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One Month, 700 Trucks: Afghanistan’s U.S. Military Vehicles Fall Into Taliban Hands
Contributor Aerospace & Defense
I cover international security, conflict, history and aviation.
Taliban fighters inspect Humvees surrendered to them by Afghan security forces in June 2021.
An investigation of imagery posted on social media concludes that in the month of June alone the Taliban has captured a staggering 700 trucks and Humvees from the Afghan security forces as well as dozens of armored vehicles and artillery systems.
Those shocking numbers reflect that local defense forces in some districts are evaporating in the face of Taliban pressure—sometimes without a fight, due in part to the perception that the government is doomed due to the imminent U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan later this year.
And that in turn implies huge volumes of military equipment donated or sold to Afghanistan to help it fight the Taliban may instead continue pouring into that very group’s hands.
For context, in 2018 the Afghanistan’s’ armed forces reportedly operated 26,000 vehicles including 13,000 Humvees of various marks, while Mitzer writes that a total of 25,000 Humvees have been transferred to Afghanistan by 2021. During periods of intensified fighting, the Afghan government typically lost 100 Humvees a week.
An Afghan National Army Humvee jeep drives past a US army Blackhawk helicopter from Alpha Company ... [+]
AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES
If the Taliban can source the necessary fuel, its growing vehicle inventory could improve the group’s operational mobility, ie. its ability to mass forces across Afghanistan. The vehicles may also serve as carriers for heavy support weapons such as mortars, heavy machineguns and recoilless rifles. The Taliban has also used captured Humvees to infiltrate government perimeters to mount deadly suicide bombings.
Armored vehicles losses include a handful of old M113 APCs and Soviet tanks—but also 27 fifteen-ton M1117 armored cars armed with a machineguns and Mark 19 automatic grenade-launchers.
SHINDAND MILITARY BASE, HERAT, AFGHANISTAN - 2018/02/28: Afghan Commandos on a Mobile Strike Force ... [+]
LIGHTROCKET VIA GETTY IMAGES
As for artillery, alongside thirteen shorter-range mortars, the Taliban notably captured seventeen 122-millimeter D-30 towed howitzers—the equivalent of an artillery battalion. The Cold War howitzers aren’t hi-tech weapons but they remain deadly and can bombard targets up to 9.6 miles away with conventional shells—a capability likely to be exploited in an urban siege scenario.
The Taliban also destroyed (but didn’t capture) three Mi-17 and one UH-60A transport helicopter in June.
That said, so far documented losses don’t appear to involve sensitive technologies that could compromise U.S. military capabilities or pose a major terrorist threat such as shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles. Back to the Fundamentalist Future in Afghanistan
Insurgencies that meet with sufficient success eventually attempt a risky transition to conventional warfare in which they tackle government forces head-on rather than relying on hit-and-run tactics.
That would be a familiar experience for the Taliban. Prior to the U.S. intervention late in 2001, the extremist group controlled the majority of Afghan territory, and possessed hundreds of armored vehicles and even an air force with jet fighters and transport aircraft, many flown by captive pilots made to serve under duress.
283892 01: Members of the Taliban army defend the area of a road leading toward Charikar and Bagram ... [+]
Supported by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, the Taliban was gradually prevailing in a protracted civil war with the opposing Northern Alliance. But after the 9/11 attacks the Taliban’s heavy weapons were swept away by U.S. bombing. The former de facto government went back to the hills and kept on fighting despite two decades of U.S. and Afghan military pressure.
When the U.S. reached an agreement with the Taliban in 2020, it notably did not involve the Afghan government—and despite a brief March ceasefire, the Taliban has generally carried on attacking government forces. The staggering equipment losses in June suggest that more and more Afghans are concluding that a Taliban military victory is inevitable. That could foretell the Taliban transitioning to a more conventional warfare oriented posture.
To be fair, Kabul could yet possibly reverse Taliban momentum in the war of perception. The Afghan military does have an improving combat aviation capability and an veteran core of special and quick reaction forces. And even should the Taliban eventually seize population centers, there are segments of Afghan society likely to continue resisting the Pashtun-dominated group, particularly amongst the Tajik and Hazara minorities heavily represented in the Northern Alliance of old.
KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN -- MAY 6, 2021: Afghan maintainers refuel and re-equip an A-29 aircraft before ... [+]
LOS ANGELES TIMES VIA GETTY IMAGES
Regional actors around Afghanistan—think China, India, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Turkey and most Central Asian states—may also step into the void left by Washington, possibly fearing that a re-ascendant Taliban could inspire destabilizing Islamist extremist groups on their own soil or seeing an opportunity to cultivate more influence in the region.
Such assistance might secure the survival of the Afghan government or at least an anti-Taliban opposition, but seems unlikely to prevent the Taliban from remaining a powerful, if not dominant, actor in Afghan politics.
For now Kabul must seek to stem the bleeding of its inventory—not only to reverse mounting public perception of an inevitable Taliban victory following a U.S. departure, but to prevent its own arsenal from being turned against it.
Afghan troops have been filmed laying down their arms to the Taliban as the terror group shows off the American-made weapons it has seized after US and Nato troops beat a hasty retreat.
The Afghan army is collapsing across the country and the Taliban appear to be winning the propaganda war with videos to prove that they will welcome surrendering soldiers - as long as they hand over their state-of-the-art weapons and Humvee armoured cars.
The US left Bagram Airfield last week - its fortress in the country for nearly 20 years - by slipping away in the night without telling the base's new Afghan commander who discovered they had gone the next morning.
However, General Austin Scott Miller, commander of US and Nato troops in Afghanistan, said he was shocked by how quickly the Afghan National Army had surrendered to the Taliban.
'I don't like leaving friends in need,' he told ABC on Monday. 'We should be concerned. The loss of terrain and the rapidity of that loss of terrain has to be concerning. You look at the security situation, it's not good.
'The Taliban are on the move. War is physical, but it's also got a psychological or moral component, and hope actually matters. What you don't want to have happen is that the people lose hope.'
More than a thousand Afghan National Army soldiers fled into Tajikistan from the northern province of Badkhshan following clashes with the Taliban on Sunday.
Tajikistan said that the Afghans were allowed to enter on the principle of 'good neighbourliness' but called up 20,000 reservists to bolster its border guard and prevent further flooding of the frontier.
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The Taliban are on the move across the country, most notably in the northern province of Badakhshan which borders Tajikistan, sending Afghan troops fleeing over the border. Meanwhile in Kandahar province to the south the jihadists are encircling their former capital city
Afghan soldiers purportedly surrendering to Taliban warlords in footage uploaded by the terror group
A Taliban fighter shows off a US standard issue M4A1 assault rifle seized from the Afghan base
Machine guns and boxes of ammunition seized by the Taliban from the vanquished Afghan forces
Taliban war chiefs show off US made weapons and ammunition seized from the Afghan National Army's Sultan Khil military base to the west of Kabul
The Taliban showed off brand new and unopened boxes of ammunition and grenades, most of which appeared to be from America, which they had seized from the surrendering Afghan troops
A Taliban chieftain welcomes Afghan National Army troops - the terror group are keen to show that they will welcome surrendering forces with open arms, taking their valuable weapons and 'forgiving' them for their 'weakness' in fighting with the US-led coalition
Well, maybe the Taliban will let Gillette open new corporate offices in Kabul and Kandahar, then air their Toxic Masculinity commercials there, instead of imprisoning bridegrooms who trim their beards for weddings...