Stand up for the facts!

Misinformation isn't going away just because it's a new year. Support trusted, factual information with a tax deductible contribution to PolitiFact.

More Info

I would like to contribute

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher September 1, 2021

Claim overstates military weapons, equipment US left to Taliban in Afghanistan

If Your Time is short

  • It’s too soon for a comprehensive accounting of the usable military weaponry and equipment the U.S. left behind when it departed Afghanistan.

  • A viral image overstates how much was left, in some cases citing counts of materiel that were brought to Afghanistan over more than a decade.

When the United States ended its 20-year war in Afghanistan, how much in usable military weapons and equipment did it leave behind?

We rated False a claim that the Biden administration "gifted the Taliban with $80 billion-plus" in military-grade weapons. Only a fraction of that amount was spent over the 20 years for hardware; there has been no accounting of how much of it was left and is usable; and one expert told us the aircraft and other military equipment are likely worth less than $10 billion.

Now comes a claim that is more detailed, but is also overstated.

A viral image claims that the U.S. left what amounts to the "Taliban’s new arsenal." The image lists 19 categories of items ranging from 358,530 assault rifles to 22,174 Humvees to 33 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.

But not only has there still been no accounting, but the figures cited are inflated because they are dated.

"The short answer is that all of the numbers are wrong," said Jonathan Schroden, a military operations analyst at CNA, a safety and security think tank.

The viral image

Many posts with the viral image — from Ben Shapiro and others — were flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) The image was also shared by the official Twitter of the House Republicans.

The image says the figures come from the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, which experts say is a gold standard for such counts. 

But the figures in the viral image are dated. They are not a count of items now in Afghanistan that were left behind and are usable. Overall, most of the weaponry and equipment were provided over many years to the Afghan forces that opposed the Taliban, while some remained in control of the U.S. military.

Here’s a sampling from the 19 figures included in the viral image:

"358,530 assault rifles": That figure appears to be from a 2017 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office that counted the number of rifles, including AK-47s and sniper rifles, provided over some 12 years, from 2004 to 2016.

Featured Fact-check

"64,363 machine guns": That figure also appears in the GAO report. It counted the number of machine guns provided from 2005 to 2016.

"22,174 Humvees": The figure appears in the GAO report. It counted the number of Humvees provided from 2003 to 2016.

"33 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters": As of June 30, 2021, there were 33 usable Black Hawks in Afghanistan, according to the special inspector’s latest report. 

"10 Cessna AC-208 strike aircraft": As of June 30, 2021, there were 10 usable AC-208 planes in Afghanistan, according to the special inspector report. 

None of the figures take into account how many items remained in Afghanistan and were usable when the Taliban took control in mid-August. Figures for the Black Hawks and AC-208s also don’t take into account how many aircraft were flown out of Afghanistan by pilots during the withdrawal, said Schroden.

Experts including GlobalSecurity.org director John Pike and Jason Campbell, former country director for Afghanistan in the U.S. Office of the Secretary of Defense for Policy said it’s important to note that even if some of the materiel was left in usable condition, it might have little value, given the Taliban’s limited ability to use and maintain highly technical assets such as Black Hawks. 

Pike said he did not think much of what was left in Afghanistan is useful to the Taliban, but Campbell said what was left is "a significant haul." 

In the weeks prior to the Taliban’s takeover, in what is known as a retrograde operation, some of the materiel was returned to the U.S. or sent to other locations for use by the U.S. military. 

The two most expensive retrograded items were 14 air defense artillery pieces valued at more than $144 million and five "Enhanced Sentinel FMTVs (Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles)" valued at more than $16 million, according to the special inspector’s report.

Our ruling

A viral image claims that the U.S. left the Taliban an "arsenal" in Afghanistan, including 358,530 assault rifles and 22,174 Humvees.  

An unknown amount of usable military weaponry and equipment was left behind following the U.S. departure from Afghanistan, but no accounting has been made. Figures cited in the image are dated, including some that count weapons or equipment that was brought to Afghanistan over more than a decade.

The post contains an element of truth, but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False. 

PolitiFact staff researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

Our Sources

Facebook, "Taliban’s new arsenal" post, Aug. 29, 2021

PolitiFact, "No proof Biden left Taliban $80B in weapons, or that he wants Americans’ pistols," Aug. 20, 2021

Interview, international security expert and RAND Corp. policy researcher Jason Campbell, former country director for Afghanistan in the U.S. Office of the Secretary of Defense for Policy, Aug. 31, 2021

Interview, defense expert John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, Aug. 31, 2021

Email, military operations analyst Jonathan Schroden, research program director and special ops research coordinator at CNA, a safety and security think tank, Aug. 31, 2021

U.S. Government Accountability Office, "Afghanistan Security: U.S.-Funded Equipment for the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces," Aug. 10, 2017

Twitter, Jonathan Schroden tweets, Aug. 29, 2021

The Week, "Real threat or hype: Should US weapons in Taliban hands worry us?", Aug. 31, 2021

Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, quarterly report, July 30, 2021

Snopes, "Did US Leave More Than $80B Worth of Equipment to the Taliban?", Aug. 31, 2021

Congressional Research Service, "U.S. Military Withdrawal and Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan: Frequently Asked Questions," Aug. 27, 2021

Twitter, House Republicans’ "Taliban’s new arsenal" tweet, Aug. 30, 2021

Oryx blog, "The Taliban Air Force — An Inventory Assessment," Aug. 16, 2021

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Tom Kertscher

Claim overstates military weapons, equipment US left to Taliban in Afghanistan

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up