A terrorist can really express himself with 5,000 metric tons of explosives. That’s precisely why specialized teams of U.S. troops and contractors in Afghanistan helped account for and secure huge stockpiles of munitions stored at eight key sites across the country.
But not anymore. Those Americans have already headed home, and any remaining folks capable of assuming the mission are withdrawing, along with all the other Americans ordered out by President Joe Biden.
The Afghan National Army (ANA) colonel left holding the bag and responsible for this ammo is worried.
“What happens when everything turns bad,” he asked, “and this stuff ends up in enemy hands?”
His old boss, ANA Gen. Hotak, former chief of munitions management for the Afghan Ministry of Defense, may have provided the answer.
“There are enough explosives here to supply operations for the next 25 years,” he said.
Retired U.S. Army Special Forces Col. Ron MacCammon agrees.
“This stuff is all vulnerable to Taliban advances, and tribal and militia influences if the situation deteriorates. Some of this ammunition could easily find its way into the hands of malign actors and turn up in global terrorist or criminal networks.”
MacCammon should know. He spent years in Afghanistan directly involved in specific U.S. programs purposed to keep this stuff out of enemy hands. After 10 years of Soviet military presence there and 20 years of American presence, it’s not surprising that the stockpiles, acknowledged and clandestine, are overwhelmingly of U.S. and Soviet origin.
The bulk of the tonnage is of small arms ammunition, but also included are large quantities of other classes of munitions, such as hand grenades, 82 mm and heavier mortars, RPGs, and other light anti-tank weapons, Soviet-era anti-tank landmines, and various other explosive compounds including Composition C-4. Of course, that’s just what’s on the books. The ANA has always maintained other munitions in other bunkers that they keep off-limits to American eyes.
The locations of the eight major munitions storage sites are known to everyone, including the Taliban. Located at various points along Afghanistan’s Ring Road, each site contains dozens of bunkers, depots, or 40-footlong containers. We know the tonnages and types of munitions at each major site but one.
That one is close to the capital, and the ANA is very reluctant to disclose the capabilities they keep close to the capital, so they haven’t told us much about what they keep there. It’s safe to say that its quantities are substantial, and its types of munitions include “specialty items.”
What are “specialty items”? Things like MANPAD surface-to-air missiles. Yeah, those. All told across all sites we’re talking nearly 5,000 metric tons.
To make matters worse, with the departure of American expertise, so went Afghan willingness to continue using the computerized munitions accountability system we helped install. Now the state of the art in munitions accountability for the ANA is a pencil and ledger system. No joke.
In fairness, an experienced international NGO supported by U.S. and EU funding is now providing munitions management assistance to the ANA. The problem is that members of this same NGO, likely in fear of running afoul of Taliban desires, have a reported history of refusing to clear IEDs emplaced by the Taliban. That doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that the members of this NGO will resist Taliban desires in the future.
So it’s not like we don’t know that this stuff is vulnerable. It just seems we don’t care.
Here’s when we WILL care—when a platoon’s worth of next-generation shoe bombers get their hands on several hundred pounds of C-4, for example. C-4 is 30 percent more powerful than the so-called Mother of Satan, TATP, the explosive that al-Qaida member Richard Reid used in his attempt to bring down American Airlines Flight 63 in 2001. According to FBI sources, Reid used only 10 ounces. Imagine how creative al-Qaeda members can be should they take possession of 5,000 metric tons of explosives.
We can reduce the likelihood of such an atrocity and worse from occurring, and doing so is squarely in our national interest, but doing so will require the honesty and the courage to say, “You know what? I was reckless. We need to put enough American combat power back on the ground to secure these munitions until they can be destroyed or otherwise rendered safe.”
A man who knows more than a little about violence in Afghanistan is Ahmad Massoud, son of the late Ahmad Shah Massoud, former commander of the Northern Alliance who was assassinated by order of Osama bin Laden two days before 9/11. When I asked Massoud about the likelihood of these munitions finding their way into Taliban hands, he replied, “That is certain, so we should thank God that Afghanistan doesn’t have a nuclear weapon.”
Ernie Audino is a retired brigadier general, U.S. Army. He serves on the staff of U.S. Rep. Michael Waltz and is a senior military fellow at the Gold Institute for International Strategy and at Soran University in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. He is the only American general officer to have previously served a full year on the battlefield embedded with Kurdish peshmerga forces.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.