While Pentagon reporters have unsuccessfully quizzed DoD press secretary John Kirby and top defense officials over the past several days on what U.S.-made weapons systems the Taliban has captured since their takeover of Kabul on Aug. 15, it is unclear whether the Taliban will be able to use much of that equipment and whether it poses any significant future danger to U.S. forces.
During the press briefings, Kirby has focused on the efforts to secure Kabul International Airport and the airlift evacuation of U.S. citizens and more than 18,000 Afghan applicants for special immigrant visas to be granted for those Afghans’ aid to the U.S. and NATO as translators and in other jobs.
On Aug. 18, Kirby noted that before President Biden assumed office on Jan. 20, U.S. forces in Afghanistan had drawn down to 2,500 and that “through the retrograde process this summer…there were constant decisions made on vehicles and weapons and other systems.”
“Some were brought back to the United States. Some were redeployed into the Central Command AOR [Area of Responsibility]. Some were destroyed, and some were transferred over to the Afghan National Security Forces [ANSF],” Kirby said. “When it comes to U.S.-provided equipment that is still in Afghanistan and may not be in the hands of ANSF, there are several options that we have at our disposal to try to deal with that problem set. We don’t obviously want to see our equipment in the hands of those who would act against our interest or the interest of the Afghan people, and increase violence and insecurity inside Afghanistan. There are numerous policy choices that can be made, up to and including destruction, and what I would tell you at this point is those decisions about disposition of that level of equipment in Afghanistan haven’t been made yet.”
In a separate briefing with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Aug. 18, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley said that, regarding such equipment, “we obviously have capabilities, but I’d prefer not to discuss any operations other than what we’re doing right now in order to get our evacuation out and get that complete, and then there’ll be another time when we can discuss future operations.”
Photos by the Oryx defense blog this week appeared to show U.S.-made military aircraft in the hands of the Taliban, and Oryx said that it had managed to track photos of seven seized ScanEagle drones by Boeing’s [BA] Insitu subsidiary, four Sikorsky [LMT] UH-60A Black Hawks, one captured Sierra Nevada Corporation/Embraer A-29B Super Tucano, and one Cessna [TXT] 208. In addition, reports have surfaced of Taliban seizures of U.S.-made ground equipment, such as AM General High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles, but no photos of the captured equipment have shown up on the internet.
Last month, U.S. Central Command told the Pentagon Office of Inspector General (DoD OIG) that “as of July 15, it was not aware of any unaccounted-for items left behind during the ongoing withdrawal from Afghanistan and told the DoD OIG that all equipment in country was either in the retrograde process or already removed from country, demilitarized, or transferred to the ANSF,” according to a DoD IG congressional report released on Aug. 17.
The Pentagon has procedures to redeploy contingency equipment, transfer it to foreign nations or move it to storage and maintenance buildings that belong to the military services, the Defense Logistics Agency, or the General Services Administration. DoD also may demilitarize and destroy equipment that the military deems unserviceable or too costly to redeploy.
“As Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley said of some U.S. equipment in a December 2020 visit to Afghanistan, ‘It’s more efficient and cost-effective to just destroy it,'” per a Congressional Research Service report in February.
The Defense Security Cooperation Agency was responsible for monitoring the end use of defense materiel transferred to the ANSF.
“Afghanistan’s landlocked location affects the costs and time required to transport materiel out of the country,” per the CRS report. “While materiel retrograded from Iraq was largely moved through Kuwait’s seaports, materiel in Afghanistan has in the past been moved by means of multiple routes and modes of transportation. In general, airlifting equipment to nearby seaports for multimodal transport is typically more expensive than surface transportation and may be limited by the size and availability of cargo aircraft. Transporting materiel to seaports via ground routes is often less costly. However, in the case of Afghanistan, such transport requires the cooperation of other nations, such as Pakistan.”
One of the findings of the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) regarding U.S. training of the ANSF may also apply to attempts by the Taliban to use U.S.-made weapons.
“Advanced weapons systems, vehicles, and logistics used by Western militaries were beyond the capabilities of the largely illiterate and uneducated Afghan force, which led Western advisors to intervene and perform the tasks at hand themselves, rather than see them done poorly or not at all,” according to a new SIGAR report, What We Need to Learn: Lessons from 20 Years of Afghanistan Reconsruction. “The result was to create long-term dependencies and delay the U.S. disengagement.”