Taliban's Lightning Afghanistan Advance Could Win Billions of Dollars in U.S.-Made Weapons

The Taliban is advancing faster than expected in Afghanistan and multiple major provincial cities and vital border crossings have already fallen to militants. This week alone, the Taliban has captured at least five provincial capitals.

The Afghan Armed Forces (AAF)—which has long failed to live up to the hopes and promises of its American backers—appears unable to stem the tide or retain the billions of dollars in U.S.-made weapons given to help their ongoing fight.

Afghan National Army (ANA) defeats undermine the government, bolster the Taliban's reputation, and hand the group new equipment and weapons.

The closing stages of the 20-year war in Afghanistan could yet see Taliban forces using U.S. and NATO-supplied weapons to besiege the very ANA troops such equipment was meant to help.

The Taliban's lightning advance has left observers pessimistic about the survivability of democratic rule from Kabul, backed by the AAF—comprising the ANA and the Afghan Air Force.

According to The Washington Post, President Joe Biden's administration is now preparing for the government in Kabul to fall within 90 days of the American and NATO departure on August 31. The U.S. embassy in Kabul said Saturday that Americans should leave the country "immediately" and "not plan to rely on U.S. government flights."

The situation is grim for the government and its allies. Bradley Bowman, the senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Newsweek "the world is seeing a tragic and predictable disaster unfold in Afghanistan."

"The Taliban has roughly tripled the territory it controls since April and has seized eight provincial capitals in five days. Following the end of most U.S. military support for Afghan forces, one might have predicted Taliban gains in the south and the east," Bowman said.

"But we have seen many of the Taliban's gains in the west and the north, including in areas that represent the base of power for the government in Kabul. The Taliban clearly plans to isolate and overthrow the government in Kabul. Afghan forces will continue to fight hard, but they need help."

The Taliban have used American rifles to gun down ANA soldiers and explosive-laden Humvees to bomb their checkpoints. Every fresh Taliban offensive brings with it pictures of captured weapons, ammunition, uniforms, fuel, and other vital military equipment.

The beleaguered AAF and its 307,000 personnel require between $5 and $6 billion per year in funding, some 75 percent of which is provided by the U.S. Ninety-percent of all funding is drawn from U.S.-led international sources.

The top 10 highest value items sent to the AAF in the last quarter totaled just over $212 million. This is the largest total since early 2019.

The last quarter's most valuable items included six EMB 314 Super Tucano light attack aircraft, 174 Humvees, almost 100,000 2.75 inch air-to-ground rockets, 60,000 40mm high-explosive rounds, and more than 2 million 7.62 mm cartridges.

From July 2020 to July 2021, SIGAR reports more than $474 million in major equipment provided to the AAF. To the end of June 2021, the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund—created by Congress to cover AAF equipment, supplies, services, training, funding, facility and infrastructure repair, renovation, and construction—has received almost $83 billion.

The majority of the AAF's most advanced equipment comes from the U.S. American officials have consistently pointed to the ANA's air power as a major advantage over the Taliban, but the fleet cannot fly without U.S. training for its pilots, maintenance support from contractors, and replacement parts from American companies.

The Afghan Air Force has 167 aircraft at its disposal, according to the latest quarterly report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction published in July.

"Rotary-wing and fixed-wing aircraft will be of little use to the Taliban without trained pilots and maintenance crews," Bowman explained. "The Taliban has been more inclined to destroy Afghan Air Force aircraft, while also targeting pilots for assassination.

"It was a mistake for the Biden administration to end most of the U.S. contract maintenance and logistic support for the Afghan military.

"Without that support, we can expect much of the Afghan Air Force to be grounded soon. Biden should ensure that the Afghan military—and particularly the Afghan Air Force—has all of the contract maintenance and logistics support it needs."

Still, the Taliban could break down aircraft for parts to be used elsewhere or sold. Billions of dollars' worth of U.S. aerial technology would be at the disposal of the group it spent two decades hunting.

Flight Global's annual report counts a total of 19 Super Tucano aircraft, produced by Brazilian Embraer company with a production line in the U.S. run by the Sierra Nevada Corporation to produce aircraft for export.

The Pentagon purchased these Super Tucanos in a $427 million deal with Sierra Nevada and Embraer, with the aircraft built at an Embraer facility at Jackson International Airport in Florida.

Since their arrival in Afghanistan in 2016, these aircraft have conducted thousands of sorties, using precision munitions including Paveway laser-guided bombs produced by the Texas Instruments firm.

The air force also fields four C-130H Hercules transport aircraft, made by Lockheed Martin, in a deal worth more than $100 million. The Hercules aircraft were taken from the existing U.S. stock.

Afghanistan army vehicle patrols Herat
This video screen grab from AFPTV shows Afghan special forces patrol the streets of Herat as the Taliban continue a series of offensives against urban areas in Afghanistan on August 3, 2021. AREF KARIMI/AFPTV/AFP via Getty Images

The air force flies at least nine Sikorsky-made UH-60A Black Hawk helicopters—of the original 159 ordered at a cost of between $5.75 billion and $7 billion—and 68 McDonnell Douglas-made MD530F light helicopters, part of a deal for 150 aircraft at a cost of $1.4 billion.

Among the ANA's armored vehicles are hundreds of American-made platforms. Kabul signed a deal for 8,500 Humvees, at least hundreds of which are already believed to have been captured by the Taliban.

The ANA also agreed on deals to receive more than 200 Mine-Resistant Armored Vehicles (MRAPs) from the U.S., plus 634 M117 Strike Force Vehicles at a cost of $661.3 million.

ANA armored vehicles are supported by a range of artillery pieces, both American and Soviet. The ANA has more than 20 U.S-made M114 155mm howitzers.

U.S. officials have said that recent U.S. airstrikes in the country have been on AFF request to destroy captured vehicles and artillery pieces, according to The Washington Post.

"These captured systems will increase the mobility and lethality of the Taliban, making them a more formidable adversary," Bowman said. "We have already seen the Taliban using captured Humvees to patrol Kunduz and Sar-e Pol.

"Concerns regarding the captured artillery have prompted U.S. airstrikes. Hopefully, those U.S. airstrikes will increase and continue beyond the August 31 deadline. American support for the Afghan security forces is not charity. It is helping a brave partner fight a common enemy over there so that they can't target us here."

A State Department spokesperson told Newsweek it takes "all allegations of misuse of U.S. origin defense articles very seriously." The spokesperson added the department was "concerned" about the possibility of captured weapons being used against Afghan and American forces, and was "monitoring the situation closely."

"As the Secretary has said, we will continue to support Afghanistan through security assistance, humanitarian development aid, and diplomatic support for the peace process," the spokesperson said.

"The Afghan people deserve a just and lasting peace, and the security and opportunity that peace makes possible. We will do all that we can to advance that goal, working closely with Afghanistan, its neighbors, and the international community, who all have an interest in a stable, peaceful Afghanistan.

"As the President said, we'll continue to hold the Taliban to their commitment not to allow terrorists to use Afghan soil to threaten the security of the United States and its allies."

This article has been updated to clarify SIGAR's role as an oversight agency.

Afghan Black Hawk helicopter taking off Helmand
In this photograph taken on March 25, 2021 an Afghan Commando stands guard as an Afghan Air Force Black Hawk helicopter takes off at the Shorab Military Camp in Lashkar Gah, in the Afghan province of Helmand. WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images