America’s longest war is over after 20 years following the final withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. The departure of the last military flight on Monday was immediately followed by footage of well-equipped Taliban special forces units, known as the Badr 313 unit, examining billions of dollars worth of abandoned American and Afghan government military gear.
It’s extremely unlikely that the Taliban will be able to operate any of the US-made aircraft, however, as US troops would have had two weeks to make sure nothing left at the airport could ever be used again.
“The things captured at the other bases in Mazar and Kandahar, they fell before anyone could destroy them,” said one former UK special forces soldier, who fought in Afghanistan and returned as a contractor.
“But in Kabul the Americans knew they’d be leaving and had plenty of time to make sure nothing ever worked again. They gave us [in the SAS] an entire course on how to make sure abandoned gear can never be used again and the American lads have the exact same course. If anything captured at Kabul ever flies again I’d be truly shocked.”
“Those aircraft will never fly again,” Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., head of US Central Command, told the Washington Post. He said that the US had “demilitarised” 70 MRAPs (tactical vehicles), 27 Humvees and 73 aircraft: They’ll never be able to be operated by anyone.”
For two weeks, the Western military presence in Afghanistan has been restricted to parts of Kabul’s airport during evacuation efforts, as Taliban fighters who stormed across the country in a matter of days took control in the capital. But after the last C-17 took flight with the top ranking American commander from the 82nd Airborne Division aboard, Taliban special forces units finally entered the airport.
On Monday footage emerged of a Taliban test flight of a US made Blackhawk helicopter, but the former soldier, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to operational security issues, said the Blackhawks captured around the country will eventually be grounded for lack of American led maintenance and spare parts but the Mi-17s could be flown indefinitely.
“They can maintain and fly the Russian made stuff no worries,” he said. “But the more advanced planes and choppers might get up a few times but eventually they will run out of spare parts.”
How the Taliban will behave after the departure of Western troops from the capital remains impossible to predict, but the last two weeks saw the group capture billions of dollars in American-supplied equipment ranging from equipment for individual soldiers to light ground attack aircraft.
At least 200 aircraft ranging from Russian built Mi-17 transport helicopters – easy to maintain and fly – to American Blackhawk helicopters and A29 Tucano attack aircraft – very difficult to maintain – were captured around the country. About 32 Mi-17s are thought to be in Afghanistan and flyable, a key transport ability for the group trying to control a large country with few modern roads.