The Taliban's seizure of Kabul has increased the movement's weapons capability. As the insurgents conquered new cities, Afghan forces' buildings housing weapons were looted. As we saw in Herat, where the fighters found an arsenal containing a large number of US-origin assault rifles, machine guns and other weapons. With each new position, they were strengthened militarily by US military equipment.
In Kunduz, one of their latest conquests, they acquired US-made armoured mine-proof vehicles, drones and Humvees, as the British newspaper The Independent reports. Julian Rupke, a journalist for the German media outlet Bild, published photographs on Twitter of the weapons seized by the Taliban, showing International M1224 MaxxPro armoured vehicles and Scan Eagle dons. In this provincial capital in the north of the country, as in other cities, the Afghan security forces eventually surrendered, leaving the weapons in the hands of the Taliban. In Kunduz in particular, many Afghan soldiers felt that "the fight was no longer useful", according to The Wall Street Journal. They also had to cope with a lack of food and water supplies.
Washington, like its NATO partners, has spent millions of dollars over the past 20 years arming the Afghan army with modern equipment to deal with the Taliban threat. In the end, this investment has ended up in the hands of the insurgents, who are heavily armed and capable of stopping any uprising in the country. However, as The Washington Post reports, the Taliban have been arming themselves with US materiel for years. In 2014, for example, Afghan national forces lost 43% of the weapons supplied to them by foreign troops. This amounts to some 200,000 weapons. In 2017, the Military Times published images of the Taliban with a large quantity of weapons obtained in 'Operation Mansouri', an offensive against the Afghan army.
Now, with control of the country's territory, the Taliban have in their hands advanced US military equipment that once belonged to Afghan forces and was once used against them.
This includes Black Hawk, A-29 Super Tucano and MD-350 helicopters. The Afghan national forces had received three Black Hawks, an aircraft with great offensive advantages, capable of carrying 11 soldiers and equipped with a machine gun. Each of these aircraft is worth $25 million.
The A-29 is a more lethal and armed light combat aircraft than the A-29. It can drop laser-guided bombs as well as carry a wide range of weapons. The US provided some 24 to Afghan troops, although they are now under Taliban control.
MD-350 helicopters are equipped with automatic machine guns and missiles. Afghan forces had about 50 such aircraft.
In addition to airborne equipment, the US provided the Afghan government with a large team of machine guns, rifles and small arms. These include M240 rifles, an automatic machine gun that is mounted on armoured vehicles and has a rate of fire of between 650 and 950 rounds per minute. There are also M249 submachine guns, which have a rate of fire of 1,000 rounds per minute. The Taliban are also in possession of sniper rifles, which can hit a target at 3,600 metres. The advantage of these rifles is their light weight, which does not exceed 4 kilograms.
Vehicles were also an important part of the US war materiel. From Ford and Toyota pickup trucks, useful for travelling through Afghan territory and transporting soldiers, to the M117 SUVs, a type of vehicle that was already used in Iraq and is equipped with grenade launchers and machine guns. Afghan forces had at least 350 units at their disposal. Also of note is the M113 armoured vehicle, an amphibious-capable vehicle designed to transport soldiers in dangerous or difficult-to-access terrain.
"We don't have a complete picture of where every item of defence materiel has gone, but a fair amount has fallen into the hands of the Taliban," US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said. "Obviously, we don't have a sense that they're going to turn it over to us," Sullivan added at a press conference. The US official also announced that they were "in contact" with the insurgents to ensure the safety of people moving to Kabul International Airport, the only way out of Afghanistan.
In addition to a large amount of weapons and military equipment, the Taliban are also financed through illegal commercial activities, such as drug trafficking. Afghanistan is the world's largest supplier of opiates, and the Taliban have taken advantage of this to raise money. According to a recent UN report, drug trafficking brought in some $460 million for the insurgents in 2020 alone. The UN also claimed that the coronavirus pandemic did not affect the trade. "The Taliban have relied on the Afghan opium trade as one of their main sources of income," says Cesar Gudes, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Kabul. The insurgents often deny their involvement in the drug trade, recalling that they banned opium cultivation in 2000 in search of international legitimacy. However, this decision provoked a popular backlash and they changed their stance.
"We have stood by and, unfortunately, allowed the Taliban to become probably the most well-funded undesignated terrorist organisation in the world," explains a US official. The all-time high for opium production was reached in 2017 with 9,900 tonnes worth $1.4 billion. Several international intelligence agencies have estimated that the opium trade accounts for between $300 million and $1.6 billion in the movement's annual revenue.
The UN report also notes that the Taliban are funded through taxes on a wide range of infrastructure, roads, communications and transport services. From electricity bills alone in different parts of the country, the insurgents earn more than two million dollars a year. Mining areas are also an important part of their economic background. According to the UN, mining has earned an estimated $464 million. Former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani warned that the movement controls more than 280 mineral-rich areas.