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What Has Happened to Our Weapons Left Behind in Afghanistan?

Military vehicles transferred by the U.S. to the Afghan National Army in February 2021. Aghanistan Ministry of Defense/via REUTERS

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Taliban fighters atop a Humvee vehicle take part in a rally in Kabul on August 31, 2021 

The U.S. military likely abandoned tens of millions of dollars’ worth of aircraft, armored vehicles and sophisticated defensive systems in the rush to leave the airport in Kabul safely.

Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, said some of the equipment had been “demilitarized,” essentially rendered inoperable. Troops probably used thermate grenades, which burn at temperatures of 4,000 degrees, to destroy key components of the equipment, according to a defense department official who was not authorized to speak publicly.

Some pieces of equipment probably were blown up. Another defense official, also not authorized to speak publicly, acknowledged that a blast heard last week at the airport was related to destroying equipment.

McKenzie rattled off a list of the items Monday during the announcement of the end of the 20-year involvement in Afghanistan, America’s longest war:


As many as 70 MRAPs, Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles built to withstand blasts from improvised explosive devices, were left behind. They have been credited by the Pentagon with saving the lives and limbs of thousands of troops. The vehicles cost about $1 million apiece.


The military left behind 27 Humvees, light tactical vehicles that were replaced by MRAPs in Iraq and Afghanistan after they proved vulnerable to IED attacks. A Humvee’s price tag was less than one-third of an MRAP.


On the airstrip, the military left 73 aircraft. McKenzie didn’t specify what kinds of aircraft, whether helicopter or fixed-wing.

“Those aircraft will never fly again,” he said. Pentagon officials acknowledged, and photos showed, that the soldiers operated Apache attack helicopters at the airport. A new one costs more than $30 million.

Afghan pilots flew some of the advanced aircraft to foreign countries. Much of the rest was abandoned.

Counter-rocket, artillery and mortar systems 

McKenzie didn’t specify how many such units, which at $10 million apiece detect and shoot down incoming rockets and artillery and mortar rounds, were left behind. But he did say they were kept until the end to ensure that the Kabul airfield was defended from rocket attacks such as the one launched Monday.

“Certainly, our objective was not to leave them with any equipment, but that is not always an option when you are looking to retrograde and move out of a war zone,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

McKenzie stressed that the equipment would be of no use in combat. But it  will likely be displayed by the Taliban as trophies of their decadeslong fight to retake their country.

The systems and material will have little more than symbolic value, said Loren Thompson, a defense industry consultant and military analyst at the Lexington Institute.

“The helicopters are the most expensive item, but the ability of the Taliban to operate and maintain them without outside help is modest,” Thompson said.  “The absence of U.S. logistical support will lead to a steady decay in the state of the residual Afghan military arsenal. Even small arms will gradually become unusable if not properly maintained. MRAPs are real gas-guzzlers, so their value in a country where fuel supplies are scarce and terrorist attacks have largely ceased is doubtful.”

All told, the Pentagon left behind tens of billions of dollars’ worth of equipment given to Afghan security forces. The U.S. government spent $83 billion to train and equip the Afghan army, according to the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction. The Pentagon and White House had maintained that Afghan army ranks totaled 300,000 soldiers, but in reality there were far fewer. In the weeks and months before the Taliban takeover, facing the withdrawal of support from U.S. support, many Afghan troops stopped fighting for a corrupt, ineffective government. 

How Equipment Left In Afghanistan Will Expose US Secrets

Even rendered inoperable, equipment now in the hands of the Taliban will yield troves of information about how the U.S. builds weapons and uses them.

The ultimate winner of two decades of war in Afghanistan is likely China. The aircraft and armored vehicles left behind when U.S. forces withdrew will give China—through their eager partners, the Taliban—a broad window into how the U.S. military builds and uses some of its most important tools of war. Expect the Chinese military to use this windfall to create—and export to client states—a new generation of weapons and tactics tailored to U.S. vulnerabilities, said several experts who spent years building, acquiring, and testing some of the equipment that the Taliban now controls. 

To understand how big a potential loss this is for the United States, look beyond the headlines foretelling a Taliban air force. Look instead to the bespoke and relatively primitive pieces of command, control, and communication equipment sitting around in vehicles the United States left on tarmacs and on airfields. These purpose-built items aren’t nearly as invincible to penetration as even your own phone. 

“The only reason we aren’t seeing more attacks is because of a veil of secrecy around these systems,” said Josh Lospinoso, CEO of cybersecurity company Shift5. “Once you pierce that veil of secrecy…it massively accelerates the timeline for being able to build cyber weapons” to attack them. 

Lospinoso spent ten years in the Army conducting penetration tests against radios, small computers, and other IT gear commonly deployed in Afghanistan. 

Take the radios and communications equipment aboard the Afghan Air Force C-130 transport plane captured by the Taliban. The Pentagon has assured that the equipment was disabled. But if any of it remains on the plane an adversary with time and will could pick those apart one by one. 

“You now have some or all of the electronic components on that system and it’s a representative laboratory; it’s a playground for building, testing, and iterating on cyber-attacks where maybe the adversary had a really hard time” until he obtained actual copies of the gear, Lospinoso said. “It is the playground for them to develop attacks against similar items.”

Georgianna Shea, who spent five years at MITRE helping the Pentagon research and test new technologies,  said the loss of key equipment to the Taliban “exposes everything we do in the U.S., DOD: our plans of action, how we configure things, how we protect things. It allows them unlimited time and access to go through and find vulnerabilities that we may not be aware of.”

“It’s not just a Humvee. It’s not just a vehicle that gets you from point A to point B. It’s a Humvee that’s full of radios, technologies, crypto systems, things we don’t want our adversaries getting a hold of,” said Shea, now chief technologist at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’s Transformative Innovation Lab. 

Of particular concern are the electronic countermeasures gear, or ECMs, used to detect improvised explosive devices.

“Imagine the research and development effort that went into develop those ECM devices that were designed to counter IEDs,” said Peter Christensen, a former director of the U.S. Army’s National Cyber Range. “Now, our adversaries have them. They’re going to have the software and the hardware that goes with that system. But also develop capabilities to defeat or mitigate the effectiveness of those ECM devices.”

Gear that has been “demilitarized” or “rendered inoperable,” as U.S. officials described the planes and vehicles left behind, can still reveal secrets, Shea said.

“In some cases, this equipment was fielded with the assumption we would have gates and guards to protect it. When it was developed, no one thought the Chinese would have it in their cyber lab, dissecting it, pulling it apart.”

Once an attacker has physical control of a device, little can stop her from discovering its vulnerabilities—and there are always vulnerabilities, Shea said.

Under current acquisition practices, most new defense gear is not tested for vulnerabilities until late in the design process. Testers often receive far too little time to test comprehensively. Sometimes they get just two weeks, she said, and yet “they always find something. Always.” 

“Regardless of the previous testing that’s been done on compliance, they always find something: always… “They’re very backlogged and don’t have an unending amount of resources,” she said. So you have to schedule development with these testers. There’s not enough resources to test it to the depth and breadth that it should be to understand all of the vulnerabilities.” 

Plans to fix newly discovered vulnerabilities “were often inconsistent or inadequate,” Christensen said. 

Lospinoso, who spent years conducting such tests for the Army, still performs penetration testing for the U.S. military as a contractor. He says a smart hacker can usually find useful vulnerabilities  in hardware “within hours.” 

When such a network attack disables a radio or a truck, troops are generally not trained to do anything about it. They may not even realize that they have been attacked, and may chalk up problems to age or maintenance problems.

“Every time we run an attack against a system, knocked out a subcomponent or have some really devastating effect that could cause loss of an asset—every time, the operator in the cockpit says, ‘We do not have operating procedures for what you just did,’” Lospinoso said. 

Little of this is new. In 2017, the Government Accountability Office highlighted many of these concerns in a blistering report.

More than just insight into network vulnerabilities, the abandoned vehicles and gear will help China understand how U.S. forces work with partner militaries, said N. MacDonnell Ulsch, the CEO and chief analyst of Phylax Analytics. 

“If you were to take all of the technology that was currently deployed in Afghanistan by the [United States] and you made an assessment of that, you have a point in time and a point in place reference of what the status quo is; what technology is being used, how much it costs, what’s it capable of doing and you realize it’s going to a developing nation,” Ulsch said.

China can use the knowledge to develop their weapons and tactics, but also to give their arms-export sales team an edge, he said. The Taliban have highlighted their nascent partnership with China as perhaps their most important foreign diplomatic effort. China, meanwhile, has already begun giving millions in aid to the new regime.

Whatever vulnerabilities China does discover will likely imperil U.S. troops for years to come, Lospinoso said. 

 “There is a zero percent chance we will go back and re-engineer” all of the various systems with serious cyber vulnerabilities, he said. “We are stuck with billions and billions in weapon systems that have fundamental flaws.”

What happened to the military equipment left in Afghanistan?


In the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the U.S. “demilitarized,” or rendered useless, nearly 170 pieces of equipment in Kabul, according to the head of U.S. Central Command. 

General Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie in a press briefing Monday announcing the completion of the withdrawal from Afghanistan said the U.S. on its way out of Hamid Karzai International Airport destroyed up to 70 MRAPs and 23 Humvees – military vehicles –and 73 aircraft.

In the final days of the withdrawal, the U.S. balanced loading or destroying equipment with the need to evacuate people out of Afghanistan. Some of the equipment was taken out on flights, demilitarized at the airport, or destroyed in controlled blasts. Taliban special force fighters arrive inside the Hamid Karzai International Airport after the U.S. military’s withdrawal, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021. The Taliban were in full control of Kabul’s airport on Tuesday, after the last U.S. plane left its runway, marking the end of America’s longest war.

A U.S. official confirmed to CBS News last week that the U.S. military was conducting controlled explosions of ammunition at the airport to lighten the airlift load before departing. 

The pieces that were left behind at the airport and “demilitarized” were either “too f***ing big,” like the MRAPs, according to one official, which can weigh 14 tons, or were old pieces of equipment belonging to the now toppled Afghan Air Force that were largely defunct anyway. 

A video posted on Twitter Monday showed members of the Taliban walking into the airport looking at the defunct equipment left behind. 

“I would tell you that they can inspect all they want. They can look at them, they can walk around, but they can’t fly them,” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told CNN in an interview Tuesday morning. 

“They can’t operate them. We made sure to demilitarize – to make unusable all the gear that is at the airport,” Kirby said. “The only thing we left operable are a couple of fire trucks and forklifts so that the airport can remain more operational going forward.”

There is still equipment outside the airport that the Taliban took control of when it overran the Afghan Forces in the leadup to the fall of Kabul on August 15. Kirby in a recent press briefing said the U.S. military does not have an exact inventory of the equipment the Taliban now has.  

“Some [pieces of equipment] were turned over to the Afghans,” Kirby said. “And we’re working through right now to try to get a better sense of what that would look like.” 

In the days leading up to the final withdrawal from Kabul, officials said lives were the priority. 

The U.S. military and coalition partners in Afghanistan evacuated more than 123,000 civilians in what was the largest noncombatant evacuation in the U.S. military’s history. The operation ended one minute before the deadline of August 31 on the east coast. The mission ended without completing the evacuation of U.S. citizens and many vulnerable Afghans.  

“There’s a lot of heartbreak associated with this departure,” McKenzie said. “We did not get everybody out that we wanted to get out.” 

Planes, guns, night-vision goggles: The Taliban’s new U.S.-made war chest

[1/2] Military vehicles transferred by the U.S. to the Afghan National Army in February 2021. Afghanistan Ministry of Defense/via REUTERS12

WASHINGTON, Aug 19 (Reuters) – About a month ago, Afghanistan’s ministry of defense posted on social media photographs of seven brand new helicopters arriving in Kabul delivered by the United States.

“They’ll continue to see a steady drumbeat of that kind of support, going forward,” U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters a few days later at the Pentagon.

In a matter of weeks, however, the Taliban had seized most of the country, as well as any weapons and equipment left behind by fleeing Afghan forces.

Video showed the advancing insurgents inspecting long lines of vehicles and opening crates of new firearms, communications gear and even military drones.

“Everything that hasn’t been destroyed is the Taliban’s now,” one U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters.

Current and former U.S. officials say there is concern those weapons could be used to kill civilians, be seized by other militant groups such as Islamic State to attack U.S.-interests in the region, or even potentially be handed over to adversaries including China and Russia.

President Joe Biden’s administration is so concerned about the weapons that it is considering a number of options to pursue.

The officials said launching airstrikes against the larger equipment, such as helicopters, has not been ruled out, but there is concern that would antagonize the Taliban at a time the United States’ main goal is evacuating people.

Another official said that while there are no definitive numbers yet, the current intelligence assessment was that the Taliban are believed to control more than 2,000 armored vehicles, including U.S. Humvees, and up to 40 aircraft potentially including UH-60 Black Hawks, scout attack helicopters, and ScanEagle military drones.

“We have already seen Taliban fighters armed with U.S.-made weapons they seized from the Afghan forces. This poses a significant threat to the United States and our allies,” Representative Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, told Reuters in an email.


The speed with which the Taliban swept across Afghanistan is reminiscent of Islamic State militants taking weapons from U.S.-supplied Iraqi forces who offered little resistance in 2014.

Between 2002 and 2017, the United States gave the Afghan military an estimated $28 billion in weaponry, including guns, rockets, night-vision goggles and even small drones for intelligence gathering.

But aircraft like the Blackhawk helicopters have been the most visible sign of U.S. military assistance, and were supposed to be the Afghan military’ biggest advantage over the Taliban.

Between 2003 and 2016 the United States provided Afghan forces with 208 aircraft, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).

In the last week, many of those aircraft were most useful for Afghan pilots to escape the Taliban.

One of the U.S. officials said that between 40 and 50 aircraft had been flown to Uzbekistan by Afghan pilots seeking refuge. Even before taking power in Kabul over the weekend, the Taliban had started a campaign of assassinating pilots.

Some planes were in the United States for maintenance and will stay. Those en route to Afghan forces will instead be used by the U.S. military to help in the evacuation from Kabul.

Current and former officials say that while they are concerned about the Taliban having access to the helicopters, the aircraft require frequent maintenance and many are complicated to fly without extensive training.

“Ironically, the fact that our equipment breaks down so often is a life-saver here,” a third official said.

Retired U.S. Army General Joseph Votel, who oversaw U.S. military operations in Afghanistan as head of U.S. Central Command from 2016 to 2019, said most of the high-end hardware captured by the Taliban, including the aircraft, was not equipped with sensitive U.S. technology.

“In some cases, some of these will be more like trophies,” Votel said.


There is a more immediate concern about some of the easier- to-use weapons and equipment, such as night-vision goggles.

Since 2003 the United States has 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.

“The ability to operate at night is a real game-changer,” one congressional aide told Reuters.

Votel and others said smalls arms seized by the insurgents such as machine guns, mortars, as well as artillery pieces including howitzers, could give the Taliban an advantage against any resistance that could surface in historic anti-Taliban strongholds such as the Panjshir Valley northeast of Kabul.

U.S. officials said the expectation was that most of the weapons would be used by the Taliban themselves, but it was far too early to tell what they planned to do – including possibly sharing the equipment with rival states such as China.

Andrew Small, a Chinese foreign policy expert at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said the Taliban was likely to grant Beijing access to any U.S. weapons they may now have control over.

One of the U.S. officials said it was not likely China would gain much, because Beijing likely already has access to the weapons and equipment.

The situation, experts say, shows the United States needs a better way to monitor equipment it gives to allies. It could have done much more to ensure those supplies to Afghan forces were closely monitored and inventoried, said Justine Fleischner of UK-based Conflict Armament Research.

“But the time has passed for these efforts to have any impact in Afghanistan,” Fleischner said.

The U.S. Left Billions Worth of Weapons in Afghanistan

Some officials are worried that the Taliban could use U.S. drones and small arms.

U.S. President Joe Biden is asking Congress for a whopping $33 billion more in Ukraine aid—half of that for the military’s fight against Russia. Stay tuned; we’ll have more on this. And U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres got a rude awakening on his trip to Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, today: a Russian cruise missile attack.

Alright, here’s what’s on tap: The Taliban are parading U.S. weapons left in Afghanistan on Kabul’s streets, Biden’s National Security Council has a new strategy guru, and an American prisoner is freed in Russia.

No Gun Left Behind?

Almost 80 U.S. aircraft—with control panels smashed out—were left abandoned at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport when the United States pulled out last August. The United States left behind nearly 42,000 pieces of night vision, surveillance, biometric, and positioning equipment in the Taliban-controlled country.

By the time the last U.S. transport aircraft left Afghan airspace on Aug. 30, 2021, 70 percent of U.S. weapons given to the Afghan forces over the past 16 years were left in the country as well as nearly $48 million worth of ammunition. 

In all, the United States left behind more than $7 billion worth of weapons and equipment when it left Afghanistan last year, according to a congressional-mandated Defense Department report first seen by CNN. The equipment was transferred to the Afghan government, which collapsed even before the U.S. withdrawal last year.

The detritus is another hidden cost of the U.S. and NATO military withdrawal that ended two decades of Western involvement in the war-torn country. 

The news comes as the Taliban have been on a killing spree against perceived opponents of the regime in recent weeks, and a spate of terrorist groups that the United States promised to monitor from “over the horizon” in bases in the Persian Gulf have also made a resurgence. The Taliban have also cracked down on human rights in the war-torn country, recently moving to ensure girls don’t go to school. 

“With these weapons, the Taliban are feeling power to implement their barbaric rules on the people of Afghanistan,” said Zelgai Sajad, the former Afghan consul general in New York. “They are holding many military shows with these weapons in the cities and trying to convince people to obey them.” 

In recent weeks, the Taliban have been seen parading through the streets of Afghanistan in U.S. armored vehicles that were first provided to the Afghan army. The United States left 23,825 Humvees in Afghanistan, including armored gun truck variants, and nearly 900 combat vehicles, officials familiar with the report said. “These weapons are potentially in the service of crushing human rights,” said Aref Dostyar, Afghanistan’s former consul general in Los Angeles.

The Defense Department insists that it’s unlikely the Taliban could use the American weapons left behind because they require specialized maintenance and technical support that was once provided by U.S. contractors.

But officials familiar with the report are concerned that the Taliban could use the small arms, at least. There are more than 250,000 automatic rifles, 95 drones, and more than a million mortar rounds that require little training to use. And if the Taliban don’t use the systems, the cash-starved militant group could pass them on to American adversaries or they could find their way into the hands of terror groups. 

The Pentagon insists that U.S. forces were able to destroy or render inoperable much of the equipment and weapons provided to Afghanistan before the troop withdrawal, a figure that amounted to $18.6 billion.

“It is important to remember that the $7.12 billion figure cited in the department’s recent report to Congress corresponds to [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces] equipment and not U.S. military equipment used by our forces,” said Maj. Rob Lodewick, a Defense Department spokesperson. “Nearly all equipment used by U.S. military forces in Afghanistan was either retrograded or destroyed prior to our withdrawal and is not part of the $7.12 billion figure cited in the report.”

And the Pentagon has tried to get some of the money back. In April, the Pentagon told the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction that it had tried to get back money previously provided to the Afghan government to build up its military but had failed due to the collapse of the Afghan banking system. 

Sajad, the Afghan diplomat, doesn’t believe that the Taliban can use the weapons for long. “In the long term, I am not sure that the Taliban have the capacity to protect and repair these weapons,” he said. 


The problem with career politicians is that they become insensible to the real world. They have lived on the dole for so long, that they are devoid of reality. They deal with numbers so large that they no longer have any meaning. This is especially true of our military, where tanks costs several million dollars and fighter jets cost tens of millions of dollars. What they don’t realize is that one tank costs more money than your average middle class worker will make in a lifetime. So when billions of dollars of equipment are left behind in a hostile country this is an affront to every hard working tax paying US citizen.


Do we like to pay taxes? Of course not. If I could keep that money, I would have little to no debt. I certainly would not have a credit card and a car payment. I pay over $30,000 a year in federal taxes, and that doesn’t include property taxes, sales taxes or auto registration fees. Maybe our politicians should think of this when they opt to piss tens of billions of tax payer dollars down the drain. Not to mention that now are enemies have all this high tech equipment to use against us. Weapons that we will have to go against if we ever have to go back into Afghanistan., “How equipment left in Afghanistan will expire us.” BY Patrick Tucker;, What happened to the military equipment left in Afghanistan?” BY Eleanor Watson;, “What happened to the US military equipment left behind in Afghanistan?” BY John Vanden Brook;,”planes, guns, night-vision goggles: the Taliban’s new US made warchest.” BY Idrees Ali, Patricia Zengerie and Jonathan Landay; “The U.S. Left Billions Worth of Weapons in Afghanistan: Some officials are worried that the Taliban could use U.S. drones and small arms.” By Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer;

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