Giulio M. Gallarotti, Professor of Political Science at Wesleyan University, wrote a book in 2021 titled “The Power Curse”—in which he outlined the way in which great powers become so much obsessed with their power that power itself becomes a curse. These great powers start to suffer from illusions as a consequence in world politics. Gallarotti particularly examined the case of America and its obsession with power and the illusion it has suffered from. These powers “have a tendency to lead towards complacency about developing alternative means of staving off adverse outcomes or towards more reckless behavior.”
Suffering from illusions of different types, these powers develop a tendency to ignore problems which they deem minor. The US military ignored one such problem while planning their withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021; they left behind a large quantity of state-of-the-art weapons, military equipment, military vehicles, aircraft and helicopters, which obviously went into the hands of Taliban. The US Defense Department last year informed the US Congress that nearly $7.2 billion worth of aircraft, guns, vehicles, ammunition, and specialized equipment like night vision goggles and biometric devices were left behind in Afghanistan. According to reports in Afghanistan media, the Taliban took control of more than 300,000 light arms, 26,000 heavy weapons, and around 61,000 military vehicles. The US military and Pentagon is now downplaying the problem that these weapons will cause in our region.
Consider this: international military experts have long ascribed a special role to small arms like automatic rifles and long-range guns in controlling territory; whether the small arms are in possession of a regular conventional military or a ragtag militia which is in the advanced stages of insurgency is immaterial. The result will be the same—they will successfully control territory.
The US Defense Department last year informed the US Congress that nearly $7.2 billion worth of aircraft, guns, vehicles, ammunition, and specialized equipment like night vision goggles and biometric devices were left behind in Afghanistan.
Any visitor to Kabul these days will find the absence of the Taliban’s trademark weapon, the trusty AK-47 startling. The visitor will see American automatic rifles hanging by the shoulders of Taliban fighters who man the streets of the Afghan capital city. Most of the Taliban now seems to prefer American M4 carbines and M16 rifles with their many attachments, from expensive optics to laser sights and flashlights. Taliban fighters routinely parade in the streets of Kabul riding American military jeeps. In Pakistan, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan is regularly and routinely using American small arms in their attacks on Pakistani security forces. American weapons systems have dramatically enhanced the Tehreek-e-Taliban’s capability to target Pakistani security forces in the Pak-Afghan border areas, Pakistani military experts say.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) got their hands on a large cache of American weapons after they were facilitated by Afghan Taliban in the wake of withdrawal of American forces. Either these weapons have been sold to the TTP by Afghan Taliban, or they have supplied these weapons to TTP as an ally.
The Pakistani Taliban used American long-range rifles, automatic weapons and night vision devices and thermal infrared devices during their raid on two Pakistani military check posts in Chitral. “These devices increase their capacity to operate at night, round the clock… Thermal infrared devices make them capable of detecting equipment, personnel and weapon systems,” said Brig (R) Saad Muhammad, who had served in key positions in the Pakistani military, formulating battlefield strategy. “The Tehreek-e-Taliban used American weapons in the Chitral attack. If you watch the videos of these attacks, the Taliban fighters could be clearly seen using American rifles and night vision devices in these attacks,” said Brig (R) Saad Muhammad. “Long range sniper rifles are lethal and dangerously accurate weapons… and long-range weapons increase the capability to harm opponents and cause casualties. They used these weapons in Chitral. In the videos they could be clearly seen using night vision goggles and long-range Americans weapons,” he said.
Americans don’t seem to feel any remorse—to them the problem is simple: these weapons were the property of Ashraf Ghani’s government, which fled Kabul when the Taliban came knocking. The Americans claim that these weapon systems require an expert level of maintenance and occasional repair, and the absence of it will render these weapons useless.
At the strategic level, Americans weapons, in the views of Pakistani military experts, could assist the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan in expanding the scope of their insurgency inside Pakistani territory, according to Brig Saad Muhammad. There are two types of opinion within Pakistani military experts on whether the Afghan Taliban are supporting or restricting the activities of TTP. Brig (R) Mehmood Shah, a former ISI official who has served in the Pak-Afghan border areas, said that the Afghan Taliban have recently arrested 15 TTP fighters who were involved in the Chitral attacks. “I think now the Afghan Taliban have decided to control TTP after Pakistan delivered a very harsh message to Taliban leadership,” said Brig (R) Mehmood Shah.
Americans don’t seem to feel any remorse—to them the problem is simple: these weapons were the property of Ashraf Ghani’s government, which fled Kabul when the Taliban came knocking. The Americans claim that these weapon systems require an expert level of maintenance and occasional repair, and the absence of it will render these weapons useless. However, the period before these weapons will be made useless by the lack of maintenance and repair will be critically important and threatening for Afghanistan’s neighboring countries. Reports indicate that American weapons have been used in Indian held Kashmir as well as in the West Bank and Gaza in Palestine. Ironically, the Americans don’t seem to realize that they had been dumping these small arms in large quantities in Afghanistan into the hands and possession of an unstable military force, the Afghan National Army, whose cohesiveness was in doubt from the very beginning. This unstable military force started melting away the moment American withdrawal became a reality.
In the words of a western expert, the American withdrawal made the Afghan Taliban the only militant organization in the world in control of an active Air Force. The US military left behind functioning fighter aircraft. Reports in the media indicate that The Taliban started selling small arms to the highest bidders—some American weapons landed into the hands of ISIS-Khorasan, which has used them against Pakistani forces.
Gallarotti could now add a chapter in a newer edition of his marvelous book about how American complacency and illusions created and enhanced the terrorism and militant threat in our region. These weapons could enable the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan to expand the scope of their insurgency. Now there are clear reports that the Taliban have used American weapons against Pakistani military garrisons in Balochistan. Some of these weapons have also landed into the hands of Baloch separatists. Military expert Brig (R) Farooq Hameed told The Friday Times that anybody in Pakistan who believes that the TTP would not expand its areas of attacks is living in a fool’s paradise. “They will certainly attack again, and in an area of their choice,” he said.
Pakistani military experts point out that these American weapons generally create a sense of excitement in the youth of the area and this is a way for the Pakistani Taliban to attract the youth to their folds.
Brig (R) Saad Muhammad, however, is of the opinion that the American weapons have allowed TTP to commence the third and fourth stage in the insurgency against the Pakistani military in the Pak-Afghan border areas. “In the first stage of the insurgency, they carried out terror attacks. In the second stage, they carried out hit and run operations, and in the third stage, they carried out conventional attacks on military check posts. In the fourth stage, they tried to capture our territory,” said Brig (R) Saad Muhammad. “In the Chitral attacks, they implemented the third and fourth stage of their insurgency strategy - they attacked military check posts in Chitral, and captured a few villages in the border areas of Chitral, from where they were quickly evicted by the Pakistani military. All this was made possible by American weapons,” he said.
American weapons are also being used as a propaganda tool by both the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban. Western military experts admit that displaying the capture of this weaponry to the common people of Kabul and Afghanistan also serves the purpose of reinforcing the Taliban’s narrative of the defeat of the US and Afghan national forces. “The display of these weapons serves the propaganda purposes of the Taliban in Pak-Afghan border areas,” said a military official.
Pakistani military experts point out that these American weapons generally create a sense of excitement in the youth of the area and this is a way for the Pakistani Taliban to attract the youth to their folds. “This display of force underscores the Taliban’s messaging that they are the true allies of the Afghan people and the only ones able to protect them. Similarly, the Taliban’s social media engagement is conducted in multiple languages, targeting an audience beyond the borders of Afghanistan,” said a senior military official. The Taliban’s mere existence on Western social media platforms, and their free, unimpeded use lends legitimacy to both the group’s claims and their continued governance. This will likely remain the case as long as the Taliban have access to the international community’s attention through social media,” reads a report on American weapons as spoils of war by the Washington based International Center for Counter Terrorism.
Since the February 2020 New York Times op-ed attributed to Taliban deputy leader Sirajuddin Haqqani, pro-Taliban accounts and their claims have been gaining more traction than the information being released by official Afghanistan government accounts making attempts to counter the propaganda. “This is a trend that has continued with several mainstream western outlets sharing the images and videos posted by the Taliban intended to glorify their weapons captures. Most prominent in the initial days and weeks after the Taliban takeover were pictures and videos shared on social media of the supposedly elite Badri 313 special forces unit, which was carrying American weapons and tactical equipment in full military uniform.” Pakistani military experts say that the fact that Pakistani Taliban were evicted from Chitral’s border villages speaks volumes about the successful countering of Taliban propaganda by the Pakistani military. “The Pakistani military successful evicted the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan from Chitral’s villages despite the fact that they were carrying Americans weapons,” said Brig (R) Saad Muhammad. “This is how we countered their propaganda,” he said.