National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Tuesday a “fair amount” of military equipment the U.S. provided the Afghan National Security Forces was seized by the Taliban in the militant group’s quick route of Afghanistan.
“We don’t have a complete picture, obviously, of where every article of defense materials has gone,” Sullivan said at a White House press briefing, “but certainly a fair amount of it has fallen into the hands of the Taliban. And obviously, we don’t have a sense that they are going to readily hand it over to us at the airport.”
The U.S. pumped more than $80 billion in equipment and training into the Afghan security forces since the start of the war in Afghanistan, which the U.S. launched to root out al-Qaeda after the 9/11 attacks.
But despite those efforts, the Afghan military — which analysts said was unmotivated, disorganized and plagued by low morale — collapsed to the Taliban over the weekend without mustering a fight in most cities.
After seizing control of Afghanistan, the Taliban released photos of U.S. Black Hawk military helicopters at the Kandahar International Airport that the U.S. had provided the Afghan army.
“Those Black Hawks were not given to the Taliban. They were given to the Afghan National Security Forces for them to defend themselves,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said former Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani requested the helicopters during a White House visit with President Joe Biden in June.
“So the president had a choice. He could not give it to them, with the risk that it would fall into the Taliban’s hands eventually,” Sullivan said, “or he could give it to them, with the hope that they could deploy it in service of defending their country. Both of those options had risks.”
Sullivan did not specify what other U.S. defense equipment is in the possession of the Taliban. He said the Afghan security forces are no longer a “coherent entity” after giving way to the Taliban as Afghan leaders fled the country.
Biden and his administration has defended the U.S. military’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, which was quickly taken over by the Taliban, arguing the U.S. should not be “nation-building” and that terrorism rooted in Afghanistan no longer poses a major threat to the U.S.
Sullivan said the administration’s top priority right now is to ensure the safe evacuation of Americans and others seeking to flee Afghanistan. He said the U.S. has been in contact with the Taliban to ensure the safe passage of people to the Kabul airport, which he said is secured.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration is monitoring the airport evacuations, not just taking the Taliban’s “word” that they will let people freely travel to the airport.
“We are watching closely. We’re in close contact and we are certainly assessing whether they are going to abide by their commitment,” Psaki said.
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