A group of senators led by Republican Marco Rubio of Florida is demanding answers to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, writing in a letter: "As we watched the images coming out of Afghanistan as the Taliban retook the country, we were horrified to see U.S. equipment – including UH-60 Black Hawks – in the hands of the Taliban."
It's being widely estimated that the Taliban now has "billions of dollars in US weaponry" under their control amid that lighting fast collapse of the US-backed national government on Sunday into Monday. The Pentagon is still assessing, but what is known is that Black Hawk helicopters as well as A-29 Super Tucano attack aircraft.
Of course, it's quite another question of them actually operating such sophisticated and advanced military hardware, also without continued mechanical equipment and maintenance. Over the past week the Taliban has been filmed successfully flying Russian-made military helicopters seized from the Afghan army, but a Black Hawk is a far more advanced system. Possibly it could be operated presuming US or Pakistani trained Afghan pilots defected to the Taliban, taking their piloting skills with them.
Numbers reviewed in The Hill show an astounding amount of US weaponry poured into Afghanistan over the past two decades:
Between 2003 and 2016, the United States transferred 75,898 vehicles, 599,690 weapons, 162,643 pieces of communications equipment, 208 aircraft, and 16,191 pieces of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance equipment to the Afghan forces, according to a 2017 Government Accountability Office report.
From 2017 to 2019, the United States also gave Afghan forces 7,035 machine guns, 4,702 Humvees, 20,040 hand grenades, 2,520 bombs and 1,394 grenade launchers, among other equipment, according to a report last year from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).
This confirms that Taliban does indeed now have what's essentially a small air force. It's really only a matter of time before at least some of them are put into action - again given the likelihood the Taliban will be able to recruit pilots with the know-how.
"As of June 30, Afghan forces had 211 U.S.-supplied aircraft in their inventory, a separate SIGAR report said, The Hill continues. "At least 46 of those aircraft are now in Uzbekistan after more than 500 Afghan troops used them to flee as the government in Kabul collapsed over the weekend."
But that still leaves well over 100 American-made aircraft in Taliban hands, to say nothing of Russian-made helicopters in the country. Over the years the US pumped an estimated $83 billion into propping up the Afghan army.
How it started How it’s going pic.twitter.com/Nb3WMjrtJL— Joseph Dempsey (@JosephHDempsey) August 11, 2021
US defense officials confirmed this week that all of that military equipment went toward benefitting the Taliban in the end.
During Wednesday's Pentagon press briefings, DoD leaders couldn't answer whether or not there were plans to try and destroy at least some of it via airstrikes. It indeed appears too-little-too-late for such contingencies.