A video has emerged showing the Taliban operating a military helicopter purchased by the United States for the former Afghan government.

The U.S. spent tens of billions of taxpayer dollars to purchase military equipment for Afghan security forces. This included procuring helicopters and fighter jets for the Afghan Air Force. One of those helicopters, an American-made UH-60 Black Hawk, was captured by the Taliban in the Kandahar International Airport in the city of the same name in southeastern Afghanistan. 

The video shows multiple members of the Taliban observing the Black Hawk taxiing across the runway. It should be noted that the helicopter never actually left the ground and flew.

There is only one video of the Taliban operating the Black Hawk. Because of this, a lot of questions have been left unanswered. Analysts are still unsure if the Taliban have pilots capable of flying helicopters, or if the Islamic fundamentalist group is training pilots for this task.

Despite that, the Taliban are still using the operation of the Black Hawk as a propaganda victory, especially since this is just one of the hundreds of military vehicles the group has acquired since it toppled the previous Afghan government.

“When an armed group gets their hands on American-made weaponry, it’s sort of a status symbol. It’s a psychological win,” said Elias Yousif, deputy director of the Security Assistance Monitoring division of the think tank the Center for International Policy.

Taliban controls thousands of U.S.-bought military hardware

It remains unclear exactly how many American-made military aircraft are now under the control of the Taliban.

Analyses of U.S. government spending show that the U.S. spent around $147 million on Black Hawk helicopters for the former Afghan military. The cost of one Black Hawk varies with the version, and estimates show that one of these helicopters can cost between $5.9 million to $10.2 million.

This means the Taliban may be in control of between 14 to 24 Black Hawks. Only around 11 have been accounted for.

It is known that dozens of military aircraft were piloted by members of the former Afghan Air Force to neighboring countries like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Mainstream media outlet Reuters recently reported that the Taliban have seized around 40 military fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. Other experts and analysts have identified at least four Black Hawks under Taliban control, including two at the Kandahar airport.

Adam Andrzejewski, CEO of Open the Book, a nonprofit concerned about government spending, reported that the U.S. may have left behind tens of thousands of military vehicles in Afghanistan.

“We’ve made the Taliban into a major U.S. arms dealer for the next decade,” said Andrzejewski. “They now control 75,000 military vehicles. This is about 50,000 tactical vehicles, 20,000 Humvees, they control about 1,000 mine-resistance vehicles and even 150 armored personnel carriers.

In addition, Andrzejewski believes the Taliban now control 208 military aircraft procured by the U.S. for the Afghan military.

“We’ve built them a pretty amazing war chest and now all of it is in the hands of the Taliban,” added Andrzejewski. “We know that last month, as late as July, seven new helicopters were being delivered in the capital city of Kabul.”

This war chest also includes around 600,000 infantry weapons, including tens of thousands of M16 assault rifles, 162,000 pieces of communication equipment and 16,000 pieces of night-vision equipment.

“Everything that hasn’t been destroyed is the Taliban’s now,” said one U.S. official.

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, recently admitted that the Taliban has seized a “fair amount” of U.S. weaponry after it toppled the former Afghan government. But he has been hesitant to admit how much military hardware was left behind.

“We don’t have a complete picture, obviously, of where every article of defense materials has gone,” said Sullivan. “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.”

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