Since the start of their assault this year, Taliban fighters have been sharing images of military hardware they’ve captured from the government – including attack helicopters and armoured vehicles.
The Taliban have also got their hands on artillery, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), rifles, pistols, and equipment like night-vision goggles, according to defence think tank RUSI. Some of this has been seized from Afghan military bases. Others have been handed over by soldiers who’ve defected from government forces.
The seizure of big-ticket items like helicopters has made headlines. But Dr Jack Watling, a research fellow at RUSI, says the Taliban don’t have the expertise to use and maintain them, and they’ve probably had little impact on the battlefield.
A bigger concern is the Taliban’s access to thermal imaging and night vision equipment, and to optical gear – which can be attached to guns to improve their accuracy.
The Taliban are already selling some of their stolen weapons abroad, in central Asia and the Middle East, and this will likely expand into East Africa, says Dr Watling. The impact of this could be severe.
“When you have a pervasive availability of weapons, that facilitates more armed clashes because you have a better-armed opposition,” says Dr Watling. “That’s something we’ll probably start seeing and feeling over the next few months.”
With all this extra weaponry floating around, there’s also a risk of prolonged fighting in Afghanistan if the Taliban don’t deliver on popular demands.
“Many of the guys who were in Afghan military units will have taken their weapons home, frankly to protect their families,” says Dr Watling. “So you have a lot of people who are quite well armed and have some military training, who may decide they don’t want things done as the Taliban would like.”