U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Francis Macale secures a UH-60 Black Hawk landing zone in Kapisa province, Afghanistan. Much of the US military hardware left behind for Afghan troops is now in the hands of the Taliban. Credit: USAF photo by Capt. Darrick B. Lee.

When the Taliban over-ran Afghanistan, they not only grabbed political power, but also US-supplied firepower — guns, ammunition, helicopters, vehicles and more.

While US officials did toss numerous items into the “crusher” rather than shipping it back, this actually made no difference in the end, as the  Islamist insurgents captured an array of modern military equipment, The Associated Press reported.

To the victor goes the spoils, they say — built and trained at a two-decade cost of US$83 billion, Afghan security forces collapsed quickly and completely.

A US defense official confirmed the Taliban’s sudden accumulation of US-supplied Afghan equipment is “enormous.”

However, the Taliban apparently was not able to capture the entire Afghanistan Air Force fleet, which numbered about 200 aircraft, though not all were operational.

As of June 30, 2021, the AAF had 167 available aircraft among the 211 aircraft in its total inventory, according to the latest quarterly report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).

The AAF operated seven aircraft platforms including UH-60, MD-530, and Mi-17 helicopters as well as the A-29 Super Tucano, C-130 cargo aircraft, Cessna C-208 Caravan, and AC-208 fixed-wing aircraft. 

“We don’t have a complete picture, obviously, of where every article of defense materials has gone.

“But certainly, a fair amount of it has fallen into the hands of the Taliban,” said White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.

“Obviously, we don’t have a sense that they are going to readily hand it over to us,” he said.

According to The War Zone, satellite imagery has confirmed that dozens of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters from the AAF, originally supplied by the US, are sitting at Termez Airport in neighboring Uzbekistan.

The weapons “boon” will help the Taliban “strengthen its authority” in the cities it has captured, Raffaello Pantucci, senior fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, told France24.com.

While the group will continue to show off these big prizes, the aircraft at least will have no impact on the battlefield without pilots.

“They will be for propaganda purposes only,” former CIA counter-terrorism analyst Aki Peritz told Agence France-Presse.

More useful will be the light arms and vehicles used to navigate the country’s rugged terrain.

The catastrophic reversal is an embarrassing consequence of misjudging the viability of Afghan government forces, which in some cases chose to surrender their vehicles and weapons rather than fight.

The US failure to produce a sustainable Afghan army and police force, and the reasons for their collapse, will be studied for years by military analysts.

“Money can’t buy will. You cannot purchase leadership,” John Kirby, chief spokesman for Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, said this week.

A Taliban fighter poses next to a US-made Black Hawk helicopters and other aircraft seized from Afghanistan’s military as the insurgents boasted of their rapid takeover of Afghanistan. Credit: Twitter.

According to a report from NBC News, as the Taliban began seizing provinces across Afghanistan, the CIA’s intelligence assessments began to warn in increasingly stark terms about the potential for a rapid, total collapse of the Afghan military.

In the end, the CIA’s description of what a worst-case scenario could look like “was pretty close to what happened,” one former official briefed on the matter said.

The White House won’t confirm whether President Joe Biden ever received such a dire forecast from his national security team. The president himself appeared to dispute a month ago that intelligence suggested the increasing likelihood that the Afghan military would fold.

But it is precisely that outcome that has emerged as one of the administration’s chief arguments to justify the president standing by his decision to end US military operations in Afghanistan.

“Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country,” Biden told the nation on Monday. “The Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight. If anything, the developments of the past week reinforced that ending US military involvement in Afghanistan now was the right decision.”

Top Pentagon officials are reportedly furious at Biden’s national security team because they wanted to start evacuating vulnerable Afghans as early as May, but were not allowed to do so, multiple officials told NBC News.

After their advice not to pull out was disregarded, Pentagon brass sought to exit as soon as possible in the interest of troop safety and planned to get all troops out by as early as July 4, according to a senior official.

At the State Department, officials are pointing the finger at Congress, which created an onerous 14-step process for the special visa program that diplomats by law must complete before they can issue the visas.

No diplomat wants to be the one who cuts a corner and ends up admitting into the US someone who could pose a risk, one diplomat said. Congress ultimately passed legislation streamlining and expanding the program, but not until the end of July.

Meanwhile, the Afghan debacle, as we can call it, has sparked frustration, anger and also concern for those left behind, Military.com reported.

“It’s a disgrace that the US has forsaken these bonds and abandoned our allies,” said Peter Kiernan, a former Special Operations Command Marine who deployed to Herat in 2012.

“We were trying to liberate these people and give them a better life. And that’s the part that’s so hard to grapple with here. We fought for this. And the Afghan soldiers that we served with were optimistic about the future of their country.”

Taliban fighters stand on an Afghanistan Army military vehicle along the roadside in Herat, Afghanistan’s third biggest city. Credit: AFP photo.

In Afghanistan, Kiernan led a team of interpreters and trained Afghan forces, working with them to clear areas of Taliban presence or to capture Taliban leaders.

The Afghans he met were committed to a better quality of life — soldiers who were “super ideologically committed,” civilians who were educating women, improving health care and cultivating community programs and services with support from micro-grant programs.

He remains especially concerned about an interpreter he’s been trying to get out of the country for the past six years.

The frustration over the bureaucratic delay of the Afghan’s visa and desperate text message exchanges with his friends as the Taliban advanced in the past week have taken their toll.

For many veterans who lost comrades or were wounded with brain injuries, amputations or post-traumatic stress in Afghanistan, the Taliban’s triumphant advance across the country has triggered emotions buried for years or still very raw.

Retired Marine Col. Gerry Berry understands the turmoil his fellow veterans are experiencing, having lived it as he extracted hundreds of evacuees desperately trying to leave Saigon in April 1975.

Berry, who airlifted US Ambassador Graham Martin from the embassy on April 30, 1975, and lost friends during a previous deployment to the country in 1969, expressed frustration that the end in Afghanistan was not better planned or executed.

“I’m not the smartest guy on the planet, but this looks like an intelligence failure, a diplomatic failure, and certainly a military failure,” Berry said. “I am very sad for all who served and feel horrible for the Gold Star families, now that it really appears it was all for naught.”

But, he added, as someone who shares the common experiences of combat, loss and pain, the frustration and sadness dull with time.

“You never stop thinking about it, especially your lost comrades, but time does make it better. It’s hard right now, but just hang in there,” Berry said.

Retired Gen. David Petraeus, who led US forces in Afghanistan under the Obama administration, said this week the outcome of the war there is “catastrophic.”

A Taliban fighter holds a rocket-propelled grenade in Herat. The Islamist insurgents swept into Kabul, shocking US forces and officials. Credit: AFP photo.

Petraeus, when asked by NBC’s Lester Holt if the US just lost the war in Afghanistan, said the situation unfolding in the region is “heartbreaking” and “tragic.”

“I do think there were alternative approaches, options that we in fact should have considered. I’ve counseled those for many years,” continued Petraeus, who also previously served as the director of the CIA and the commander of US Central Command, both under former President Obama.

Jack Straw, who as Britain’s Foreign Secretary was the first minister from a foreign government to visit Kabul after the fall of the Taliban, said the West had been “humiliated” over the rapid takeover by the militants, iNews reported.

But the senior member of the British Cabinet which oversaw the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, insisted the military action was “worth it” because of the huge progress made to the education and opportunities of women.

“We had absolutely no choice but to go into Afghanistan in 2001, after the Taliban had refused to agree to the UN ultimatum which was to give up the al-Qaeda terrorists who they were harbouring,” Straw said.

He blamed both former President Donald Trump and his successor Joe Biden for the botched withdrawal.

“I am afraid the main architect of this disaster is President Trump,” he said. “This is a man who claimed to be the greatest dealmaker in the world, but he didn’t understand negotiating with a regime like the Taliban is very different to negotiating for a bit of real estate in New York.

“He allowed his negotiators to give away all of their cards and to agree to a downgrading of forces and withdrawal without getting anything back in return.

“That has been compounded by President Biden. A huge amount of money had been spent, not least by us, in training the Afghan forces, they were good but forces have to fight for a cause and for leaders.

“President Biden should have kept the troops there for longer, not put down a deadline and the Taliban were already improving their position. He should have sought a negotiation which pinned them down.”

Since the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001, targeting al-Qaeda — the terrorist organization responsible for killing more than 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11, 2001 — and toppling the Taliban government, 2,448 US troops died and nearly 21,000 service members were wounded.

Sources: The Hill, NBC News, Associated Press, Military.com, iNews, VerticalMag.com, The Times of Israel, France24.com, Agence France-Presse, Department of Defense, The War Zone