News from the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA)
News from the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA)






Help RAWA: Order from our wish list on

RAWA Channel on Youtube

Follow RAWA on Twitter

Join RAWA on Facebook

Foreign Policy, July 5, 2023

The Taliban Are Now American Arms Dealers

Terrorists are shopping for left-behind American weapons—and turning them against Washington’s friends around the world.

The Taliban Are Now Arms Dealers
Taliban fighters stand guard next to weapons on display for media representatives in Kunar province, Afghanistan, on Sept. 25, 2022. AFP via Getty Images

By Lynne O’Donnell, a columnist at Foreign Policy and an Australian journalist and author.

The U.S. military retreated from Afghanistan two years ago, leaving behind weapons that are now turning up in far-flung trouble spots where terrorists are fighting and killing America’s allies. In markets that have sprung up across the southern and eastern badlands, where the hottest fighting of the war took place, merchants with Taliban permits are offering U.S.-made automatic assault rifles and handguns for sale alongside hardware from Russia, Pakistan, China, Turkey, and Austria. Business, like terrorism, is thriving.

Under weather-beaten tarps slung across wooden poles, in isolated strip malls deep in the desert, or laid out on dusty carpets along bumpy tracks off the major highways, these ad hoc weapons bazaars are offering rockets and bombs, shoulder-fired grenade launchers, night vision goggles, sniper rifles and scopes, and ammunition. The wares are priced in Afghanis, Rupees, and Dollars; recent price increases reflect the business acumen of one of the world’s richest criminal cartels that has sought to keep tight control on supply.

Left-behind American assault rifles command a premium: an M4 in good condition can fetch up to $2,400, a status symbol with as much cachet in the Himalayan tribal belt as a luxury handbag in Manhattan. In contrast, a Pakistan-made knock-off of an AK-47, the world’s most ubiquitous killing machine, can go for as little as $130.

It’s a new arms race—and it’s threatening global security. The Taliban, allies of if not quite affiliates of al Qaeda, are at the center of a global smuggling web that earns billions of dollars from heroin and meth. Now they appear to be funneling small arms to like-minded extremists inspired by their victory, not least next door. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in Pakistan’s torn northwest tribal regions and separatists in restive Balochistan are using made-in-America weapons to kill police and soldiers in an escalating war against the Pakistani state.

Dramatic TTP videos show apparent attacks on Pakistani police and army outposts by militants armed with American weapons and using night vision and thermal sights, which Afghan Peace Watch said in a new report are “highly sought-after accessories supplied to Afghan Special Forces.” The report quotes a Taliban fighter in Nangarhar province, bordering Pakistan, as saying night vision items sell for $500 to $1,000.

“The proliferation of such arms has not only made it difficult to combat terror networks regionally, the night vision equipment, in particular, is used to target Pakistani security personnel and police on a daily basis,” said Iftikhar Firdous, editor of the Khorasan Diary, an independent organization based in Pakistan that monitors non-state groups.

U.S. assault weapons have reportedly been used in recent attacks by non-state groups in Kashmir, bitterly divided between India and Pakistan, and in Israel’s Gaza Strip. Yasin Zia, formerly a general with the Afghan Army and now leading the opposition Afghanistan Freedom Front, said weapons are also likely going to TTP operatives relocated, in a deal between the Taliban and Pakistan, to northern Afghanistan. “They won’t be welcome and will need to defend themselves” against hostile locals, Zia said.

For the Taliban, who’ve made so much money from other illicit trades, arms deals are just another source of income: The Taliban likely control and tax the new black market, said Asfandyar Mir, a South Asia expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace. And as the Taliban (and allied terrorist groups) seek new recruits, few things talk more eloquently than fancy, deadly kit.

The ubiquitous AK-47 flooded into the Afghan mujahideen for their 1979-1989 war against the Soviets. Easy to maintain, easy to use, lethal, and manufactured more widely than any other gun in history, the AK-47 became the symbol of insurgents everywhere. But it’s still a low-end weapon. Terrorists who are moving on up trade up. TTP and Islamic State propaganda shows “a general trend toward the gradual replacement of Kalashnikov rifles with NATO weapons,” Firdous said. Militants are shown “armed with M24 sniper rifles; M4 carbines with Trijicon ACOG scopes; M16A4 rifles with thermal scopes; M249 machine guns, AMD-65 rifles, M4A1 carbines, and M16A2/A4 assault rifles,” he said.

Thanks to both American largesse and Taliban smuggling networks, those arms are going everywhere. Experts say the same routes that proffer drugs, gems, and assorted other contraband get weapons to Islamist terrorists like al-Shabab in sub-Saharan Africa and Islamic State affiliates in the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and the same Persian Gulf countries that produced Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda in the first place. Apart from Afghanistan, where the insurgency ended in victory in August 2021, the number of people killed in terrorist attacks is rising, according to the Global Terrorism Index. The Taliban, who funded their war with drugs and other contraband, continue to reap the profits of death.

And the American largesse that created the Taliban’s boon in the first place was staggering. The U.S. Department of Defense estimated that left-behind stockpiles of arms and vehicles were worth $7.12 billion of the $18.6 billion spent from 2002 on arming the Afghan security forces. “This included roughly 600,000 weapons of all calibers, nearly 300 fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft, over 80,000 vehicles of several models, communications equipment, and other advanced materiel such as night vision goggles and biometric systems,” according to the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). After the military exit in the summer of 2021, SIGAR quoted a Taliban official as saying, “The group took possession of more than 300,000 light arms, 26,000 heavy weapons, and about 61,000 military vehicles.” That’s on top of what they already had.

Much of this could have been predicted. U.S. material was used by the Taliban for years before the republic collapsed, sold by corrupt, impoverished, or demoralized Afghan forces. The Pentagon never got a handle on exactly what went where.

“What happened in Afghanistan is probably the largest case of diversion in modern history, with the huge quantities of weapons and ammunition that the Taliban received,” Justine Fleischner, a war and weapons expert and head of research at Afghan Peace Watch, told Foreign Policy. “You had a system whereby, of course they know what went into Afghanistan, but there’s no record of what was used, what was broken, what was lost, what needed to be repaired, what was in service, what was out of service. Diversion was happening for the entirety of the U.S. engagement in Afghanistan.”

Research by Afghan Peace Watch and the Small Arms Survey found that weapons markets are proliferating in southern and eastern Afghanistan and in neighboring Pakistan, offering weapons and other equipment from the Afghan battlefield. Clandestine factories are churning out counterfeit guns, like AK-47s. Workshops set up with U.S. funding are back in business, servicing small arms and light weapons as U.S.-trained specialists are invited back to work for the Taliban regime, said Habib Khan Totakhil, Afghan Peace Watch’s founder. Efforts to disarm civilians and demobbed Taliban supporters have fizzled, as it’s just too difficult to keep track of them, and many former fighters regard their guns as their own, rather than the state’s.

The Taliban, Firdous said, have ostensibly banned weapons exports, with much the same energy as it has tackled opium production. The clampdown has led to tighter supply and higher prices—but little more.

“There is much evidence to suggest that these weapons will continue to flow from Afghanistan, making it more difficult for nation-states to combat non-state actors,” Firdous said.

Category: Taliban/ISIS/Terrorism, Corruption - Views: 979