Assess the stockpile of arms supplied by the Taliban by the United States
The Taliban have seized an unprecedented amount of American and Western weapons, representing a significant expansion of the organization’s military and combat capabilities. For more than two decades, the United States has provided the Afghan national defense and security forces with more than $ 20 billion in arms, materiel and equipment. However, the United States failed to produce a durable and effective Afghan army. As seen in recent weeks, most of the Afghan security forces withdrew from their positions and bases without a single shot being fired during the rapid advance of the Taliban, leaving behind large quantities of weapons supplied by the United States. Although the exact figures are not publicly known, estimates indicate that the Taliban are now in possession of around 300,000 infantry weapons, including M16A4 rifles, M240 machine guns and M4 rifles; 160,000 communications equipment; 16,000 night vision goggles; 2,000 armored vehicles, including M117 armored security vehicles, MaxxPro anti-mine vehicles and Humvees; and finally up to 40 aircraft, potentially including UH-60 Blackhawks, MD-530 helicopters, ScanEagle drones and A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft. The Taliban are now better equipped in terms of weapons than the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was when the Iraqi army began its withdrawal from Mosul in 2014. In this situation, the Iraqi army supplied by the United States fled a much smaller group. militants, leaving behind thousands of small arms and armored vehicles, which the Islamic State quickly used.
One of the most immediate concerns is how the Taliban will use less sophisticated weapons such as night vision goggles and captured infantry weapons, mortars and artillery pieces. The Taliban now have a qualitative advantage over any resistance group that might regroup in the country, such as those in the historically anti-Taliban stronghold of the Panjshir Valley, northeast of Kabul. However, US officials fear that the Taliban’s possession of US military equipment could have other negative implications, both within and beyond Afghanistan’s borders. Unlike conventional armed forces, the Taliban does not have a clear top-down command structure. Much of it is structured horizontally and functions as a network of militias and fronts led by military commanders. Although in order to function within the Taliban, the militias must be recognized by the Board of Directors and not act against it, their commanders still have an extraordinary degree of autonomy. It has become a guiding principle of the Taliban leadership to grant its commanders a significant degree of autonomy, including day-to-day decision-making, in order to avoid divisions and a cumbersome administration. This command structure makes it entirely possible for equipment seized from the Afghan security forces to be diverted and sold to different militant groups and not be kept for use within the organization as a whole. In addition, to obtain additional income, the Taliban may be inclined to sell their newly acquired weapons to hostile actors and on the black market. Taliban partner militant organizations such as the Haqqani Network have the capacity to smuggle weapons out of Afghanistan and into the Middle East, Africa and even Southeast Asia. The Taliban may transfer military-grade communications equipment, US-made small arms and night vision goggles to non-state actors such as al-Qaeda, threatening the security of US and allied security forces and undermining regional stability.
But luckily for the United States, much of the Taliban’s new stockpile of military vehicles requires fairly sophisticated maintenance requirements and is unlikely to remain combat-ready in the long term. The Afghan army relied heavily on maintenance and technical support from American and foreign contractors. For example, the entire Afghan Army UH-1 Blackhawks fleet was maintained by foreign contractors. However, for the nascent arsenal of armored vehicles of the Taliban, the Islamist organization has such a quantity of them that it becomes possible to cannibalize the spare parts of some vehicles to operate others.