Taliban have acquired an 'overwhelming amount of potential weaponry,' global security expert says
Jodi Vittori, a former US Air Force officer who served in Afghanistan, joined The World's host Carol Hills to talk about the wide range of weapons — from night-vision goggles to combat aircraft — recently acquired by the Taliban since their takeover last week.
In this Aug. 22, 2021, image provided by the US Air Force and made through a night vision scope, a US Air Force security forces raven, assigned to the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, maintains a cordon around a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III in support of Operation Allies Refuge at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Senior Airman Brennen Lege/US Air Force via AP
As the Taliban advanced on Kabul last weekend, the Afghan military retreated. They left behind weapons — combat aircraft, armored vehicles, machine guns and ammunition.
On Monday, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told reporters that the US does not want to see any US-made weapons fall into the hands of what he called "people that would use them to harm our interests."
"I don't have an exact inventory of what equipment that the Afghans had at their disposal that now might be at risk," Kirby said.
Jodi Vittori, a former US Air Force officer who served in Afghanistan, has a unique perspective on what this could mean for Afghanistan.
Vittori now co-chairs the global politics and security program at Georgetown University and she joined The World's Carol Hills to talk about how the Taliban might use weaponry left behind by Afghan Security Forces.
Jodi Vittori: We're not 100% certain how much equipment the Taliban have acquired because we haven't always taken terrific accountability of what equipment went where, at what times, particularly when it came to small arms. We have a better idea with aircraft.
And what is the situation with the aircraft that was left over?
A number of American aircraft flew to Uzbekistan and so did, of course, the pilots and the aircrew associated with them. But the Taliban have captured some American-made and other aircraft. We know that because they've shown pictures of them. Some of those aircraft were not operational at the time, however. And we do have reports that the Taliban are looking for aircraft pilots and aircraft maintainers that might be able to get that back into the air.
Is there a possible scenario where the Taliban could coerce US-trained pilots still in Afghanistan to fly the remaining aircraft?
Absolutely. I could see plenty of possibilities of being able to coerce pilots, unfortunately, not only threatening pilots with their own lives, but the lives of their families. We see continuing reports of the Taliban, for example, the blacklist, saying that if certain people don't turn themselves in to the Taliban, they will punish the families. So, they are certainly more than willing to do that. I can imagine they would be willing to do similar with pilots, as well. And, you know, if you're the pilot and your family members are being threatened, that's ... a hard thing to turn down.
But bottom line, as somebody who served in the Air Force, is your sense that the Taliban don't instantly have an air force of their own. They need either other people or parts to make it work?
Yes. They're going to need support of those former helicopter pilots and so forth that were serving with the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces. But also, do remember, the Taliban took over Afghanistan without an air force. Air force is a nice-to-have for them, but it's not the need-to-have it was for the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.
Do you know why Afghanistan's aircraft were not destroyed when the Taliban took control of the capital?
I presume just because it happened so incredibly quickly? There just wasn't time to destroy all of those aircraft. It does take time to do that with explosives and so forth. Hopefully there weren't any deals made that involve those aircraft. We don't really know what completely went on at this point with the various Afghan senior leadership, individual generals acting on their own initiative when it came to negotiating with the Taliban.
What about other hardware that the Taliban may now have? Howitzer artillery, machine guns and rifles, night-vision goggles? How easy will it be for the Taliban to get these into the field and operational?
They should be relatively easy to get into the field and operational. [We've] seen lots of pictures of [Taliban] with US small arms, for example, M4s and M16s already, fighting. They've had long experience of using captured US Western gear, so they should be capable of putting those in to fight fairly quickly.
It's interesting, there have already been protests in Afghanistan and the Taliban have been using violence to quell them. Over the weekend, the Taliban said hundreds of its fighters were heading to the Panjshir Valley, where there's strong resistance. Do you think that all these captured weapons will change the Taliban's approach to stifling dissent?
I don't think it will change the Taliban's approach to stifling dissent because the Taliban have often been very willing to use violence to stifle dissent their entire reign, since they first came into being and since 1994. What it does do is it gives them additional capabilities, just an overwhelming amount of potential weaponry that they can use to stifle that dissent, whether it's in individual small villages, whether it's in cities or whether it's taking small arms and larger artillery pieces and so forth as much as they can given road networks and so forth up to places like the Panjshir Valley.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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