Taliban weapons haul is a mere distraction compared to the dangers facing tens of thousands in Afghanistan
As the last US and UK troops left Afghanistan earlier this week, they left behind tens of thousands of desperate Afghans as the near 20 year campaign ended as it started. With the Taliban in control. These locals, along with their families, watched along with rest of the world as the victorious Taliban military discovered the spoils of war.
Billions of dollars of hardware, including Black Hawk helicopters, light attack aircraft, Humvees and thousands of rifles. But as social media cranked up fears for what the Taliban could do with this kit, more rational heads suggested that there was a more immediate threat facing those left behind. Colonel Tim Collins, who served in the Iraq as part of the “war on terror” from 2003, is among many former senior military figures that does not believe the aircraft and guns now in Taliban hands should be focus of “what’s next” in Afghanistan.
“I don’t think the British left anything of any use,” said Colonel Collins. “The vast majority of the kit was left behind by the Americans, but the Taliban will be unable to use for long, if at all. I think the whole equipment thing is a bit of a red herring”. Professor Michael Desch, from the International Security Center at the University of Notre Dame, added: “They have a lot of usable small arms and ammunition.
But I think they were up to their ears and that stuff already.
“Some of the more complicated equipment, particularly the helicopters and the light aircraft was all maintained by Western contractors, and the Taliban doesn’t have the knowledge or the spares to maintain it. I’m not overly concerned about it as it’ll soon become junk.” The US Department of Defense (DoD) is not worried about it either.
The DoD confirmed to i that the Afghan National Security Forces was never trained in maintaining the kit. A DoD official added: “We are not concerned with the loss of any significant technological or sensitive capability. While seizing this equipment may be beneficial to the Taliban, it does not represent a threat to the US, Allies or partners.”
As i revealed earlier this week, if the Taliban look like it’s going to use a Black Hawk for anything but a joy ride, then the US will simply destroy anything still in working order with drone strikes. For Professor Jodi Vittori, a scholar in the Democracy, Conflict, and Governance Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, believes the aircraft, guns, night vision goggles and ammunition left in the hands of the Taliban is a sideshow compared to the dangers faced by those who have justification to fear Taliban rule.
US soldiers stand guard along the perimeter at Kabul airport in Afghanistan, where refugees are trying to flee the country. (Photo: Shekib Rahmani)
While the US State Department estimates there around 70,000 at risk citizens eligible help from the Biden administration out of the country, Professor Vittori believes the total number could be as many as 250,000. “The biggest issue is what happens now to American citizens and those Afghans at risk from Taliban reprisals,” added Professor Vittori, who was deployed in Afghanistan ten years ago as a Lieutenant Colonel in the US Air Force.
During his whistle stop tour around the Middle East, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was keen to emphasise one of the main topics of back-channel talks with the Taliban was the safety of those seeking to escape their rule. Over in the US, it has also been the dominant topic of conversations in State Department briefings. A US State Department spokeswoman told i: “We continue to engage with the Taliban on the safe passage of American citizens and our Afghan allies as well as humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people.”
Videos of big lumps of military hardware may get a few likes on Twitter, but it’s those at risk and left in Afghanistan that the serious people are focusing their attention on.
As Professor Vittori puts it: “What’s going to happen to get them out of the country.
If we don’t get them out, who’s ever going to work with us again?”