Planes, guns, night vision goggles: the new war chest made in the United States by the Taliban

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By Idrees Ali, Patricia Zengerle and Jonathan Landay

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – About a month ago, the Afghan Defense Ministry posted on social media photographs of seven brand-new helicopters arriving in Kabul and delivered by the United States.

“They will continue to see a constant drumbeat of this type of support in the future,” US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told reporters days later at the Pentagon.

Within weeks, however, the Taliban had captured most of the country, along with all the weapons and equipment left behind by fleeing Afghan forces.

The video showed advancing insurgents inspecting long lines of vehicles and opening crates of new firearms, communications equipment and even military drones.

“Everything that has not been destroyed now belongs to the Taliban,” a US official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Current and former US officials say there is concern that these weapons could be used to kill civilians, be seized by other militant groups such as Islamic State to attack US interests in the region, or even potentially. be handed over to adversaries like China and Russia.

The administration of President Joe Biden is so concerned about weapons that it is considering a number of options to pursue.

Officials said launching airstrikes against larger equipment, such as helicopters, has not been ruled out, but there is concern that the Taliban will oppose at a time when the primary focus of the States- Emirates is to evacuate people https://www.reuters.com / world / asia-pacific / kabul-airport-operations-restarted-evacuation-flights-pentagon-2021-08-16.

Another official said that although there are no definitive figures yet, the current intelligence assessment is that the Taliban will control more than 2,000 armored vehicles, including American Humvees, and up to 40 planes. , potentially including UH-60 Black Hawks, scout attack helicopters. , and ScanEagle military drones.

“We have already seen Taliban fighters armed with American-made weapons that they seized from Afghan forces. This poses a significant threat to the United States and our allies, ”Representative Michael McCaul, the top Republican official on the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, told Reuters.

“MORE LIKE TROPHIES”

The speed at which the Taliban swept through Afghanistan is a reminder that ISIS militants took up arms from US-supplied Iraqi forces who offered little resistance in 2014.

Between 2002 and 2017, the United States provided the Afghan military with around $ 28 billion in weapons, including firearms, rockets, night vision goggles, and even small drones for intelligence gathering.

But planes like the Blackhawk helicopters were the most visible sign of US military assistance and were said to be the Afghan military’s biggest advantage over the Taliban.

Between 2003 and 2016, the United States provided Afghan forces with 208 aircraft, according to the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Over the past week, many of these planes have been of great help to Afghan pilots in evading the Taliban.

One of the US officials said between 40 and 50 planes were flown to Uzbekistan by Afghan pilots seeking refuge. Even before taking power in Kabul this weekend, the Taliban had launched a campaign of pilot assassinations https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/afghan-pilots-assassined-by-taliban- us-withdraws-2021 -07-09.

Some planes were in the United States for maintenance and will remain there. Those en route to Afghan forces will instead be used by the US military to help evacuate Kabul.

Current and former officials say that while they fear the Taliban will have access to helicopters, the planes require frequent maintenance and many are complicated to fly without extensive training.

“Ironically, the fact that our equipment breaks down so often is a lifeline here,” said a third official.

Retired US Army General Joseph Votel, who oversaw US military operations in Afghanistan as head of US Central Command from 2016 to 2019, said most of the high-end equipment captured by the Taliban, including the aircraft, was not equipped with sensitive American technology.

“In some cases some of them will look more like trophies,” Votel said.

FIGHT AT NIGHT

There is more immediate concern about certain weapons and equipment that are easier to use, such as night vision goggles.

Since 2003, the United States has provided Afghan forces with at least 600,000 infantry weapons, including M16 assault rifles, 162,000 pieces of communications equipment and 16,000 night vision goggles.

“The ability to operate at night is a real game-changer,” a congressional aide told Reuters.

Votel and others said that small arms seized by insurgents such as machine guns, mortars, as well as artillery pieces, including howitzers, could give the Taliban an advantage against any resistance that may surface in historic anti-Taliban strongholds such as the Panjshir Valley northeast of Kabul.

U.S. officials said most weapons were expected to be used by the Taliban themselves, but it was far too early to say what they planned to do – including possibly sharing the equipment with rival states such as China.

Andrew Small, a Chinese foreign policy expert at the German Marshall Fund in the United States, said the Taliban were likely to grant Beijing access to any American weapons over which they could now have control.

One of the U.S. officials said China was unlikely to gain much from it, as Beijing likely already has access to weapons and equipment.

The situation, experts say, shows that the United States needs a better way to monitor the equipment it is providing to its allies. He could have done much more to ensure that these supplies to Afghan forces were closely monitored and inventoried, said Justine Fleischner of UK-based Conflict Armament Research.

“But the time has passed for these efforts to have an impact in Afghanistan,” Fleischner said.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali, Patricia Zengerle and Jonathan Landay; Additional reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Mary Milliken and Daniel Wallis)


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