Issue Brief: What We Know about the U.S. Arms Left Behind in Afghanistan

The Arms Left Behind in Afghanistan, Russia Builds Military Ties with KSA, Why the US Fails to Build Allied Armies and more



September 8, 2021

Issue Brief: What We Know about the U.S. Arms Left Behind in Afghanistan

Security Assistance Monitor, September 2021

As the U.S. government comes to terms with what it means to lose a significant portion of the billions of dollars in arms, equipment, and other materiel the United States delivered to Afghanistan for U.S. and Afghan troops, a new SAM Issue Brief gives an overview of the arms left behind in Afghanistan and the risk they pose in Taliban hands.  
The most complete public accounting of U.S. defense transfers to Afghan security forces has been captured in key reports from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) and Government Accountability Office (GAO). From those, and knowing that even before the Taliban acquired U.S. weapons, many had already become lost or damaged, we can begin to piece together the approximate size and makeup of the new weapons the Taliban has acquired.
Between 2003 and 2016, the U.S. government spent about $18 billion on equipment and transportation for Afghan security forces and funded the transfer of 884,311 pieces of equipment to Afghanistan. Although some of the largest pieces of equipment the Taliban has acquired, including aircraft, will be limited by their logistical, sustainment, and maintenance requirements, other equipment, including small arms, can be fielded easily and are likely to end up on the black market if Taliban fighters need to trade a portion of them for cash.
For SAM’s own accounting of what might be in the Taliban’s new arsenal and the pieces of most concern, check out SAM’s newest brief here.

Security Assistance News & Research Roundup

News & Blog Posts


CNN, September 6

Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee joined Republicans to approve a measure increasing the Pentagon’s budget by $24 billion, as part of the debate over the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

US military equipment left behind in Afghanistan spotted in Iran

Middle East Eye, September 2

U.S. military equipment, including armored vehicles worth hundreds of thousands of dollars each, have reportedly been spotted in Iran, following the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Israel Formally Moves to U.S. Central Command’s Area of Responsibility

Times of Israel, September 2

The move, announced in January, is meant to improve communication and coordination between Israel and other U.S. allies in the region to counter Iran.

House Democrats needle Biden on Afghanistan plans, defense spending

POLITICO, September 2

House Democrats broke ranks with the Biden administration, approving a defense bill that asks hard questions about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan while drastically increasing the Pentagon’s budget.

Pentagon Leaders Wary of Working With Taliban

New York Times, September 1

Gen. Mark A. Milley said on Wednesday that U.S. military cooperation with the Taliban to contain ISIS-K in Afghanistan is “possible,” but he and Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin are wary of expanding cooperation to a broader set of issues.

Russia, KSA Strengthen Military Ties In Signal To Washington; UAVs, Helos Potentially On Table

Breaking Defense, September 1

Breaking Defense reports that Saudi officials are using their recent security assistance deal with Russia to send a signal to Washington that they are willing to diversify their arms acquisition purchases. 

Covert Evacuations and Planned Demolitions: How the CIA Left Its Last Base in Afghanistan

New York Times, September 1

A New York Times investigation found that the CIA used a “secretive and highly secure compound” in Afghanistan as a hub for covert evacuations in the weeks leading up to the August 31 withdrawal deadline. Hundreds were evacuated from the site before it was deliberately destroyed.

Nigerian air force Super Tucanos ready to fight against ISIS, with US Air Force training

Defense News, August 31

The U.S. has trained 64 Nigerian pilots and maintenance crews that will operate a new squadron of Super Tucano light attack aircraft provided in a recent sale. The security transfer to the African nation totaled over $500 million. 


Research, Analysis, and Opinion


In Afghan Withdrawal, a Biden Doctrine Surfaces

The New York Times, September 4

A New York Times analysis finds an emerging Biden doctrine: a foreign policy that avoids the aggressive tactics of forever wars and nation building, while uniting allies against authoritarian rising powers.

The Afghan Effect: U.S. Afghan Withdrawal To Accelerate Alliance Change

Real Clear Defense, September 2

Patrick Cronen argues that the rapid U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan has undercut its credibility on the Korean peninsula and may increase the potential for a regional arms race, or may encourage South Korea to begin a healthy transition toward security self-reliance.

Five Myths about the Taliban’s New Arsenal

Lawfare, September 1

Jonathan Schroden deconstructs myths about the size and scope of the Taliban’s acquisition of U.S. weapons, arguing that although the Talibans’s arsenal is smaller and less valuable than many believe, they can still find deeply troubling ways to leverage it, including through weapons sales and smuggling to finance their new government. 

An Unforced Error: How Us Attempts To Suppress The Opium Trade Strengthened The Taliban

Modern War Institute, August 30

Writing for the Modern War Institute, Jeffrey Clemens concludes that increases in U.S. counter-narcotics security assistance did little to suppress the supply of illegal opium out of Afghanistan. Instead it hurt local economies and created anti-U.S. sentiment on which the Taliban was able to capitalize.

Why America Can’t Build Allied Armies

Foreign Affairs, August 26

In an article for Foreign Affairs, Hal Brands and Michael O’Hanlon write that despite the high costs and relentless quagmires, the U.S. has “achieved its strategic objective” in the War on Terror.


Data Fact of the Week:

Quantities and Examples of Key U.S.-Funded Weapons for the Afghan National Defense and
Security Forces, Fiscal Years 2004–2016

The graphic above illustrates the amount and types weapons provided to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces between FY2004-FY2016. 

SAM’s latest issue brief looks at the arms left behind in Afghanistan and the risk they pose in Taliban hands.  

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9/8: The future of counterterrorism: Twenty years after 9/11, hosted by Atlantic Council.
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9/8: 20 Years After 9-11, hosted by Institute for Policy Studies.
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