In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan to help the communist government fight Afghan revolutionaries, which led to global Islamic solidarity and the influx of Muslim mujahedeen, known as Afghan Arabs, into Afghanistan. During this period, the United States, with the help of Pakistani intelligence, supported these revolutionaries and provided them with weapons and equipment until the communist regime collapsed and the Soviet Union was defeated and humiliated. These weapons and equipment came into the possession of the Taliban, and of al-Qaida, established in 1988, which attacked the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001.
The scenario was repeated in Iraq after the fall of the Ba’ath Party, when the country was flooded with weapons, which easily changed hands with the Islamic State in 2014 after Iraqi forces fled key positions in northwestern Iraq. The Islamic State group spread to Syria and was able to control large areas of the two countries, posing great danger to the U.S. Army, the Iraqi government and the forces of the international coalition, while using seized American equipment. The conflict continued for several years until the Islamic State group was eliminated, which came at the price of thousands of victims and large sums of money.
The latest pictures out of Kabul over the past few days show Taliban forces seizing advanced weapons depots worth billions of U.S. dollars after the surrender of the Afghan army. The Taliban emerged with modern helmets, cameras and night-vision binoculars, carrying modern American weapons and replacing sandals with military boots they could never have imagined.
The United States’ spending on arming the Afghan army between 2005 and 2019 amounted to $50 billion for an army of 300,000 to 350,000 soldiers and police officers. We can only imagine how many weapons fell into the hands of the Taliban. Moreover, the Afghan army possessed advanced weapons, such as an A-29 Super Tucano attack aircraft, more than 150 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and 50 military transport aircraft, in addition to more than 80,000 military vehicles manufactured for transporting soldiers and for military operations.
The Wall Street Journal estimates that the number of artillery and small arms, such as M-16s and M-4s, amounts to nearly 600,000, in addition to a significant number of anti-tank missiles, automatic grenade launchers, mortars, mines and rocket-propelled grenades.
The Taliban’s spoils from the U.S. Army will give it an edge when it faces any possible resistance, but the Taliban do not have experience handling the heavy weapons they seized and will not have the ability to maintain them, given the complex repairs they may require. This in itself will constitute a major dilemma for the Taliban; they may force former officers and soldiers to take on these tasks.
The real danger regarding U.S. equipment and weapons in Taliban hands is the possibility that they may sell off some of these weapons to global terrorist groups. This is a real security threat, and sooner or later it will set off an alarm in the countries that border Afghanistan. There is also the fear that China and Iran may assist the Taliban in understanding the secret of how these weapons work. Additionally, the Taliban’s possession of modern weapons means they will be able to use them against opposition forces, which will make a potential victory over the Taliban nearly impossible while they take complete control of the country.