How Valuable Are The U.S. Weapons The Taliban Just Captured? In a scene repeated across Afghanistan, retreating government forces ditched billions of dollars' worth of U.S.-supplied military hardware, from assault rifles to Black Hawk helicopters.

How Valuable Are The U.S. Weapons The Taliban Just Captured?

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When the Taliban overran Afghan military outposts, bases and entire cities, the group seized all sorts of weapons - U.S.-made weapons that had been abandoned by the Afghan military. While the full tally is unknown, it's believed to be substantial. To give us a sense of what was lost and what it might be worth to the Taliban, we're joined by NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre. Hey, Greg.


DAVIS: So if we don't know the quantity, do we at least know what kind of weapons were lost?

MYRE: We do have a general idea. Now, we should be clear, for starters, that the U.S. military took out its planes, its heavy weapons, sophisticated military equipment as it began the drawdown back in April and May. But the U.S. couldn't take home 20 years of accumulated hardware, and they left a lot behind for the Afghan military. And that's on top of the billions of dollars in support the U.S. has provided over the past two decades. So we're talking about things like M16 rifles, night vision goggles, communications equipment, armored vehicles and some aircraft, both helicopters and fixed-wing planes. So this substantially upgrades the quantity and quality of the weaponry for the Taliban, a group that had to rely, in the past, on rifles and roadside bombs.

DAVIS: Do you have any understanding of what this looks like in the field right now?

MYRE: So I spoke with Hollie McKay. She's a freelance journalist. She was in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif a week ago when the government forces fled for the nearby border with Uzbekistan, and the Taliban then took over the city. Now, she remained in the city for a few days but then took the same route herself. She said the roadside was littered with U.S. equipment.

HOLLIE MCKAY: So on that road, there is a lot of equipment that has been abandoned. And it was sort of unclear to me whether they were already destroyed by the soldiers or that they were functioning and that the Taliban hadn't quite figured out how to use them yet, but there was certainly a good bunch of them along that single road into Uzbekistan.

MYRE: And she even did a double-take when she saw Taliban fighters wearing Afghan military uniforms. The Afghans apparently left the uniforms behind. And the Taliban, who traditionally just fight in civilian clothes, picked them up and started wearing them.

DAVIS: When it comes to more high-tech equipment, thinking about things like aircraft, will the Taliban be able to even operate them?

MYRE: So this is a really key question. The basic equipment will be useful right away - the rifles and some of the heavier weapons. But when we get to aircraft like Black Hawk helicopters, it gets a lot more complicated. Now, Bradley Bowman, who used to fly Black Hawks for the Army and is now with The Foundation for Defense of Democracies, says it's not easy to fly those helicopters.

BRADLEY BOWMAN: It's not something you do overnight. It's not something that you can do in a week or a month. It takes a long time. I mean, someone could get in there, maybe find some operating manuals and figure out how to get the engine started and the rotors turning and get it up in the air, but they'd probably be more of a danger to themselves than to anyone else at that point.

MYRE: So even if the Taliban can manage to fly them, he says, maintenance, repair, spare parts will all make this very, very challenging. And we don't have hard numbers on how many aircraft the Taliban might have acquired, but to give a general sense, the U.S. gave the Afghan military around 200 or so aircraft over the years. The Pentagon did say that Afghan pilots flew out some of those aircraft to neighboring states like Uzbekistan.

DAVIS: This is not a new story in Afghanistan. We've seen the winning side in long wars there capture weapons in the past, haven't we?

MYRE: Yeah, Susan, just consider the history of Bagram Air Base. That's this huge military airfield that's north of Kabul. The U.S. built it for the Afghans way back in the 1950s, part of the Cold War effort to woo the Afghan government. But when the Soviets occupied Afghanistan in the 1980s, they used Bagram as a big hub. The U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and made a big upgrade and then left just last month. And today, it belongs to the Taliban.

DAVIS: NPR's national security correspondent Greg Myre, thanks so much.

MYRE: My pleasure.

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