With the war in Afghanistan having officially ended on Aug. 31, the world’s thoughts have turned to how the Taliban will govern the country and what equipment left behind by coalition forces they now have at their disposal.
The calamity in Afghanistan raises questions not just about what the American mission was but about how much of the U.S. military budget seems to provide little in the way of benefits. The U.S. dumped over $2 trillion into nation building in Afghanistan over a 20-year period, including $85 billion in technically advanced equipment and training for Afghan security forces.
Say what you will about the decision to withdraw, it should be obvious by now that the boneheaded, hasty, and chaotic U.S. exit from Afghanistan cost the lives of 13 brave servicemen and women, and left behind hundreds of Americans and thousands of Afghan allies the U.S. repeatedly promised to get out.
If that sounds like one of the less significant charges one might level against the American government, consider how, after a war that lasted 20 years, the U.S. has nothing to show for it but a fully equipped Taliban parading around in U.S. Army fatigues, cradling American M16 rifles and other weapons. The Taliban staged victory parades showing off the U.S. military hardware they have seized, replacing sandals with American military boots they could never have imagined.
A rough estimate of the total amount of equipment sent to Afghanistan during the 20-year occupation includes up to 22,000 Humvee vehicles, nearly 1,000 armored vehicles, 64,000 machine guns, and 42,000 pick-up trucks and SUVs. Other weapons included up to 358,000 assault rifles, 126,000 pistols, and 200 artillery units.
Oh, and the Taliban will likely inherit state-of-the-art military helicopters, warplanes, late-model drones and other air aircraft from the U.S. as well. Thanks to the largesse of the American taxpayer, the Taliban now has more Black Hawk helicopters than 85 percent of the countries in the world, according to Congressman Jim Banks, who is also a veteran.
While it is always frustrating to read about the many ways the federal government wastes taxpayer money, it pales in comparison to the appalling reality that the U.S. left an estimated $85 billion in taxpayer purchased military equipment in the hands of the Taliban. This was just part of the American taxpayer money that evaporated as the Taliban marched toward Kabul. There was also the opportunity cost of what these funds could have done to improve the quality of life in the U.S.
Even if the equipment is not used by the Taliban, it may end up going to the highest bidder, or to hostile states that can reverse engineer the technology.
But there are other dangers as well. For example, the Taliban has seized biometric devices from the U.S. military that might allow them to identify and capture Afghans who worked with the U.S. and the NATO allies that were part of the Afghan enterprise. These devices have the fingerprints, eye scans, and biological information of all the Afghans who were with the coalition forces over the last 20 years.
There is no sugar coating the American defeat in Afghanistan. But trying to get the straight skinny from the Pentagon and the White House on why all the U.S. weaponry was abandoned is like trying to put out a bush fire.
Having closed the chapter on Afghanistan, Americans who pride themselves on having notoriously short memories will move on to other issues, such as the still-raging COVID-19 pandemic and things that affect them and their families more directly. Politicians have made careers betting on the public’s historical amnesia and short memory.
And unlike the 1979 kidnapping of 53 Americans at the U.S. Embassy in Teheran, the media will not report on the fiasco in Afghanistan for 444 days and nights, as they did throughout the Iranian hostage crisis.