Taliban Shows Its US Arms
Terry H. Schwadron
July 7, 2021
Just this week, the Taliban were showing off containers of weapons and military hardware seized from the Afghan military as Americans formally left the 20-year-old leaving only a token US force.
According to NBC News, the weaponry being paraded as propaganda includes 900 guns, 30 light tactical vehicles and 20 army pickup trucks, all being filmed by Sky News, NBC News’ British partner, which was granted access to the Sultan Khil military base near Kabul.
As more territory falls to Taliban control, the scene is being repeated. It was reported this week that 1,000 Afghan troops dropped weapons and took off for neighboring Tajikistan. Taliban forces have taken a reported 120 districts since May 1, according to an ongoing assessment by the Long War Journal with a patchwork map of control that outnumbers areas still run by the Afghan government.
Sky News filmed Taliban fighters carrying new weapons seized from the base, where a white flag signifying the Taliban takeover was flying. Many military outposts have been surrendered without a fight, allowing the Taliban to seize weapons, according to multiple Afghan military and government sources, the Associated Press said.
Geo TV and The Sun reported that the Taliban have captured 700 trucks and Humvees from Afghan security forces as well as dozens of armored vehicles and artillery systems in June alone. The Sun investigated after images were posted on social media, and said huge volumes of military equipment donated or sold to Afghanistan to help it fight the Taliban may instead continue pouring into that very group’s hands. The Sun, in turn, cited reports at Oryx, a blog pursuing equipment losses in conflicts.
Images show boxes full of munitions — some still wrapped in plastic and Styrofoam — new weapons that could be used on the battlefield. Those reports have been repeated in U.S. military journals.
The answer to one question that keeps popping up — where the Taliban get its support — is being shown in these propaganda films: We are giving it to them.
Leaving Weapons Behind
It seems clear that leaving as vast and long a conflict as we have had in Afghanistan, it is inevitable that we leave materiel behind. It was the same for the Russians who were there before us. One report this week said that the American departure from Bagram Air Force Base, the largest U.S. base in Afghanistan, came at night and without informing the Afghan commander, something that others have not confirmed but that is consistent with a rather rushed exit.
But reports of abandoned weaponry and vehicles falling to those whom we fight have been circulating for years. It was true in Iraq and Syria, it was true in other conflicts.
Plus, we’ve been sending billions, no trillions of dollars, to a succession of Afghan governments, private warlords who change government or Taliban alliance as needed, and likely the Taliban itself since the opening days in 2001 after the attacks on the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon by Osama bin Laden. Under George W. Bush, we actually paid the Taliban to work with America in tracking bin Laden, finally climaxing in a blown operation thought unsuccessfully to trap bin Laden at Tora Bora in the mountain caves.
Throughout, according to a wide number of histories and official documents, the Taliban have been untrustworthy insurgents, aligning as they have pleased with various sides to gain control over their own country and establish a strict Islamic state. Over time, they have toyed with on-again, off-again alliances with Iranians and Pakistanis, with different national intelligence and spy agencies, even with the changing, if corrupt Afghan administrations, only to pull back repeatedly for their own purposes.
It’s why “winning” in Afghanistan was never a realistic option. We lost sight of our mission.
Now the Taliban is gaining strength quickly, the result of fruitless negotiations with the current government, and operating as if it is in charge.
A report in TheConversation.com says that the Taliban are “megarich” and well-positioned with foreign largesse to take on nation-building in Afghanistan. In fact, the argument goes, with citations from various intelligence studies, foreign largesse and reliance on opium have allowed the Taliban to have steadily become wealthier over the 20 years since 2001.
In the fiscal year that ended in March, 2020, the Taliban brought in $1.6 billion, according to Mullah Yaqoob, son of the late Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, who revealed the Taliban’s income sources in a confidential report commissioned by NATO and later obtained by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. That’s better than 25 percent of what the actual government has.
In this description of money and sources of support, the Taliban are successfully reaping support from international drug trade and opium-growing, mining of rare metals and the payments to the Taliban to allow it to continue, extortion and “taxes” from newly won areas, donations from international groups, and specific nations who pay support. According to BBC reporting, a classified CIA report estimated years ago that the Taliban was received hundreds of millions of dollars and arms a year from foreign sources, in particular from the Gulf states, with Russia, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia all believed to be paying, but which they all deny.
Of course, by themselves, these left-behind weapons, even cash, are not making the difference about America’s role in Afghanistan. But they should stick in the American craw.