We don’t normally pay much attention to claims made by the former president, as he mostly just riffs golden oldies. But this is a new claim. A version of this claim also circulates widely on right-leaning social media — that somehow the Taliban has ended up with $83 billion in U.S. weaponry. (Trump, as usual, rounds the number up.)
The $83 billion number is not invented out of whole cloth. But it reflects all the money spent to train, equip and house the Afghan military and police — so weapons are just a part of that. At this point, no one really knows the value of the equipment that was seized by the Taliban.
The $83 billion figure — technically, $82.9 billion — comes from an estimate in the July 30 quarterly report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) for all spending on the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund since the U.S. invasion in 2001.
In recent years, spending has decreased. For fiscal 2021, about $3 billion was spent on security forces, which was similar to 2020.
Separately, the U.S. government spent about $36 billion on shoring up the Afghan government. The total bill for the Afghan project added up to more than $144 billion.
In any case, the $83 billion spent on the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) goes back two decades, including almost $19 billion spent between 2002 and 2009.
A 2017 Government Accountability Office report estimated that about 29 per cent of the funds spent on the Afghan security forces between 2005 and 2016 went to equipment and transportation. (The transportation costs related to transporting equipment and for contracted pilots and aeroplanes for transporting officials to meetings. There appears to be no way to segregate transportation spending.)
Using that same percentage, that would mean the equipment provided to Afghan forces amounted to $24 billion over 20 years. The GAO said approximately 70 per cent of the equipment went to the Afghan military and the rest went to the national police (part of the Interior Ministry).
Of course, some of this equipment may be obsolete or destroyed — or soon may not be usable.
The SIGAR report shows that 167 aircraft out of an inventory of 211 were usable — but the Afghan Air Force (AAF) still lacked enough qualified pilots. One issue was that the Taliban targeted pilots for assassination.
Even more problematic, there were not enough maintenance crews to maintain the aircraft. “Without continued contractor support, none of the AAF’s airframes can be sustained as combat effective for more than a few months, depending on the stock of equipment parts in-country, the maintenance capability on each airframe, and the timing of contractor support withdrawal,” the report said.
With great fanfare, the Taliban has seized a number of Black Hawk helicopters, including ones that the United States had just shipped this year at the request of former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani. But only the first crew of Black Hawk mechanics had been trained, so the military “can field no more than one UH-60 per night for helicopter missions,” SIGAR said.
Meanwhile, as the U.S. military wound down its mission, it turned over facilities and equipment to the Afghan security forces — which may have added to the total seized by the Taliban. But Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., head of U.S. Central Command, said that before leaving Kabul airport on Aug. 30, the military “demilitarized” 70 MRAPs, 27 Humvees and 73 aircraft. “Those aircraft will never fly again,” he said. “They’ll never be able to be operated by anyone.” (Demilitarized is a term that means damaging in place, sometimes with explosives.)
“No one has any accounting of exactly what survived the last weeks of the collapse and fell into Taliban hands, and even before the collapse, SIGAR had publicly reported no accounting was possible in many districts,” said Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “In rough terms, however, if the ANDSF could not sustain it without foreign contractors, the Taliban will have very serious problems in operating it. That covers most aircraft and many electronics and heavier weapons.”
“One also has to be careful here,” Cordesman added. “The fact that Taliban fighters or cells of fighters get U.S. equipment does not mean it is pooled or shared. Factionalism and hoarding are the rule in Afghanistan, not the exception.”
U.S. military equipment was given to Afghan security forces over two decades. Tanks, vehicles, helicopters and other gear fell into the hands of the Taliban when the U.S.-trained force quickly collapsed. The value of these assets is unclear, but if the Taliban is unable to obtain spare parts, it may not be able to maintain them.
But the value of the equipment is not more than $80 billion. That’s the figure for all of the money spent on training and sustaining the Afghan military over 20 years. The equipment portion of that total is about $24 billion — certainly not small change — but the actual value of the equipment in the Taliban’s hands is probably much less than even that amount.