Afghanistan's Armed and Security Forces have crumbled like a flimsy tower of cards in the face of the unstoppable advance and occupation of the cities by the Taliban formations of the Islamic Emirate.
The numerous regular units of the Afghan National Army (ANA), Air Force, Special Forces and Police that were supposed to defend Kabul have collapsed without firing a shot, as if they were a sand castle on the shore of a beach. The 300,000 or so Afghan generals, officers, non-commissioned officers, soldiers and police - 180,000 military and 118 police - that US and other coalition troops had armed and trained since 2015 have turned out to be a complete and utter fiasco.
The individual weapons, heavy weapons, ammunition, materiel, vehicles, aircraft and logistical facilities of Afghan troops still exist and are the Taliban's most prized booty, even though they are in a very uneven operational state. But the nearly $150 billion spent by Washington on vast quantities of air-ground weapons systems contrasts with its dubious ability to fight the battle-hardened Taliban with any guarantee of success.
The Pentagon has supplied the government of deposed President Ashraf Ghani and his predecessor Hamid Karzai with a vast array of weapons and ground and airborne equipment, much of it old, bordering on antiquated, mostly "second-hand" or low-cost, mainly American and Russian, but also of other nationalities. But the Pentagon's main and less main weapons systems in the air-ground arsenal have not remained in Afghanistan.
A recent report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction dated 30 July this year found that between 2003 and 2016 Washington supplied a massive 599,690 weapons of all types - pistols, rifles, light and heavy machine guns, grenade launchers - no fewer than 75. 898 4x4 and 6x6 tactical vehicles in different versions, 162,643 wireless communications equipment, 29,681 models of mines and explosives, 16,191 surveillance, intelligence and reconnaissance systems and 208 aircraft.
In total, conservative estimates put the number of small arms delivered by Washington to the Afghan Armed and Security Forces at more than 1.5 million, largely M16 and M4 5.56 x 45 millimetre assault rifles. The number of tactical vehicles, combat vehicles, trucks and militarised off-road vehicles supplied would be in the region of 95,000 units over the last 20 years.
The delivery lists are staggering. In another July 2020 report auditing the accounts of Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC A), the Pentagon's Inspector General reflects that between August 2016 and 2019, the US transferred to Afghan military and police units 4,202 4x4 and 6x6 all-terrain tactical vehicles, as well as 48,507 pistols, rifles, machine guns and grenade launchers.
But the lists of losses are just as extraordinary. To give an idea of the progressive degradation of the above figures as a result of the fighting and the corruption of the Afghan authorities and troops, US military intelligence reports that, last June alone, the Taliban seized some 715 trucks and 4x4 Humvees, as well as 17 Russian-origin D-30 122mm towed howitzers - the equivalent of an artillery group - and dozens of tracked and wheeled combat vehicles.
The main light weapons the Pentagon has equipped the Afghans with are hundreds of thousands of Beretta M9 9 millimetre Parabellum pistols, M16A2 and M4 rifles, M240 and M249 SAW light machine guns, all of which have many years of service with US forces. Added to this are significant numbers of Russian AK-47, AKM and AK-74 assault rifles, RPK light and DShK heavy machine guns and, of course, the effective and light RPG-7 and RPG-18 grenade launchers and mortars of all calibres.
The component and variety of tactical vehicles is also extensive. For combat operations in rugged terrain and difficult-to-access scenarios, the vast majority are four-wheel drive. Without being exhaustive, the numbers now being considered are in the order of five thousand Humvees, around 500 M1117 Gardians and more than a hundred M1224 MaxxPro all-terrain troop transporters, heavily armoured and mine-protected.
Add old-fashioned M35 tri-axle trucks and the more modern Navistar 7000, hundreds of Ford Ranger and F-350 pickup trucks derived from the civilian Ford Super Duty. From its pro-Soviet/Russian era, it has hundreds of BMP-2 combat tracked vehicles, BRDM-2 wheeled vehicles and around three hundred BTR-60s, 70s and 80s 8x8 wheel drive vehicles.
On the air side, the situation is even more deplorable. The technical team of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction had estimated that, as of 30 June, Afghan aircraft numbered a meagre 167 out of a total fleet of 211 on paper. President Ashraf Ghani's air force operated seven different aircraft platforms. The remnants of the large fleet of older Russian Mil Mi-17 tactical helicopters (37 aircraft) and Mi-35 combat helicopters were joined by fewer than half a dozen American UH-60 Black Hawks and 43 of the commercially sourced MD-530F helicopter, armed with rockets and machine guns.
Among the aircraft were a few four-engine C-130H Hercules transports, civilian Cessna C-208 Caravans and their militarised AC-208 derivative. Rounding out the sparse air component were a few examples of the Embraer EMB-314 renamed A-29 Super Tucano, a turbo-prop aircraft purchased by the Pentagon from Brazil - at a unit cost of $22 million - to enable Afghan pilots to attack Taliban military targets on the ground with rockets and missiles. Of the above, the pilots of at least 22 planes and 24 helicopters appear to have taken refuge in neighbouring Uzbekistan.
While seizing weapons, vehicles and aircraft is key for the jihadists, other war assets are just as vital, if not more so. They have already seized the 215 weapons depots and logistics centres, with magazines filled with tens of millions of rounds of ammunition of all calibres, explosives and mines. The workshops for repairing vehicles, electronic equipment, aircraft, helicopters, light and heavy weapons, as well as shooting ranges and troop training grounds. Of course, the same has happened to hospitals, clinics and military laboratories.
They have also captured fuel depots. Their importance is such that US aid officials had estimated that the now defunct Kabul government needed "more than $1 billion a year" to move its fleets of vehicles and aircraft and to power the living quarters and mess halls of its military bases, academies and training centres in Kabul and throughout the country. In short, the arsenal of President Ashraf Ghani's government could not possibly cope with the Taliban. Recent events bear this out. And in Washington, they had to know it.