The Department of Defense (DOD) has missed a deadline to produce a report on the estimated $85 billion in U.S. weaponry left in Afghanistan, prompting a letter from 27 House Republicans demanding answers.
Congress approved legislation in September that required DOD officials to report on the property, equipment, and supplies that were destroyed, taken out of Afghanistan, or that remain in Afghanistan in connection with the August U.S. military withdrawal from the country.
The DOD had 90 days to submit that report to Congress. After the Dec. 29, 2021, deadline came and went with no word from the Pentagon, Rep. Andy Barr (R-Ky.) and 26 other Republicans demanded answers from Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
“The DOD is over [two weeks] late on its reporting deadline, totally disregarding Congressional accounting of taxpayer funded equipment abandoned by this Administration and left in possession of the Taliban,” the Jan. 14 letter reads. “This lack of information prevents Congress from being able to accurately and effectively conduct oversight over the tens of billions of dollars of equipment invested in Afghanistan over the past 20 years and creates vulnerabilities in our national security.”
The lawmakers cited concerns from Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who told Congress on Sept. 29, 2021, that the conditions in Afghanistan could yield the reemergence of al-Qaeda or ISIS in the region in 36 months or less. The lawmakers said it’s of the “gravest concern” that they don’t have a full account of the weapons available in a potential hotbed for terrorism.
According to a Jan. 13 report from Radio Liberty affiliate Radio Mashaal in Pakistan, at least some of the arms are winding up in the hands of the Pakistani Taliban, Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Citing an unnamed source with knowledge of TTP affairs, Radio Mashaal said Pakistani Taliban fighters have obtained U.S.-made M16 machine guns and M4 assault rifles fitted with night vision.
According to the report, the influx of arms has coincided with an increase in attacks by the TTP on Pakistani government forces.
“Observers say the weapons are likely from the stockpiles amassed by the Afghan Taliban, which seized millions of dollars in American-made weapons and equipment from Afghan security forces,” the report stated.
Along with posing a risk to U.S. national security and regional stability in Central Asia, the abandoned U.S. military equipment in Afghanistan may also threaten the safety of America’s Afghan allies. That’s because the equipment left behind included U.S. surveillance tools that observers say could be used to track down those who worked with the United States during its 20-year occupation of the country.
New York-based group Human Rights First announced on Aug. 16 that Taliban fighters had captured devices known as Handheld Interagency Identity Detection Equipment, which were used by soldiers to scan the biometrics of Afghans to match fingerprints on improvised explosive devices, as well as for other such forensic investigations.
“We understand that the Taliban is now likely to have access to various biometric databases and equipment in Afghanistan, including some left behind by coalition military forces,” the human rights group said in a statement. “This technology is likely to include access to a database with fingerprints and iris scans, and include facial recognition technology.”
Former U.S. Army prosecutor John Maher told The Epoch Times in August that the Taliban probably doesn’t have the technical skills to utilize those devices, but said they could be aided by more sophisticated governments, such as China or Iran.
The 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), signed into law in December 2021, also calls for Pentagon audits on the equipment and weapons left in Afghanistan, including abandoned or destroyed biometric equipment or tools. The NDAA also calls for an assessment of whether the Taliban breached the DOD’s Automatic Biometric Identification System (ABIS)—the central database that stores the biometrics that soldiers capture in the field—as well as an explanation of the current efforts to ensure the security of all of DOD biometric databases.
The DOD has until March to complete these reports, but the Republican lawmakers said in their letter that they shouldn’t have to wait until then.
“That is why Congress required your Department to comply by December 29, 2021,” they wrote to Austin. “We urge that you work with your Service Secretaries and General [Frank] McKenzie to produce the required information for Congress immediately.”
The Pentagon didn’t respond to email queries about the matter by press time.