The fall of the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan gave Taliban fighters access to more than $7 billion worth of American military equipment, according to data in a report submitted this week to U.S. lawmakers and confirmed by the Pentagon.
The findings, first reported by CNN, shed light on the extent to which Washington sought to build, support and maintain the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) as a counterbalance to the Taliban and terror groups such as al-Qaida and the Islamic State Khorasan.
The report also details the bounty of weaponry and equipment awaiting Taliban officials once the last U.S. troops left Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on August 30, 2021, nearly two decades after the first U.S. forces arrived.
According to the report and to the Pentagon, the just more than $7 billion of U.S. military equipment is what was left of $18.6 billion worth of weapons and other equipment provided to the ANDSF from 2005 through August 2021.
It includes aircraft, vehicles, munitions, guns and communication equipment, as well as other gear, "in varying states of repair," according to Defense Department spokesperson Army Major Rob Lodewick, who emphasized that the military hardware and gear was the property of the now defunct Afghan government.
"The $7.12 billion figure cited in the department's recent report to Congress corresponds to ANDSF equipment and not U.S. military equipment used by our forces," Lodewick said in a statement. "Nearly all equipment used by U.S. military forces in Afghanistan was either retrograded or destroyed prior to our withdrawal."
Top U.S. defense officials have repeatedly faced criticism from some high-profile lawmakers who have called on them to account for the U.S. pullout as well as the collapse of the U.S.-backed government.
"We all witnessed a horror of the president's own making," Senator Jim Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin this past September, calling the way events played out "avoidable."
"Everything that happened was foreseen," Inhofe said at the time. "President Biden and his advisers didn't listen to the combat commander. He didn't listen to Congress, and he failed to anticipate what all of us knew would happen."
Defense officials, however, sought on Thursday to defend the military's actions and downplay the significance of the $7 billion in U.S. equipment and weaponry left behind, some of which had been brandished publicly by Taliban fighters.
"We're not naive. … Obviously, that's happening," a U.S. defense official told VOA, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the report, which has yet to be released to the public.
But the official cautioned that the equipment being used by the Taliban is not the same as that used by U.S. and allied forces before they left Afghanistan.
"It's not state-of the-art stuff," the defense official said. "Everything that we provided to the Afghan forces was not on the same level as ours or those of our allies."
The official also said that even the higher-end equipment was unlikely to give Taliban forces much of a boost.
"The high-end equipment, the aircraft, the UAS [Unmanned Aerial Systems], the precision munitions for the aircraft … that's very dependent on maintenance," the official said, noting that many of those systems "suffered very poor readiness rates" even when U.S. forces and contractors were on the ground helping Afghan forces.
"A lot of this stuff is likely to quickly become nonoperational," the official added.
Pentagon officials also told VOA that only a sliver of U.S.-owned and -operated equipment was left behind when the last U.S. troops departed Afghanistan, estimating its value at just more than $150 million before it was destroyed or otherwise rendered inoperable.