Taliban fighters took over Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport moments soon after last of U.S. troops left Afghanistan and seized American-made military equipment including Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters either previously used by the Afghan Air Force (AAF) or left behind by the U.S. forces.
A video shared by a Los Angeles Times correspondent on Twitter showed Taliban fighters dressed in U.S. military uniforms entering a hangar at the now-deserted Kabul airport to examine a Chinook helicopter of the U.S. Army. The members are equipped with body armor, night-vision goggles and guns.
As curtains draw on America’s longest war, there are fears of U.S. military equipment falling in the hands of Taliban fighters. Earlier videos and photographs shared on the social media after the group’s takeover of Kabul on August 15 showed their fighters carrying M4 and M18 assault rifles and M24 sniper weapons and driving around in the iconic Humvees.
"We don't have a complete picture, obviously, of where every article of defense materials has gone. But certainly, a fair amount of it has fallen into the hands of the Taliban," White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on August 17. "Obviously, we don't have a sense that they are going to readily hand it over to us.”
Congressman Jim Banks, a former military sales officer during the Afghanistan War, said America’s hasty retreat left $85 billion worth of equipment to the Taliban. Between 2005-2021, the U.S. disbursed at least $18 billion to the Afghan military for “equipment and transportation,” according to a Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) report to Congress released last month, as well as many billions more in training and maintenance.
While it’s not clear if the Taliban have the ability to use all of former Afghan equipment, they have demonstrated the ability to use Soviet-era D-30 howitzers, guns and assault rifles.
On Tuesday, the Pentagon said the U.S. forces had to leave some military assets at the Kabul airport, including Counter - Rocket, Artillery, Mortar (C-RAM) missile defense systems. It was the C-RAM that intercepted one of the five rockets fired at the airport allegedly by Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K). In a press briefing, U.S. Central Command head General Kenneth McKenzie said that the U.S. troops "demilitarised" 73 aircraft, 70 MRAP tactical vehicles and 27 Humvees housed in Kabul airport before they wrapped up the two-week evacuation.
“It's a complex procedure -- it's a complex and time-intensive procedure to break down those systems. So we demilitarised those systems so that they'll never be used again. And they were just a -- we felt it was more important to protect our forces than to bring those systems back," he told reporters.
The United States provided Afghan forces with at least 600,000 infantry weapons including M16 assault rifles; 162,000 pieces of communication equipment; and 16,000 night-vision goggle devices since 2003. The Afghan military also had thousands of armoured vehicles including 2,000+ Humvees, 600+ M1117s, 160+ M113 armored personnel carriers.
According to a June report published by U.S.-based Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the Afghan military was operating 167 "usable / In-country" aircraft including 33 Black Hawks, three C-130 Hercules aircraft, 23 A-29 Super Tucano planes upgraded to drop laser-guided bombs, 33 AC-208 planes, 43 MD-530 helicopters and 32 Mi-17 Helicopters. The AAF had also ordered over a hundred ScanEagle drones.
An unverified footage released by Talib Times, an outlet that claims to be the “official” news handle of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, on August 30, showed a man hanging from a UH-60 Black Hawk chopper. “Our Air Force! At this time, the Islamic Emirate’s air force helicopters are flying over Kandahar city and patrolling the city,” the tweet said.
Days earlier, a video showing the Taliban "test driving" a captured Blackhawk helicopter over the ground at the Kandahar Airport had surfaced.
Responding to the alleged usage of Black Hawks by the Taliban, Sullivan said, “Those Black Hawks were not given to the Taliban. They were given to the Afghan National Security Forces to be able to defend themselves at the specific request of President [Ashraf] Ghani, who came to the Oval Office and asked for additional air capability, among other things.”
Banks says the Taliban now have more Black Hawk helicopters than 85% of the countries in the world.