American weapons, now on sale in Afghan arms stores

In the chaos of the US military withdrawal and Taliban takeover this summer, thousands of US-made weapons and tons of military equipment...


In the chaos of the US military withdrawal and Taliban takeover this summer, thousands of US-made weapons and tons of military equipment were seized by militants as government military bases surrendered or were invaded.

With the Taliban in power, more US weapons and military accessories are now sold openly in stores by Afghan arms dealers who paid government soldiers and Taliban fighters for weapons, ammunition and more. materials, according to arms dealers in Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan.

In interviews, three arms dealers in Kandahar said dozens of Afghans have set up arms stores in southern Afghanistan, selling pistols, rifles, grenades, binoculars and glasses. American-made night vision camera. The equipment was originally provided to Afghan security forces as part of a U.S. training and assistance program that cost U.S. taxpayers over $ 83 billion through two decades of war.

During the insurgency, the Taliban eagerly searched for weapons and equipment provided by the United States. But now much of those weapons are being sold to Afghan contractors because demand from the Taliban has eased with the end of the fighting, arms dealers said. They say many arms dealers have smuggled the guns into Pakistan, where demand for American-made weapons is high.

Another costly consequence of the failure of the 20-year mission in Afghanistan is the loss of tens of millions of dollars in American-made weapons and equipment. It ended in chaos and upheaval when the Taliban seized Kabul on August 15 after crushing an Afghan army built, trained and funded by the United States.

Over the years, the United States supplied to the afghan army with a huge range of weapons and vehicles, including M4 rifles, rockets, A-29 light attack aircraft, Humvees and copious ammunition for assault rifles and machine guns, according to a recent report by the Special Inspector General for the Reconstruction of Afghanistan. For the two previous years ending in June, the amount spent on the Afghan army totaled $ 2.6 billion.

The Pentagon acknowledged on Monday that a large number of American-supplied weapons remained in Afghanistan.

“Since 2005, the US military has supplied the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces with several thousand small arms, ranging from pistols to medium machine guns,” Defense Department spokesperson Major Rob Lodewick said. in a statement to The Times.

After the collapse of the Afghan government in August, Major Lodewick said: “We recognize that many of these weapons are probably now in the hands of the Taliban.”

In testimony to Congress last week, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin said the more sophisticated weapons US troops were using in Afghanistan were withdrawn when the last forces left in late August. Advanced weapons supplied to Afghan security forces, such as helicopters and planes, were disabled before the Americans left, Pentagon officials said.

But the Taliban have denied that any of these weapons have reached the market.

In an interview with the New York Times, Taliban spokesman Bilal Karimi said the guns were not for sale. “I totally deny that; our fighters cannot be so careless, ”he said. “Even one person cannot sell a bale in the market or smuggle it. “

He added that the US-made weapons previously captured during the war “are all listed, verified and are all saved and secured under the Islamic Emirate for the future army.” (The Taliban call their government the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.)

Other Taliban figures, however, confirmed that a large wave of US weapons hit the market.

This summer, treasure troves of weapons supplied by the United States were either stolen and sold by Afghan security forces or seized by the Taliban as they negotiated massive surrenders in which soldiers and police handed over these weapons and equipment in exchange for the promise of the Taliban to spare their lives. Other times, uniforms, weapons and equipment were simply left behind by Afghan soldiers and police as they deserted.

Some soldiers and police sold their weapons and ammunition before negotiating their surrender. Arms dealers would pay around $ 1,200 for a single U.S. service Beretta M9 handgun, arms dealers said – far more than a soldier’s monthly salary, at a time when many police and soldiers were not paid for or restocked with ammunition, food or water.

American M4 rifles sell for around $ 4,000, dealers said, especially if they are equipped with a laser sight or an under-barrel grenade launcher. In contrast, a Kalashnikov rifle sells for around $ 900, dealers said, and a Russian-made rocket-propelled grenade launcher for around $ 1,100. The pistols that NATO forces supplied to Afghan police sell for around $ 350. Almost all of their transactions are in Pakistani rupees and cash, the dealers said.

An arms dealer, Esmatullah, said he opened a shop in Kandahar province about eight months ago, after the Taliban took control of the immediate area. Before that, he said, he worked as a traveling gun dealer, visiting government bases to buy weapons and ammunition from desperate soldiers and police looking for money and having enough. of a government in Kabul which they said had abandoned them.

“Before, we worked as a mobile team,” he said. “We would meet many soldiers and government officers to buy them weapons. After that, we would take those weapons to the Taliban and sell them to them, or to anyone who would give us a good price. “

Separately, the Taliban allowed their fighters to sell some of the small arms they seized when the bases surrendered or were invaded, arms dealers said. The remainder of the confiscated weapons were turned over to Taliban commanders, whose fighters fired American-made M4 assault rifles and boarded American Humvees as they crossed the country this summer.

Today traders say their customers are Afghan entrepreneurs and ordinary citizens. These Afghans buy coveted American-made weapons for resale in Pakistan, for self-defense or to settle long-standing personal or tribal disputes.

“American-made weapons are in great demand because they work very well and people know how to use them,” said a second arms dealer in Kandahar, who requested anonymity because he feared the Taliban would shut down his store.

The trader said he had sold dozens of American-made pistols, rifles, ammunition and two-way radios since his store opened about three months ago.

A third arms dealer in Kandahar, who asked not to be identified because the Taliban warned him not to speak to the media, said the dealers sold weapons as large as anti-aircraft guns to the Taliban this morning. summer. Now, he said, he was selling American-made M4s and .50 caliber machine guns, as well as weapons made by other countries, including rocket launchers and Kalashnikov assault rifles.

“The first choice is American manufacture, although it is a little more expensive than Russian manufacture,” said the trader. “Small arms such as rifles and pistols are in great demand because they are easy to transport and transport. “

Mullah Basir Akhund, a former Taliban commander who lives in Kandahar, said he helped militants negotiate the surrender of security forces in the province. The Taliban often sent the village elders or other trusted personalities to negotiate transfers. The collapse of government bases left the region inundated with American-made weapons, Akhund said.

“There are a lot of gun shops and smugglers in Kandahar these days,” he said. “These people have always been there to buy guns, especially during this kind of transition period when it’s easy to buy new guns.”

He said he recently introduced a Pakistani arms dealer to an arms dealer in Kandahar. He said the dealer told him he was looking for pistols, rifles, night vision goggles, ammunition and other military equipment supplied by the United States.

Mr Akhund said the Pakistani dealership was selling cars at a showroom in Pakistan. But the man’s most lucrative business, he said, centers on the sale of American-made weapons purchased in Afghanistan.

Eric schmitt contributed reports.

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