The Unintended Impacts of US Weapons Supplied to Afghanistan – The Diplomat
Loss and leakage of US equipment due to poor oversight and weapons accountability has bolstered Taliban forces. The United States has provided significant security assistance to Afghanistan since 2002 – for nearly 20 years before the Taliban takeover in August 2021. The large amount of weapons, ammunition and equipment provided to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) had adverse effects. and negative impacts on the security and humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, as well as on the achievement of US policy objectives. The magnitude of these shortcomings will likely have long-term implications for security in the region.
Security assistance poses a dilemma in the United States
In 2020, US military aid amounting to $16.22 billion was delivered to 143 recipients worldwide. Security assistance is a global systemic risk, as the majority of illicit weapons have at some point been diverted from legal channels. The proliferation risks observed in Afghanistan not only raise doubts about the effectiveness of the billions of dollars of American security aid distributed around the world, but they also call into question the policy of supplying arms to forces supported by government in conflict-affected countries. Security Assistance and Weapons Provided to Ukraine could similarly lead to unintended consequences of arms proliferation for Russian forces and beyond Ukraine’s borders in years to come.
This is a dilemma for the United States. Jo prevent unintended results, oOne option would be to arm forces only if escapes can be avoided with certainty – yet in situations of conflict and insurgency this prospect can be particularly difficult. U.S. allies who need weapons and equipment in the first place generally lack the capacity and ability to control these weapons, which calls into question the logic behind assistance to Security.
If the United States continues to pursue a policy of arming warring parties (directly or indirectly) as part of its foreign policy and counterterrorism strategies without putting in place comprehensive measures to prevent diversion, it will continue to undermine US security interests by aiding parties it opposes.
Arms supplies in Afghanistan
Nearly a year ago, the Taliban’s rapid takeover of Kabul marked a new era for the conflict in Afghanistan and the end of the longtime US-backed government. The events of August 2021 were widely covered by the media as a disaster for American politics and the humanitarian situation as the Taliban escalated their attacks on the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) and urban areas. Yet we are not paying enough attention to the systemic and underlying problem of arms diversion that took place more than a decade ago. The fact that the United States has never succeeded in securing weapons and equipment supplied by the United States and NATO allies is overlooked as one of the contributing factors to the strength, sophistication and the ability of the Taliban to sustain the armed conflict leading up to the events of 2021.
US spending estimates between 2002-2008 indicate about $120 million spent on 242,000 small arms and light weapons (SALW) at the ANDSF, including a variety of rifles, pistols, machine guns, mortars and grenade launchers. According to a 2016 By one estimate, the Pentagon accounted for less than 48% of the total SALW supplied. The extent of oversights over weapons accountability has created vulnerabilities to displacement, loss and theft by the Taliban and other armed actors – for example, a recent report by Conflict Weapons Research documented US-made M4 and M16 rifles recovered by the ANDSF from the Taliban and other armed groups, some of which were confirmed to be supplied to the Afghan National Army (ANA) and likely from Afghan National Army (ANA) stockpiles ‘ANA.
The Taliban have also notoriously used the United States night vision goggles in attacks on Afghan forces at night, employed armor humvees as SVBIED in complex attacks and featured US weapons in propaganda images. By the time Kabul fell, the Taliban were already in a position to take over the territory.
Large quantities of US-supplied weapons have been left behind in Afghanistan – many of which may continue to circulate throughout the region via black market exchanges or other means of diversion for years to come . The question of “who now has or will soon have access” to the inexplicable quantities of US-supplied weapons presents serious security challenges in Afghanistan and beyond. The consequences of poor gun and ammunition accounting are unfortunately a common problem. history in this context and in others, such as Iraq, and should encourage critical reflection on US foreign policy decisions. The United States would be wrong to overlook the elephant in the room: the arming policy of the parties in conflict.
Systematic arms liability issues
As of December 31, 2020, the United States Congress had appropriated more than $88.3 billion in help with safety provide and equip Afghan security forces with the aim of promoting stability and security. Over the past decade, at least 21 other countries have provided ANDSF with a total of $103 million worth of weapons, based on 2014 estimates. NATO, a practice strongly encouraged by the United States, and through state-to-state donations through American holders have helped ensure the steady flow of arms and ammunition over the years.
Systematic challenges and concerns about the large quantities of weapons transferred to Afghanistan have been documented by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on several occasions – citing accountability gaps due to a lack of systematic record keeping, poor training and a lack of clear guidance to national security forces (ANSF) on the management of weapons purchased by the United States throughout the supply chain (in storage and in transit).
Although record keeping is required by the National Defense Authorization Act 2010, GAO andestimated in 2014 that more than 50% of weapons destined for the ANSF were not systematically tracked. Multiple databases and manual data entry practices have made it nearly impossible to accurately track weapons losses, especially in light of capacity and technology gaps within ANSF logistics departments. When SIGARE compared data from the two databases used, he found that of the total 474,823 serial numbers recorded in one database, 43%, or 203,888 weapons, had missing information and/or duplicates. In addition, 22,806 weapon serial numbers were repeated two or three times in the systems used, meaning there were duplicate records of weapons shipped and received. Bad accountability also applies to ammunition, as evidenced by an abundance of 7.62 x 39 mm ammunition in circulation in Afghanistan, which is a common US military small arms caliber.
High levels of corruption within the ANDSFs have also contributed to the misuse, loss, theft and sale of arms and ammunition, as demonstrated by some ANDSF personnel. sale of ammunition at residents, including the Talibanand weapons purchased by the United States appearing in black mmarkets on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. In addition to this, high desertion rates have also contributed to arms losses – an estimated 30-60% of Afghan soldiers deserted the army during or after their training, by the Pentagon’s own numbers and US-issued weapons were both sold by soldiers and seized at abandoned checkpoints.
Humanitarian impacts of arms proliferation
Weapons proliferation is not only a strategic issue for the United States in Afghanistan, but it also imposes a heavy humanitarian cost. The increase in civilian casualties from 2003 due to increased fighting intensity was fueled by the Taliban’s continued access to arms and ammunition (see Figure 1). According to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), the total number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan per year increased between 2002 and 2019, and particularly in 2008 and 2009 and again in 2018. The Taliban primarily uses small arms such as automatic rifles in attacks against civilians, but the group has also used suicide bombings and IEDs, particularly to attack civilian targets.
The Taliban have used American night vision goggles to step up night attacks against Afghan forces (a trend that has doubled following the capture of equipment from 2014 to 2017). There is also thevidence that the Taliban seized weapons and approximately 150 US-supplied Humvees from abandoned bases and checkpoints, allowing the Taliban to escalate the intensity of the conflict. Deliberate targeting of civilians by the Taliban nearly doubled the number of civilian casualties, from 865 in 2017 to 1,688 in 2018 according to United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). When Kabul fell to the Taliban on August 15, 2021, more battle-related deaths had been recorded in 2021 than throughout 2020.