American warplanes have destroyed about 40 U.S.-supplied Humvees that the Taliban captured from Afghanistan’s military over the past several years, according to coalition military statistics provided to USA TODAY.
The statistics highlight a recurring problem: Taliban fighters have frequently attacked Afghan government outposts throughout the country, capturing U.S.-supplied equipment and then disappearing into the countryside. They have also run off with weapons and other equipment.
“In the event this type of military equipment is stolen, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan and the Afghan national defense and security forces work quickly to reacquire the equipment or eliminate it from the battlefield altogether so as not to allow the enemy an advantage,” Lt. Col. Martin O’Donnell, a military spokesman, said in a statement.
If the equipment can’t be recaptured with a ground attack it is destroyed from the air. The 40 Humvees were destroyed in U.S. airstrikes since January 2015, shortly after U.S. combat combat forces left Afghanistan and Afghan government troops took the lead in fighting the Taliban and other insurgent groups.
The captured American equipment not only gives militants increased firepower or protection, but is often used by the Taliban to disguise themselves as American or allied Afghan forces in an effort to slip past guards.
Militants in a captured Humvee last month launched an attack on Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry. In that attack an Afghan police officer was killed but the assault was rebuffed before a bomb-laden vehicle could get inside the compound.
“It obviously concerns us that terrorists have captured vehicles and captured uniforms, but…I point to the alertness and the quick reaction by the Afghan security forces on the scene,” Army Gen. John Nicholson said of the May 30 attack.
Nicholson said the Taliban are rarely able to hold on to territory even when they are successful in overrunning Afghan government forces.
But even quick insurgent raids can capture expensive equipment. Staging raids to steal arms and equipment is “a pretty standard guerrilla tactic,” said Seth Jones, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington, D.C.
Since 2002, the United States has poured nearly $80 billion into building Afghanistan’s security forces, which consist of about 300,000 soldiers and police.
Afghanistan’s ability to fund its own military is “severely limited” and its government depends heavily on the U.S. to finance its armed forces, according to John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.
Since the departure of American combat troops in 2014, Afghanistan’s military has suffered high casualties and struggled to maintain control over some remote towns and villages.
In an effort to regain momentum from the Taliban, President Trump last year expanded authorities to allow more U.S. airstrikes in support of Afghan’s forces. The number of bombs and other munitions dropped in airstrikes increased to 1,748 in the first four months of this year, up from 917 during the same period last year.
The military also expanded the role of the 15,000 U.S. advisers in Afghanistan, allowing them to accompany troops closer to the battlefield.
Nicholson said the level of violence is between 10% and 12% lower than the past five year average. “The Taliban, to avoid the casualties that come from our airpower, have not sought to gain and hold new ground,” he said. “Rather, they have tried to inflict casualties and gain media coverage.”
The Humvees struck by American aircraft may only represent a fraction of the equipment now in Taliban hands.
Accounting for the equipment that the U.S. has provided Afghanistan’s military remains a challenge. It’s possible that some of the equipment may have been diverted to the Taliban by corruption in Afghanistan’s military.
Since 2005 the United States purchased 95,000 vehicles for the Afghan security forces, but the coalition command responsible for equipping the country’s army and police couldn’t account for all of them, according to a Pentagon inspector general report. Unarmored Humvees cost the government about $70,000 each.
One vehicle that was reported destroyed in battle was later brought in for maintenance, according to the report.
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