Since the botched US evacuation and withdrawal at the end of August, Afghanistan seems to have become one big gun bizarre where individuals with enough cash can purchase an array of American-supplied weapons and advanced equipment from right off the streets - no questions asked.
A New York Times report has found not only small arms like pistols and military assault rifles are showing up in gun shops around major cities like Kabul and Kandahar, but two-way radios and even grenades and night vision goggles along with ample ammunition. The American military items were "originally provided to the Afghan security forces under a U.S. training and assistance program that cost American taxpayers more than $83 billion through two decades of war," the report emphasizes.
The NY Times report noted that American M4 carbines are going for about $4,000, and at least $1,200 for Beretta M9 handguns, with other NATO-supplied handguns common among Afghan police forces going for about $350. Many of these had been acquired by local gun dealers as the Taliban was gobbling up territory during the rapid US draw down. Desperate Afghan soldiers who hadn't been paid would gain far more than a month's salary by essentially pawning their weapons to local dealers.
Russian-made rocket-propelled grenade launchers are also popping up in local gun shops, for about $1,100, and Kalashnikov rifles - perhaps already long ubiquitous in the region - going for an average of $900.
One shop owner in the southern city of Kandahar told the Times: "American-made weapons are in great demand, as they work very well and people know how to use them." Another dealer said:
"We used to work as a mobile team," he said. "We would meet many government soldiers and officers to buy weapons from them. After that we would take those weapons to the Taliban and sell it to them, or to anyone who would give us a good price."
Further the Times report details that "A third gun merchant in Kandahar, who asked not to be identified because the Taliban had warned him not to speak to the news media, said dealers had sold weapons as large as anti-aircraft guns to the Taliban this summer."
"Now, he said, he sold American-made M4s and .50-caliber machine guns, as well as weapons manufactured by other nations, including rocket launchers and Kalashnikov assault rifles," she shop keeper added.
Interestingly, the Taliban is trying to claim that it has imposed a strict accounting system for US weapons seized after the American troop exit, with a spokesman cited in the report as commenting on whether the weapons were being sold on the streets to the public: "I totally deny this; our fighters cannot be that careless." He added dubiously: "Even a single person cannot sell a bullet in the market or smuggle it."
The Taliban official claimed they "are all listed, verified and are all saved and secure under the Islamic Emirate for the future army." But the Times investigative team verified that significant amounts of American weapons were being sold openly in shops, and that dealers have continued to receive new merchandise in waves.