, for instance, while consumables such as fuel and the maintenance of said weapons also ate up budgets too. As defence expert John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, told Politifact, ‘very little’ of the total sum would have been spent on equipment. He estimated that the military equipment remaining is worth less than $10 billion, though virtually all of it could be considered under the category of weapons.

The Sunday Times published a graphic that went viral last week, depicting the total amount of equipment (guns, trucks, aircraft and so on) that was sent to Afghanistan during the 20-year occupation. This includes up to 22,174 Humvee vehicles, nearly 1,000 armoured vehicles, 64,363 machine guns, and 42,000 pick-up trucks and SUVs. Weaponry includes up to 358,530 assault rifles, 126,295 pistols, and nearly 200 artillery units.

Again though this is a total inventory of weapons sent over two decades: much of that kit will no longer be in the country. General Frank McKenzie, commander of US Central Command has today announced that 73 aircraft, including fixed-wing craft and helicopters, had to be abandoned but that none of these would ever fly again. Figures for SIGAR, the American mission in Afghanistan, show there were only three C-130s in the country at the end of June. Reports also suggest some ANDSF pilots flew their aircraft to neighbouring countries as the Taliban advanced, with the Wall Street Journal reporting 46 aircraft were flown to Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Analysts Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans have done an inventory of captured Afghan aircraft of which photographic or video graphic evidence is available with 13 aircraft, 38 helicopters and seven unmanned aerial vehicles being their total sum. As the BBC points out, we cannot know exactly what the Taliban have got their hands on because satellite images can’t be obtained from many of the airports.

Twitter can certainly provide a glimpse though with Taliban militants gleefully posting photos and videos of their new toys. But what, realistically, could they do with the equipment? As Jacob Parakilas details in the Diplomat, while many simple weapons and vehicles – such as rifles, pistols, and trucks – are easy enough to maintain and mend, modern aircraft and armoured vehicles tend to require more complex care and sometimes even regular software updates.

Jodi Vitorri of Georgetown University has argued that there is ‘no immediate danger’ of the Taliban using captured aircraft. While one US Congressman bemoaned last week that ‘The Taliban now has more Black Hawk helicopters than 85 per cent of the countries in the world’ the regime does, for now, appear unable to use them or the C-130s. They have though shown the ability to use M-16s and M-4s.

The equipment may however be passed to the highest bidder capable of using them, or to hostile states who can reverse engineer the technology and mitigate any previous NATO technological military advantages. There are other dangers too. As the Intercept’s Ken Klippenstein has reported, the Taliban has seized biometrics devices from the U.S. military that might allow them to identify and capture Afghans who worked with NATO forces. Similarly, if reports of sensitive and classified information being left in the embassy are indeed true, then Russians, Chinese and Iranians could be among the bidders in place of mere equipment.

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  1. Mr Editor

    An interesting article; thanks for psoting it.

    Tthe statement ‘…Thoughts have turned to how the Taliban will govern Afghanistan’ is however misleading, as ‘Afghanistan’ doesn’t actually exist. It is a geographical location originally-defined by the British (and the cause of two wars against them; they lost heavily in both) which broadly encompasses numerous tribes and sub-tribes. All looking-out for themselves and all in constant conflict with their neighbours.

    The Hatfields and McCoys in the Appalachian mountains of the USA are rank amateurs by comparison.

    These tribes have no real concept of what we call ‘Democracy’, only of THE TRIBE and owe loyalty to the tribal leaders, or whomever is in charge within their immediate area. They are more interested in survival than in the finer points of western law and indeed the only law they recognise is that of the gun and the knife. islam, in all it’s aspects is their guiding-light and predicates everything that they do.

    They also recognise no formal borders and will cross forwards and backwards into Pakistan, India or wherever ,as they see fit, with Assam Bin Ladin (sp.?) (A Saudi BTW and therefore a foreigner) being but one example ; living in Pakistan, but coming and going across the border at whim.

    The equipment that the infidels left behind will be of interest to those in Kabul. It will be copied (especially the hand-held weapons) some of it will vanish into the interior (where it will be used until it breaks down and is then abandoned or cannibalised), some will indeed travel across various borders into Russia and China, and some will be used to settle old, long-held scores against other Afghani tribal groups – creating reasons for even new vendettas which will continue for centuries,
    Ultimately-however, it will just be left and be scavenged through as necessary; a home for dogs and vagrants and whatever wildlife might care to take up residence. The Americans (especially the media) obsessed as they are with the monetary value of the equipment, shouldn’t be too concerned; it is ultimately of little value and will get little use. Where jet fuel is costs more than an AK-47, (and has to be imported anyway) the AK will win all the time.

    Kabul is NOT Afghanistan; it is merely (and currently) the location of one tribal grouping amongst many, and outside it’s boundaries (and those of the Taliban; the tribal group currently occupying it) life and the feuds go on.

    Nothing has changed, one war has ended, another empire humiliated, but for the average Afghani, that will pass. Islam, Food, Family, The Tribe and feuding are far more important and with the infidel now gone, these will once again be the focus.

    In a harsh environment, these are ultimately the only things that really matter…



    • Excellent comment and I agree with all of it.

      The whole shit show is a case study in Western arrogance. We need to understand that our recently formed, Western woke, ideology is held by virtually no one globally and is not a gold standard by which to judge others.

      The USA is not the world’s police force and should focus on fixing things at home.



    • If the majority are American made weapons – rifles and handguns -these will be massively inferior and will be regarded as cast offs.
      The best handguns in the world are from Austria, Germany, Czech, Italy.
      Yanks dont get a look in.
      Why would you bugger around with an M16 when the Chinese made AK 47 is cheap, available, and actually durable. ?

      Otherwise, excellent commentary.



      • howitis@0909

        Thank you, and while agreeing about the quality of US handguns, even the European stuff would be discarded as inferior’ and impractical’

        The Afghanii’s learnt a lot when the Russians invaded, and after practical experience (and the ‘liberation’ of numerous examples from deceased Soviets), concluded that the AK-47 was ideal for their own purposes. It was definitely superior to the British Lee-Enfield 303 which had been the ‘weapon of choice’; for many years. As a result, the AK-47 is now the universal ‘Weapon of Choice’ for all and any Afghanii male over 12 years old. It’s actually quite a remarkable weapon, and totally suited for the theatre. It’s light, it’s is EXTREMELY robust, virtually unbreakable and ammunition isn’t a problem. It can also be made by gunsmiths down back alleys in any little village or town. Said gunsmiths are very good at their craft and the result, although very rough to our western eyes, works and works well, and, being Russian in origin, is very well suited to the abuse that any Western equivalent would find almost impossible to deal with. .

        On that basis, why bother with fancy, carefully machined ‘Western’ weapons when the AK will do just as good a job?



  2. What this huge inventory shows clearly is that the point of the exercise in Afghanistan was to provide the opportunity for the manufacturers, suppliers, politicians and other share holders to make vast amounts of money over supplying equipment which, for the most part, was probably not needed and was under utilized. As with so much that governments get involved in it was all a gigantic scam that made a number of people very rich indeed while costing many lives of people on both sides who did not need to die if they had just been left alone to get on with their lives.



    • Correct.
      The same situation as Vietnam
      The 1975 outcome would have occurred closer to 1963 if the yanks had stayed out and a lot less than the 2 million Vietnamese who died (were killed/murdered) would have died .

      The three biggest terrorist countries the world in the last 40 years are:-
      -Saudi Arabia

      USA goes alone or teams up with others
      eg 2011 the destruction of Libya with France and UK
      The war on Syria driven by USA and Qatar
      Yemen – ultra violence and genocide by USA and Saudi Arabia
      Chuck in oh say, Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Panama
      The biggest terrorists are the USA, by far.
      The Qataris and Saudi are ore subtle.
      The yanks just gotta make a big noise.

      Saudi Arabia and Qatar fund growth of Islam around the world and a lot of this, as we saw in west Auckland yesterday, is via violence. Sometime subtle, sometimes overt.
      Who funds the new mosques and conversion of other denomination churches . They do.
      Using oil money that comes from you.

      The biggest arms dealer in the world is USA. Their products are generally inferior so they use these invasion methods to get their inferior product out there.



  3. There was a piece on the Conservative Treehouse yesterday supporting Alice’s point, talking about the skimming of funds by both sides and now they will change their game. To keep the skimming opportunities going they will now turn to saying the Afghanis need huge amounts of humanitarian aid. We will see if they are right.




  4. And then there is China…

    The Chinese do things differently, quietly, very effectively and very, very slowly , and in many ways are far more insidious than any other nation.

    They are also proof that ‘colonisation’ doesn’t need guns or violence, just large amounts of money and compliant politicians (As in NZ, Zim’, SA, Fiji, Tonga, Congo etc. etc. etc.; the list is growing)

    China won’t ultimately succeed in Afghanistan (Although this will take years to become evident), but WILL do very well in the interim. with Pakistan eventually becoming it’s ‘tame’ gateway onto the Indian Ocean.

    India , of course will be having kittens as all this is occurring and it will be interesting to see what the Americans do in THAT particular situation. I suspect that, ‘;burnt’ by Afghanistan, they will probably talk a lot but ultimately do very little….

    India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burma and Sri Lanka: All places to watch as the Dragon starts to stir…



  5. You would have thought some soldiers would have gone from vehicle to vehicle and a handful of sand down each oil filler spout! Not hard, yes it runs but not very long. You certainly aint going to put another 100 km on it!



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