House Republicans seek answers on US weapons seized by Taliban
Two Republicans on the House Oversight Committee are requesting the Pentagon detail its plans to recover or destroy billions of dollars worth of U.S weapons now in the hands of Taliban fighters following the fall of Afghan national security forces.
“As a direct result of the Biden Administration’s poorly planned and executed U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Taliban is now armed with a significant arsenal of U.S.-made weaponry. Worse, it would appear the Biden Administration has no clue what or how many weapon platforms are now owned and operated by the Taliban,” the GOP lawmakers wrote in a letter shared exclusively with The Hill on Monday.
The letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin — signed by Rep. James Comer (Ky.), the top Republican on the committee, and Rep. Glenn Grothman (Wis.), the ranking member on the National Security subcommittee — comes as photos have circulated showing Taliban fighters clutching U.S.-made M4 carbines and M16 rifles. Militants also have been spotted with U.S. humvees and mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles.
Among the items seized by the Taliban are Black Hawk helicopters, A-29 Super Tucano attack aircraft and night vision goggles.
The letter from Comer and Grothman cites an article published by The Intercept last week that said the Taliban seized Handheld Interagency Identity Detection Equipment, which stores biometric data like iris scans and fingerprints and can be used to access databases.
“It is likely this information will be used to attack U.S. allies,” the two lawmakers wrote.
The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The United States spent an estimated $83 billion training and equipping Afghan security forces over the last 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 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.
Comer and Grothman are requesting a full accounting of the weapons, including those either already decommissioned or not on the ground as of May 1, and “all documents and information regarding planned or current efforts to recapture, destroy, or decommission the military equipment … that remains operational in Afghanistan.”
Some U.S. military equipment did make it out of the country before the Taliban takeover.
At least 46 of 211 U.S.-supplied aircraft are now in Uzbekistan after more than 500 Afghan troops used them to flee as the government in Kabul collapsed.
“We don’t have a complete picture, obviously, of where every article of defense materials has gone, but certainly a fair amount of it has fallen into the hands of the Taliban,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said last week. “And obviously, we don’t have a sense that they are going to readily hand it over to us at the airport.”
Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, last week declined to go into detail on the possibility of destroying equipment, saying the military’s focus is instead on evacuation operations. Still, Milley told reporters that “we obviously have capabilities.”
The House Oversight Committee’s GOP members said Monday they’re worried the unaccounted-for weapons could pose a security risk down the line.
“We are left wondering if the Biden Administration has a plan to prevent the Taliban from using our weapons against the U.S. or its allies, or selling them to foreign adversaries, like China, Russia, Iran, or North Korea,” they wrote.
GOP senators raised similar concerns last week.
“It is unconscionable that high-tech military equipment paid for by U.S. taxpayers has fallen into the hands of the Taliban and their terrorist allies,” GOP lawmakers wrote in a letter spearheaded by Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.).
“Securing U.S. assets should have been among the top priorities for the U.S. Department of Defense prior to announcing the withdrawal from Afghanistan,” they wrote.