Did they? Perhaps this Blackhawk chopper flying over Kandahar yesterday with a dead body was just a figment of everyone’s imagination. Indian news Times Now reported that the “brutality of the Taliban is increasing every day,” thanks in part to American war materiel:
Who are you going to believe — John Kirby, or your own lyin’ eyes? The Pentagon flack went on CNN this morning to insist that the Taliban can’t make use of the tens of billions of dollars’ worth of equipment we abandoned in our retreat … at the airport, anyway:
At the Pentagon, there's relief for those who were evacuated safely and concern for those who weren't, press secretary John Kirby says.
"There is no question the threat … in Afghanistan remains high. Obviously, we are concerned about the potential for Taliban retribution." pic.twitter.com/Rbq6BqEMu7
— New Day (@NewDay) August 31, 2021
Following the complete withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, images from the airport in Kabul showed members of the Taliban making their way through an abandoned hanger strewn with equipment, including helicopters, that the US left behind.
However, the equipment was demilitarized and made unusable before troops left, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said.
“They can inspect all they want. They can look at them, they can walk around, but they can’t fly them. They can’t operate them. We made sure to demilitarize, to make unusable, all the gear that is at the airport — all the aircraft, all the ground vehicles. The only thing that we left operable are a couple of fire trucks and forklifts so that the airport itself can remain more operational going forward,” Kirby told CNN.
At the airport is one hell of a modifier. The US supplied the Afghan army with all sorts of weaponry, heavy and light, throughout the country. A few disabled helicopters at the airport might knock those numbers down incrementally, but it’s barely going to register against the capabilities the Taliban just gained in the rout of the US from Afghanistan.
Kirby also never answers John Berman’s actual question: How does this not look like a defeat? Kirby doesn’t answer it because there is no answer, other than acknowledging that defeat is exactly what this is.
We’ll get back to the capabilities in a moment, but first let’s address the scope of the windfall the Taliban reaped in the collapse. Estimates have gone as high as $83 billion, but Glenn Kessler argues that this is a misreading of the ledger:
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, the spending has decreased. For fiscal 2021, about $3 billion was spent on security forces, which was similar to 2020. …
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.
Kessler’s getting ripped for pointing this out, but he’s correct. However, it also highlights the falsity of supposed trillions of dollars spent on the war in Afghanistan. That calculation comes from adding up our entire defense budgets over the last 20 years, not costs specific to Afghanistan. At the rate of spending last year, we would have had to stay another 300 years-plus to chalk up the next trillion dollars. “The total bill for the Afghan project,” Kessler notes, “added up to more than $144 billion.” That works out to roughly $7 billion a year for Afghan security forces and support for the central government, which is gonna look really cheap after we see what the Taliban has in store for us over the next decade or so.
Finally, we probably don’t need to worry too much about the heavy equipment we left behind, even the Blackhawks which the Taliban are learning to use. Those require lots of maintenance and spare parts, neither of which the Taliban can produce. Sooner or later, and likely sooner, those heavy arms will start breaking down and getting cannibalized for parts, which will eventually make them useless. However, the 400,000-plus automatic weapons the Taliban has now seized will remain operational for a very long time to come, and that’s probably all they need to consolidate the power of their radical-Islamist theocracy.