US military equipment worth billions, in Taliban control?

Taliban fighters watched as an iconic piece of US materiel (military hardware) – a Black Hawk helicopter – was piloted through Kandahar airport in a video recently shared on social media.

The four-blade multi-purpose aircraft was merely taxiing on the tarmac when it sent a message to the world: the Taliban were no longer a ragged band of fighters riding about in decrepit pickup trucks with Kalashnikov assault guns.

In other places, the Taliban’s fighters have been photographed flaunting a variety of US-made weaponry and vehicles since the hard-line Islamist group took control of Kabul on August 15th.

What is the Taliban’s aircraft count?
According to a study by the US-based Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the Afghan Air Force operated 167 aircraft at the end of June, including assault helicopters and planes (Sigar).

However, it’s unknown how many of the 167 have been captured by the Taliban. Planet Labs provided the BBC with satellite photographs of Kandahar airport, which show a number of Afghan military aircraft sitting on the tarmac.

According to Angad Singh, a military aviation expert at the Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation, an image taken six days after the city was taken over by the Taliban shows five aircraft: at least two MI-17 helicopters, two Black Hawks (UH-60), and a third helicopter that could also be a UH-60.

Another satellite photograph taken on July 16 revealed 16 aircraft, including nine Black Hawk helicopters, two MI-17 helicopters, and five fixed-wing planes.

This indicates that some of these planes were either flown out of the country or relocated to other sites.

The Taliban has also taken control of the remaining nine Afghan airbases, including those in Herat, Khost, Kunduz, and Mazar-i-Sharif, though it’s unclear how many planes they’ve taken because satellite photographs of these airports aren’t available.

According to a Delhi-based aviation specialist who did not want to be identified, satellite photographs taken on August 16 from Uzbekistan’s Termez airport show more than two dozen helicopters, including MI-17, MI-25, Black Hawks, and multiple A-29 light-attack and C-208 aircraft.

According to the US Government Accountability Report, the US dropped 358,530 rifles of various types, nearly 64,000 machine guns, 25,327 grenade launchers, and 22,174 Humvees (all-terrain vehicles) on the Afghan forces it fought alongside between 2003 and 2016.

Satellite pictures taken on August 16 from Uzbekistan’s Termez airport show more than two dozen helicopters, including MI-17, MI-25, Black Hawks, and multiple A-29 light-attack and C-208 aircraft, according to a Delhi-based aviation expert who did not want to be recognised.
Between 2003 and 2016, the US dropped 358,530 weapons of all sorts, over 64,000 machine guns, 25,327 grenade launchers, and 22,174 Humvees (all-terrain vehicles) on Afghan forces it fought alongside, according to the US Government Accountability Report.

According to Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Wilson Center in Washington, the fact that the group has access to such powerful weapons is a “colossal failure.”

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