Association for Defending Victims of Terrorism – The U.S. military retreated from Afghanistan two years ago, leaving behind weapons that are now turning up in far-flung trouble spots where terrorists are fighting and killing America’s allies.
In markets that have sprung up across the southern and eastern badlands, where the hottest fighting of the war took place, merchants with Taliban permits are offering U.S.-made automatic assault rifles and handguns for sale alongside hardware from Russia, Pakistan, China, Turkey, and Austria. Business, like terrorism, is thriving.
these ad hoc weapons bazaars are offering rockets and bombs, shoulder-fired grenade launchers, night vision goggles, sniper rifles and scopes, and ammunition. The wares are priced in afghanis, rupees, and dollars; recent price increases reflect the business acumen of one of the world’s richest criminal cartels that has sought to keep tight control on supply.
Left-behind American assault rifles command a premium: an M4 in good condition can fetch up to $2,400, a status symbol with as much cachet in the Himalayan tribal belt as a luxury handbag in Manhattan. In contrast, a Pakistan-made knock-off of an AK-47, the world’s most ubiquitous killing machine, can go for as little as $130.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in Pakistan’s torn northwest tribal regions and separatists in restive Balochistan are using made-in-America weapons to kill police and soldiers in an escalating war against the Pakistani state.
Dramatic TTP videos show apparent attacks on Pakistani police and army outposts by militants armed with American weapons and using night vision and thermal sights, which Afghan Peace Watch said in a new report are “highly sought-after accessories supplied to Afghan Special Forces.” The report quotes a Taliban fighter in Nangarhar province, bordering Pakistan, as saying night vision items sell for $500 to $1,000.
“The proliferation of such arms has not only made it difficult to combat terror networks regionally, the night vision equipment, in particular, is used to target Pakistani security personnel and police on a daily basis,” said Iftikhar Firdous, editor of the Khorasan Diary, an independent organization based in Pakistan that monitors non-state groups.
For the Taliban, who’ve made so much money from other illicit trades, arms deals are just another source of income: The Taliban likely control and tax the new black market, said Asfandyar Mir, a South Asia expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace. And as the Taliban (and allied terrorist groups) seek new recruits, few things talk more eloquently than fancy, deadly kit.
The ubiquitous AK-47 flooded into the Afghan mujahideen for their 1979-1989 war against the Soviets. Easy to maintain, easy to use, lethal, and manufactured more widely than any other gun in history, the AK-47 became the symbol of insurgents everywhere. But it’s still a low-end weapon. Terrorists who are moving on up trade up. TTP and Islamic State propaganda shows “a general trend toward the gradual replacement of Kalashnikov rifles with NATO weapons,” Firdous said. Militants are shown “armed with M24 sniper rifles; M4 carbines with Trijicon ACOG scopes; M16A4 rifles with thermal scopes; M249 machine guns, AMD-65 rifles, M4A1 carbines, and M16A2/A4 assault rifles,” he said.
Thanks to both American largesse and Taliban smuggling networks, those arms are going everywhere. Experts say the same routes that proffer drugs, gems, and assorted other contraband get weapons to Islamist terrorists like al-Shabab in sub-Saharan Africa and Islamic State affiliates in the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and the same Persian Gulf countries that produced Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda in the first place. Apart from Afghanistan, where the insurgency ended in victory in August 2021, the number of people killed in terrorist attacks is rising, according to the Global Terrorism Index. The Taliban, who funded their war with drugs and other contraband, continue to reap the profits of death.
And the American largesse that created the Taliban’s boon in the first place was staggering. The U.S. Department of Defense estimated that left-behind stockpiles of arms and vehicles were worth $7.12 billion of the $18.6 billion spent from 2002 on arming the Afghan security forces. “This included roughly 600,000 weapons of all calibers, nearly 300 fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft, over 80,000 vehicles of several models, communications equipment, and other advanced materiel such as night vision goggles and biometric systems,” according to the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). After the military exit in the summer of 2021, SIGAR quoted a Taliban official as saying, “The group took possession of more than 300,000 light arms, 26,000 heavy weapons, and about 61,000 military vehicles.” That’s on top of what they already had.
Much of this could have been predicted. U.S. material was used by the Taliban for years before the republic collapsed, sold by corrupt, impoverished, or demoralized Afghan forces. The Pentagon never got a handle on exactly what went where.
“What happened in Afghanistan is probably the largest case of diversion in modern history, with the huge quantities of weapons and ammunition that the Taliban received,” Justine Fleischner, a war and weapons expert and head of research at Afghan Peace Watch, told Foreign Policy. “You had a system whereby, of course they know what went into Afghanistan, but there’s no record of what was used, what was broken, what was lost, what needed to be repaired, what was in service, what was out of service. Diversion was happening for the entirety of the U.S. engagement in Afghanistan.”
“There is much evidence to suggest that these weapons will continue to flow from Afghanistan, making it more difficult for nation-states to combat non-state actors,” Firdous said.
According to the western experts, this placement of weapons by the United States in Afghanistan was illogical. It seems that the United States of America, by withdrawing from Afghanistan and leaving many weapons of war in this country, has sought to ignite more wars in Central Asia and strengthen terrorist groups. We have seen a precedent in Iraq, the sudden occupation of Mosul by the ISIS terrorist group, and the unexpected disarmament of the Iraqi army, which was trained by American forces. The failure of the Iraqi army to control the ISIS terrorist group in the city of Mosul brought years of destruction to the people of the West Asian region. This scenario is currently being implemented in Afghanistan.