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The Taliban Have An Immense Humvee Fleet

April 18, 2023
A row of HMMWV M1151A1 trucks operated by the Taliban. Via Afghanistan MoD.

One year and eight months since they swept into power the isolationist Taliban regime have consolidated an immense motor pool. Its foundation are thousands of AM General HMMWVs delivered to the defunct Afghan National Army (ANA) and other security branches across two decades. Competing vehicle types are also in abundance but the Taliban Humvees are distinct for each having a modicum of ballistic protection and a large caliber weapon mounted on the roof. While the previously deposed Taliban regime fielded hundreds of old tanks in the 1990s today’s vast Humvee fleet is more than enough to intimidate a population that suffers in silence. Trying to measure the size and reach of these forgotten vehicles can offer a useful perspective on the Taliban’s iron fisted rule.

At the very least the Pentagon, CENTCOM, and the US Army have some public records of arms and equipment supplied to their Afghan allies. Beginning in 2001 at least several hundred Humvees were passed to the emerging armed forces being stood up with NATO’s assistance. From 2008 onward when fresh NATO troops flooded into the country a broad effort was underway for equipping the local troops whose numbers ballooned. At the time between 5,000 and 6,000 Humvees were sent to the country. Then in 2011 an additional 7,100 Humvees were ordered followed by 1,673 Humvees in 2016. As the US scheduled its ultimate withdrawal from 2020 onward a parting gift of 1,383 Humvees were transferred to the Afghan security forces and in March the following year 403 Humvees got handed over–an encouraging, if pointless, gesture. No US forces were left in Afghanistan by June and the Taliban entered Kabul in mid-August. The last attempt at resistance was quashed by September. Up to 17,000 Humvees in various levels of operability could have been left–and lost–in Afghanistan

The most common Humvee variants seen in Afghanistan today are the M1151 and M1152 that both feature armor around their cabs and modular semi-enclosed turrets. When used as a protected transport the six ton M1152 Humvees are reduced to a single cab and have open top rear compartments, also known as armored troop enclosures, over their beds with at least two mounts for machine guns. While an M1100-series Humvees can withstand gunfire the force of explosives and shaped charges can obliterate the vehicle. The Taliban use their Humvees much the same way as their former opponents, as roving symbols of government authority, but there’s little evidence these armored trucks are sufficient at deterring terrorism. This is a troubling reality when at least one mass-casualty attack orchestrated by ISIS-K each month since late August 2021. But despite their problems Afghanistan now boasts a sizable army equipped with US-made aircraft and vehicles.

Based on data collected by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) for their report Why The Afghan Security Forces Collapsed released in February this year up to 600,000 small arms were delivered to local security forces along with 80,000 vehicles over two decades–an astonishing quantity. In its role as watchdog SIGAR admits that its access to a complete inventory from the Pentagon is either limited or inadequate. When other sources are consulted like the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) its research shows as many as 22,000 armored vehicles were supplied by the US and its partners. This almost matches open sources gleaned from the US military itself whose transfers of Humvees from 2006 until 2021 reached 17,000 trucks. The remainder are either MRAPs such as the Navistar MaxxPro along with leftover Lenco BearCats and Oshkosh M-ATVs abandoned by US forces. The fleet does include hand-me-down tracked M113A2 APCs and combat vehicles like the versatile M1117, several hundred of which were left in Afghanistan.

Whatever the real figure if the Taliban collected just half the vehicle fleet claimed by SIGAR the sheer number of trucks dwarfs any European ground force. It’s interesting to examine the logistical problems this creates. Afghanistan doesn’t have an automotive manufacturing sector nor mature repair and overhaul facilities for military trucks–unless civilian garages are counted. This leaves the Taliban with no choice but to maintain its vehicular fleet by cannibalizing a portion of it. Trying to calculate the threat posed by having so many armored trucks in their possession isn’t an urgent task. The Taliban are isolationists who have doubled down on harsh social controls to strengthen their grip on the country. The internal threats they face are abundant, whether it’s ISIS-K or localized resistance movement. In either case having a lot of Humvees gives the Taliban’s forces logistical reach but their effectiveness as combat vehicles is limited; something the former Afghan security forces realized too late.

If the Taliban’s vehicular fleet appears staggering its air force is equally impressive. A lot of functional Russian-made Mi-8/Mi-17 medium helicopters and a dozen Mi-24 gunships were collected in 2021. Added to this are smaller MD-530F gunships and dozens of UH-60 transports paid for by the US. The Taliban’s UH-60 fleet is somewhat diminished and are cut off from contractor support although the helicopters themselves are a few year’s fresh from the production line. These lost Blackhawks came to Afghanistan when diplomatic relations with Russia soured in 2013 and the Pentagon arranged an ambitious program to supply as many as 119 UH-60’s to the Afghan air force, with the first batch delivered by 2017, but only 53 reached their intended operators. The true size of the Blackhawk fleet now with the Taliban is hard to determine. On paper, the Taliban boast fixed wing combat aircraft–Cessna Caravans and Super Tucanos made in Brazil–but their airworthiness is uncertain. When taking account of the depots, hangars  and storage facilities built by the US and NATO for the Afghan military what the Taliban now possess in total is a vast resource pool for its ascendant armed forces. But what will they do with all this stuff?



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