Kabul/New Delhi, July 5: An investigation of imagery posted on social media concludes that in June, the Taliban captured a staggering 700 trucks and Humvees from the Afghan security forces as well as dozens of armoured vehicles and artillery systems, Forbes reported.
Those shocking numbers reflect that local defence forces in some districts are evaporating in the face of the Taliban pressure, sometimes without a fight, due in part to the perception that the government is doomed due to the imminent US withdrawal from Afghanistan later this year.
And that in turn implies huge volumes of military equipment donated or sold to Afghanistan to help it fight the Taliban may instead continue pouring into that very group's hands, the report said.
The tally come from a open-source investigative report published at the Oryx blog by Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans.
The continuously updated tally has catalogued hundreds of photos posted online by the Taliban of destroyed or captured Afghan military equipment.
As of the evening of June 30, the study found evidence of 715 light vehicles falling into Taliban hands, with another 65 destroyed.
Obviously, there are likely many more lost vehicles that gave gone uncounted due to not being recorded in photos or videos.
For context, in 2018 the Afghan armed forces operated 26,000 vehicles including 13,000 Humvees of various marks, while Mitzer writes that a total of 25,000 Humvees have been transferred to Afghanistan by 2021.
During periods of intensified fighting, the Afghan government typically lost 100 Humvees a week, the report said.
If the Taliban can source the necessary fuel, its growing vehicle inventory could improve the group's operational mobility, ie. its ability to mass forces across Afghanistan.
The vehicles may also serve as carriers for heavy support weapons such as mortars, heavy machine guns and recoilless rifles.
The Taliban has also used captured Humvees to infiltrate government perimeters to mount deadly suicide bombings, the report said.
Armoured vehicles losses include a handful of old M113 APCs and Soviet tanks, but also 27 fifteen-ton M1117 armoured cars armed with a machine guns and Mark 19 automatic grenade-launchers.
As for artillery, alongside 13 shorter-range mortars, the Taliban notably captured 17 122-millimeter D-30 towed howitzers, the equivalent of an artillery battalion.
The Cold War howitzers aren't hi-tech weapons but they remain deadly and can bombard targets up to 9.6 miles away with conventional shells, a capability likely to be exploited in an urban siege scenario.
The report said insurgencies that meet with sufficient success eventually attempt a risky transition to conventional warfare in which they tackle government forces head-on rather than relying on hit-and-run tactics.
That would be a familiar experience for the Taliban. Prior to the US intervention late in 2001, the extremist group controlled the majority of Afghan territory, and possessed hundreds of armoured vehicles and even an air force with jet fighters and transport aircraft, many flown by captive pilots made to serve under duress.
When the US reached an agreement with the Taliban in 2020, it notably did not involve the Afghan government and despite a brief March ceasefire, the Taliban has generally carried on attacking government forces.
The staggering equipment losses in June suggest that more and more Afghans are concluding that a Taliban military victory is inevitable. That could foretell the Taliban transitioning to a more conventional warfare oriented posture, the Forbes report said.
To be fair, Kabul could yet possibly reverse Taliban momentum in the war of perception. The Afghan military does have an improving combat aviation capability and an veteran core of special and quick reaction forces. And even should the Taliban eventually seize population centres, there are segments of Afghan society likely to continue resisting the Pashtun-dominated group, particularly amongst the Tajik and Hazara minorities heavily represented in the Northern Alliance of old.
Regional actors around Afghanistan, think China, India, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Turkey and most Central Asian states, may also step into the void left by Washington, possibly fearing that a re-ascendant Taliban could inspire destabilizing Islamist extremist groups on their own soil or seeing an opportunity to cultivate more influence in the region.
Such assistance might secure the survival of the Afghan government or at least an anti-Taliban opposition, but seems unlikely to prevent the Taliban from remaining a powerful, if not dominant, actor in Afghan politics.
For now Kabul must seek to stem the bleeding of its inventory, not only to reverse mounting public perception of an inevitable Taliban victory following a US departure, but to prevent its own arsenal from being turned against it, the report added.