How West Picks Wrong Allies: Taliban Got Armed to the Teeth as Many NATO, EU States Are Defenseless
The consequences from the United States’ terribly mismanaged withdrawal from Afghanistan – in which the administration of President Joe Biden totally ignored the considerations of its European allies from NATO and the EU – will be haunting the entire West for decades to come.
Maybe of these consequences will be such that right now it is hard to imagine them even for boldest experts in international politics, with the wildest imagination.
In a recent opinion piece entitled “EU Is Afghanistan, US Is US, and Taliban Is a Bunch of Powers Seeking to Defeat EU”, I pointed out 12 major ramifications from America’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan under the Biden administration, plus the painfully obvious lesson for the European Union based on those:
That the EU needs asap its own “armed forces/military capabilities plus the leadership and resolve to wield them as a critically important tool of booth outright defense policy and power projection capabilities in order to service its own foreign policy and international security agenda of guaranteeing international peace, stability, security, and humanitarian relief – while preserving the European Union’s and its member states’ own national security, prosperity and identity.”
It’s as simple as that – although for a myriad of reasons, some of them truly deplorable and making no sense, that Union isn’t likely to follow up on that lesson.
Aside from the EU’s total lack of resolve for real, stately leadership, which puts its entire security and hence survival at the whims of the leader of the American republic, one of those major ramifications from the US pullout of Afghanistan has been, the fact that the Taliban ended up capturing incredible amounts of top-notch military equipment worth tens of billions of US dollars.
This consequence is absolutely striking and even disheartening for many NATO and EU member states as well as non-member countries aspiring for membership (that is, both full-fledged Western countries or rapidly westernizing staunchly pro-Western ones).
That is especially the case for the still not so wealthy nations in Eastern Europe, many of them member states of both NATO and the European Union. Those are located right next door to a resurgent Russia which under President Vladimir Putin doesn’t hesitate to encroach upon their kind – as the leadership in Moscow demonstrated in Georgia in 2008 and in Ukraine, in both Crimea and Donbass, in 2014.
Besides the West’s growing rivalry with Russia, in which these “Eastern” Western nations are on the “frontier”, there are always numerous other potentially threatening security scenarios – from large scale-terrorist attacks to some supposedly pro-Western allies, for example Turkey, going another direction.
For these countries from Europe’s “middle tier” national security and survival depend entirely on the West, meaning the United States of America since NATO can hardly act in any way without Washington, while the “power projection” capabilities of the EU have been boiling down to some “economic and legal sanctions” imposed eventually after a hesitant decision by German Chancellor Angela Merkel (she is presently serving her last remaining weeks in power but she did set a model of behavior that way).
Many of these countries were under the ruthless occupation of the Soviet Union for decades, and were being pummeled by the niceties of communism with its horrifying planned economy made up by some delusional mid-19th century thinker and “put into practice” by evil Eastern revolutionary mass murderers.
Respectively, many of the countries in question cannot afford much in terms for expensive top-notch military equipment needed to protect their own security – and by extension the security of the entire West – including by being sufficiently armed so as to discourage potential aggression.
Against that backdrop, among the many other puzzling things, for many lesser NATO and EU member states in Eastern Europe and not only, it has been highly bewildering to see how the Taliban – a radical Islamist group partly responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks by hosting al-Qaeda, among other things – has hit the armament jackpot, while they, the newest additions, or newly restored to the West, are stuck being unable to procure what they need for their security and survival, which also benefit the entire West.
Needless to remind, thanks to Joe Biden’s hasty and unbelievably mismanaged withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Afghan government and military collapsed in no time, to the surprise even of the Taliban themselves.
Thus, the radical Islamist group seized not just the entire military inventory of the fragile Afghan military, much of it consisting of top-notch US-made weapons and equipment, but also apparently lots of equipment just abandoned by the US forces themselves.
Only on the last day of the US withdrawal, after the humiliating and rushed evacuation through Kabul airport, in an apparent but very belated attempt by the Biden administration to save some face, it had the retreating US troops disable the military aircraft left at the airport.
Jim Banks, a pro-Trump member of the US House of Representatives and a former reservist from the US Navy and a veteran from Afghanistan from a tour in 2014-2015, estimated that the Taliban has seized weapons and military equipment worth a stupefying $85 billion!
Even if the figure is an exaggeration considering Banks’ political affiliation, it is beyond doubt that the radical, medieval-minded Islamists in Afghanistan have managed to arm themselves lavishly with arms and equipment worth a combined total of tens of billions of US dollars.
At the same time, many NATO and EU members, in particular in Eastern Europe, are struggling to buy foreign the US and some Western European countries the military equipment and defense systems that they need in order to boost their own security and defenses, and thus the defenses of the entire West.
The Daily Mail, a British tabloid that is no longer busy bashing the evil Bulgarians and Romanians because the UK ingloriously bailed from the EU, published detailed estimates of the armaments and equipment that the Taliban has ended up with thanks to the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The list in question includes:
75,000 vehicles, including 20,000 Humvees and 40,000 light tactical vehicles
200 aircraft, both airplanes and helicopters, including 45 UH-60 Black Hawk
600,000 small arms and assault weapons, including M4, M16, and M24 rifles
16,000 night vision goggles
162,600 items of communication technology
Significant amounts of radios, body armor, helmets, and uniforms.
Of course, there are important considerations to be made:
The estimates could be exaggerated here and there; some of the equipment might be incomplete or disabled; the Taliban might not have the trained personnel with the technical skills to operate some of it; they won’t have the base to maintain some of it; etc, etc.
Certainly, it is important to note that the military equipment in question is suited for counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations in the mountainous landscape of Central Asia – but that also plays to the Taliban’s benefit.
Even if those considerations are mostly true – even so, a radical jihadist pro-terrorist grouping that the United States has been fighting for 20 years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks – has ended up more heavily armed than many of America’s staunch allies in NATO, and by extension in the EU.
These are countries who haven’t benefited much from US military aid even though they should have – while the ungrateful Afghan government which crumbled like a house of cards as soon as the Americans packed their stuff has been showered with US military gifts.
Sure, this refers mostly to America’s terrible foreign policy mistakes and ally picks, i.e. allies which it would arm generously – but by extension this is a matter that is crucial and indicative of the European Union as well.
Here are some comparison figures from my native Bulgaria, the poorest EU member state simply because it let itself be most brutally dominated by communism.
In 2005, the Bulgarian government struck a deal with Eurocopter/EADS, today part of Airbus, for a total of 12 Cougar helicopters for the Bulgarian Air Force and 6 Panther helicopters for the Bulgarian Navy worth a total of EUR 383 million (there were disputes, delays, eventually three of the Panthers were canceled in maybe the most problematic arms deal in post-communist Bulgaria) – but the cost is indicative.
At the same time, the Taliban has ended up for free with dozens of US-made Black Hawk helicopters from the stockpile of the Afghan military.
In another arms deal of the Bulgarian government (this one deemed maybe the most efficient and most unproblematic deals in post-communist period), in 2008, it ordered a total of 25 (twenty-five) Plasan Sand Cat armored transports from Israel for the price of EUR 30 million.
At the same time, the Taliban, according to the Daily Mail estimate, have ended with a mind-blowing 20,000 (twenty thousand) Humvees! Even if the true number is smaller it is no doubt enormous, and one can still do the math vastly benefiting Afghanistan’s new old rulers.
Another informative article by the The Daily Mail estimated that the actually operational aircraft left for the Taliban from the Afghan military are 48 (as opposed to over 200 aircraft) – mostly helicopters and small planes. It then compared that fleet to the air forces of the 30 NATO member states, and found that a total of 10 – or a third of all NATO members, have fewer military aircraft.
Interestingly, of all 30 member states of NATO, the chart featured 29, as my native Bulgaria was omitted for whatever reason. Just to fill in that gap in the Daily Mail’s chart, one air force ranking website puts the operational aircraft of the Bulgarian Air Force at 66 – although that is hihgly doubtful.
Regardless of the characteristics of the specific aircraft left in the hands of the Taliban, the point is once again clear: at the stroke of a brush a radical pro-terrorist group reconquered its own rogue state but hit the armament jackpot in the process, snatching tens of billions of US dollars’ worth of equipment – while many of the staunch and critically more important US allies from NATO as well as the EU are struggling to build up their militaries with their taxpayer money.
Clearly America made the wrong choice with its heavy investment in the Afghan military – eventually benefitting the radical jihadist Taliban, while largely ignoring the extensions of the West in Eastern and Central Europe, in a far more vital region.
This is important to point out because, of course, if the European Union had a military policy worthy of the name both boosting the military capabilities of its member states and defending the Union collectively, none of this would have even been an issue to dwell upon in the first place.
Above: A photo released by the Taliban shows Taliban special forces raising a flag mocking the iconic World War II photo of the US marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima.