by Jonathon Kitson
Thursday, 2
September 2021
Explainer
08:00

Handing weapons to US enemies could have been avoided

China, Russia and Iran will be all over the Taliban's new fleet
by Jonathon Kitson
A Taliban fighter in Kabul airport. Credit: Getty

For the second time in less than 10 years, American leaders have had to watch with gritted teeth as Islamic militants parade in front of cameras with captured US equipment. 

The arms they have captured are worth around £61bn. With Al Qaeda (as well as other terror groups such as the Haqanni Network and TTP) roaming Afghanistan and working with the Taliban, the chances of equipment falling into the wrong hands are high. It is hard to estimate quite how many rifles, pistols and machine guns the Islamic Emirate now has access to, but it is certainly in the high hundreds of thousands. Tens of thousands of grenades and tonnes of ammunition have been seized.

The decentralised nature of the Taliban means they probably cannot secure access to all of these weapons, so many will be sold to the highest bidder or even wholesale by the Taliban themselves. Given that British Lee Enfield rifles are still being used by the Taliban decades after manufacture, there is no telling where the M4 rifles left by the Americans will end up in 2057.

The galling scenes of a Blackhawk helicopter being (>90% likely) piloted by an Afghan Air Force defector highlights not only the substantial helicopter fleet now possessed by the Taliban, but that they may be able to train new pilots. Maintaining the fleet is an issue which is said to have crippled the ANA over the past few months, but the new Government may find an eager partner in Russia or China willing to offer parts (perhaps reverse engineered) in return for the technical details. Iran may have already secured access to US vehicles.

There are now rumblings that the US may attempt to destroy some military equipment with drone strikes, but it could be deemed too risky if civilians are nearby. Small arms will be virtually impossible to destroy. 

What’s more, it’s not just hardware that’s been left behind. Access to biometric data of Afghan civilians and the operational logs of ANA targets used by the US military are likely to have been left abandoned too. This is a coup for foreign intelligence agencies, who can use this information to undermine American interests.

Though President Biden deserves some criticism for the nature of the withdrawal, the blame lies with the US military and intelligence elite. France had the same intelligence as the US about the capabilities of the Afghan army, but was simply more pessimistic. As such, French arms are not in the hands of Islamic extremists. And if Bagram air base had been kept open (against the wishes of General Milley), this calamity might have been avoided entirely.

The gift wrapping of weapons to US enemies could have been avoided.

Join the discussion


  • I don’t agree that President Biden has only some residual blame for the ‘nature of the withdrawl’. He is the Commander in Chief with the nuclear football. Is it seriously suggested that months before the withdrawal debacle he was not getting hourly updates as the Taliban inched toward Kabul? Read the transcript of his conversation with Ashraf Gahni on 23rd July. ‘I’m not a military man’, what on earth did he mean by that? It is clear Biden had known for weeks it was game over, man, unless AG did something drastic, like nuking towns and cities. What was Biden suggesting AG order Bismillah to do? What we have here is a tragedy and a debacle of such stupendous and unthinkable proportions that fault can only lie in the Commander in Chief. Even Trump, on one of his rare good days, saw the writing on the wall. What did Biden and the Democrats think they were inheriting?,

  • And if Bagram air base had been kept open (against the wishes of General Milley),”. As I understand it, Biden was told some additional troops were needed to reinforce Bagram and he said no.
    More to the point, for years with minimal US troop presence the Taliban had been kept at bay. Who decided to allow the Taliban free reign? Who decided that a central Afghan government was impossible? Who decided the central government couldn’t be reformed? Those decisions come well before the need to abandon Afghanistan by the West and seem to be unilateral to boot, by the US.
    Leaving Bagram and withdrawing all air support was the turning point known to all involved.

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