The Taliban clashed with Iranian border guards over the weekend, and it used American equipment to do it. The fight took place in the Nimroz province of Afghanistan, on its south western border with Iran. At least three people died, and others were wounded in a dispute about water rights in the region.
Videos of the skirmish are all over social media, and they show Afghanistan fighters using a mix of old Soviet gear and U.S. weapons from the War on Terror. On Telegram, videos from the advocacy group HalVash showed U.S. armored Humvees rolling down a road reportedly on their way to the fight. Another showed a massive Soviet D-30 howitzer rolling down the road in the back of a Navistar 7000 transport truck from the U.S.
One dramatic video first seen on HalVash’s Telegram showed a Humvee with an M240 machine gun in the back. Taken from the point of view of the man behind the gun, the shot lingers on the spent ammunition littering the top of the Humvee before panning up to show the Iranian flag fluttering in the breeze above a building at the border. Iran reportedly struck back at Afghanistan with mortars.
Tehran and Kabul have been fighting over water rights for a while now, and droughts have been a problem in Iran for decades. Earlier in May, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi warned the Taliban about violating Iran’s water rights in places like Helmand province. The fighting on the border represents a dramatic escalation in tensions.
The Taliban has a lot of military equipment captured from both the Soviet Union during the 1980s and the Afghan National Army and the U.S. military following the West’s withdrawal from the country in 2021.
According to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a U.S. agency that tracked waste, fraud, and abuse in Afghanistan, America spent around $18.6 billion equipping the Afghan National. Much of that equipment is now in the hands of the Taliban. The Pentagon has said it left behind about $7.12 billion worth of military equipment, and it’s had a hard time keeping track of it all in the wake of its withdrawal.
It didn’t have a complete picture of it during the twenty years of occupation either. The U.S. would frequently ship guns and equipment into the country only to have it go missing later. Shipping containers filled with small arms would sit unattended for years. The Taliban has much of it now. After the collapse, a Taliban official told AL Jazeera that it had taken more than 300,000 light arms, 26,000 heavy weapons, and around 61,000 military vehicles when it gook over the country. He said the plan was to use these weapons and the Soviet-era armor to create a “grand army.”
That “grand army” may be facing its first real threat if tensions continue to escalate with Iran. “The border forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran will decisively respond to any border trespassing and aggression, and the current authorities of Afghanistan must be held accountable for their unmeasured and contrary actions to international principles,” Iran’s police chief, Gen. Ahmadreza Radan, said after the clash, according to the AP.