American warplanes have destroyed about 40 U.S.-supplied Humvees that the Taliban captured from Afghanistan’s military over the past several years, according to coalition military statistics provided to USA TODAY.
The statistics highlight a recurring problem: Taliban fighters have frequently attacked Afghan government outposts throughout the country, capturing weapons and U.S.-supplied equipment, then disappearing into the countryside.
“In the event this type of military equipment is stolen, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan and the Afghan national defense and security forces work quickly to reacquire the equipment or eliminate it from the battlefield altogether so as not to allow the enemy an advantage,” Lt. Col. Martin O’Donnell, a military spokesman, said in a statement.
If the equipment can’t be recaptured in a ground attack, it is destroyed from the air. The 40 Humvees were destroyed in U.S. airstrikes since January 2015, shortly after U.S. combat forces left Afghanistan and Afghan government troops took the lead in fighting the Taliban and other insurgent groups.
The captured American equipment not only gives militants increased firepower or protection but it can also be used by the Taliban to disguise its fighters as American or allied Afghan forces in an effort to slip past guards.
Army Gen. John Nicholson, the top coalition commander in Afghanistan, said the Taliban is rarely able to hold on to territory even when it is successful in overrunning Afghan government forces.
But even quick insurgent raids can capture expensive equipment. Staging raids to steal arms and equipment is “a pretty standard guerrilla tactic,” said Seth Jones, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington.
Since 2002, the United States has poured nearly $80 billion into building Afghanistan’s security forces, which consist of about 300,000 soldiers and police.
Afghanistan’s ability to fund its own military is “severely limited,” and its government depends heavily on the United States to finance its armed forces, according to John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction.
Since the departure of American combat troops in 2014, Afghanistan’s military has suffered high casualties and struggled to maintain control over some remote towns and villages.
In an effort to regain momentum from the Taliban last year, President Trump gave commanders greater authority to allow more U.S. airstrikes in support of Afghan’s forces. The number of bombs and other munitions dropped in airstrikes increased to 1,748 in the first four months of this year, up from 917 during the same period last year.
The military expanded the role of the 15,000 U.S. advisers in Afghanistan, allowing them to accompany troops closer to the battlefield.
“The Taliban, to avoid the casualties that come from our air power, have not sought to gain and hold new ground,” Nicholson said. “Rather, they have tried to inflict casualties and gain media coverage.”
The Humvees struck by American aircraft may be only a fraction of the [US] equipment in Taliban hands.
Accounting for the equipment that the United States provided Afghanistan’s military is a challenge. It’s possible that some of the equipment may have been diverted to the Taliban by corruption in Afghanistan’s military.
Since 2005, the United States purchased 95,000 vehicles for the Afghan security forces, but the coalition command responsible for equipping the country’s army and police couldn’t account for all of them, according to a Pentagon inspector general’s report. Unarmored Humvees cost the government about $70,000 each.
Source: USA Today