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GOP lawmakers spread lie about US weapons seized by Taliban

The military equipment left in Afghanistan is not worth $85 billion — or even close to that number — according to multiple experts.

By Josh Israel - August 31, 2021
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Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN)

Republican lawmakers have been spreading a debunked lie about supplies seized by the Taliban as it retook control of Afghanistan. But their figure is not even close to accurate.

“$85 billion of U.S. weaponry is in the hands of the Taliban because of Joe Biden,” Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn tweeted on Monday evening.

“Not only has @POTUS gifted a terrorist organization with $85 BILLION worth of our equipment, but he’s also given them the opportunity to sell it to other malicious actors,” wrote Texas Rep. Beth Van Duyne.

Missouri Rep. Vicky Hartzler even used the false claim as a reason to demand President Joe Biden leave his office. “Joe Biden’s disastrous withdrawal equipped the Taliban with $85 billion in military weapons,” she charged. “He must resign.”

The same lie has been echoed by Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert, New York Rep. Lee Zeldin, Kansas Rep. Jake LaTurner, and Indiana Rep. Jim Banks.

On Monday, it was even used by former President Donald Trump, the man who negotiated the Afghanistan withdrawal agreement with the Taliban last year.

“ALL EQUPIMENT should be demanded to be immediately returned to the United States, and that includes every penny of the $85 billion dollars in cost,” he said in a statement. “If it is not handed back, we should either go in with unequivocal Military force and get it, or at least bomb the hell out of it.”

This figure appears to come from a July report about the $82.9 billion total cost — over two decades — of arming and training Afghanistan’s military and police. When the Taliban gained control of the country, it captured some of the U.S.-supplied weapons and machinery.

But beyond just rounding up by $2,100,000,000, the $85 billion figure pushed by Republican politicians falsely suggests that all of that money went to equipment.

A Washington Post fact-check on Tuesday noted that a 2017 estimate by the Government Accountability Office found that only about 29% of the money spent on the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces between 2005 and 2016 went to equipment and transportation. This would project to about $24 billion — for both the supplies and their transport.

Experts say it is impossible to know how much of that was taken by the Taliban — and whether or how they will even be able to use it.

“No one has any accounting of exactly what survived the last weeks of the collapse and fell into Taliban hands, and even before the collapse,” Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told the paper. “In rough terms, however, if the ANDSF could not sustain it without foreign contractors, the Taliban will have very serious problems in operating it. That covers most aircraft and many electronics and heavier weapons.”

The Post gave “Three Pinocchios” to Trump’s claim.

Last Wednesday, USA Today also debunked the same general argument, calling it “false.” It cited an Aug. 17 viral Facebook post claiming — as Van Duyne did — that the Biden administration “just gifted the Taliban with $80+ billion worth of military grade weapons.”

“That is totally ridiculous,” Barnett Rubin, a senior fellow at New York University’s Center for International Cooperation told the outlet. “If you give a gift to A, and then B steals the gift, it is not fair to say that you gave a gift to B.”

“That money was not exclusively used to buy weapons,” Northeastern University political scientist Julie Garey added. “And even if that number was broken down to determine exactly how much was used for weapons, it still wouldn’t really be relevant. Not all of the weapons supplied are recoverable.”

On Monday, Biden announced that the nation’s “20-year military presence in Afghanistan has ended,” keeping his 2020 campaign promise.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation. 


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