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The Taliban Are Ditching AK-47s for Captured U.S. M16 Rifles

Taliban M16 Rifles
120118-N-XX151-646 CAMP FUJI, Japan (Jan. 18, 2012) Yeoman 3rd Class Ralph Javier, assigned to the U.S. 7th Fleet amphibious command ship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19), aims an M16 rifle during a gun qualification shoot at Camp Fuji. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Aaron M. Pineda/Released)

In the latter half of the Cold War, there was a longstanding debate whether the Soviet-made AK-47 was superior to the American-made M16. There were plenty of reasons why insurgents around the world preferred the AK-47 – it required less maintenance and could function in the most rugged conditions. However, the M16 was seen as more accurate and had a superior range.

The debate may now be put to rest as the Taliban have been seen swapping out the long-used Kalashnikov AK-47 for captured M16 rifles and M4 carbines that had been discarded by Afghan Army troops. In addition to being more accurate, another factor could be the age of the AKs, which could date back to the Afghan-Soviet War that ended in 1989.

Out with the old and in with the new – and likely never fired, based on how quickly the Afghan military collapsed.

Ammo Supplies Won’t Be a Problem

The news that the Taliban could be equipped with American-made small arms actually coincides with the news that the Biden Administration has placed a ban on the importation of Russian-made small arms and ammunition into the United States. In addition to producing ammunition for Russian-made weapons, such as the AK-47, various Russian companies also produce ammunition that could be used in the M16 and M4s.

“The Russians crank out millions of rounds of AR 5.56 NATO each year for the U.S. market under the brand names of Tula, Wolf, and Red Army just to name a few,” a retired U.S. Marines officer, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters last week. “I suspect the Taliban’s allies will have no trouble supplying parts for just about any infantry system.”

If Russia can’t export the bullets to the U.S. because of the new sanctions, it could potentially look to provide a pipeline of ammunition to Afghanistan, and possibly win favor with the Taliban.

More Than Guns

It is more than just M16s and M4s that the Taliban has added to its arsenal. With its takeover of Afghanistan and capture of vast quantities of U.S.-made equipment that was intended for the Afghan Army, the Taliban have essentially in the course of a month been transformed from an insurgent force into what resembles a modern military – complete with helmets, night-vision goggles, body armor, camouflage uniforms and a fleet of vehicles.

The Taliban have reportedly captured some 2,000 armored vehicles including U.S. Humvees and up to 40 aircraft including UH-60 Black Hawk and scout attack helicopters, as well as ScanEagle military drones.

“We have already seen Taliban fighters armed with US-made weapons they seized from the Afghan forces. This poses a significant threat to the United States and our allies,” Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, told Reuters in an email.

An estimated $28 billion worth of weaponry was provided by the United States to the Afghan military between 2002 and 2017. Almost all of it is now in the hands of the Taliban.

“The Taliban are set to become the best armed Islamic fundamentalist group in the world when they inherit all the advanced US military equipment of the Afghan Army,” political commentator Adam Schwarz posted to social media, sharing photos of the newly armed and equipped Taliban. “Humvees, M1117 Armored Security Vehicles, International MaxxPros & Navistar 7000 series – paid for by US taxpayers.”

Taliban M16

Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Beyond the enhanced capabilities the Taliban now possesses, the capture of the weapons was a major PR coup for the insurgents. Last week, Taliban militants paraded into the Afghan capital of Kabul with their distinctive white flags flying atop the Humvees. As the images of that parade made it around the world, it sent a powerful message – the Taliban successfully drove out the greatest power in the world.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.

Written By

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Brian Foley

    August 24, 2021 at 10:01 am

    Ha, Ha…those poor bastards, don’t they know the M-16/M-4 is worthless (according to our Armed Forces) and they need to have us re-invade, re-arm their forces and then leave again so they can convert from the (can’t hit the floor if it fell out of bed and wouldn’t hurt it if it did) M-16/M-4 to the more powerful 6.8mm rifles. The Taliban has fallen into our carefully laid trap.

  2. Stephen Kennedy

    August 24, 2021 at 3:27 pm

    Within a year all of those American made vehicles will be sitting in junk yards and the Taliban will be once again be riding around in much more durable and reliable Toyota pickup trucks.

  3. Christian J. Chuba

    August 24, 2021 at 3:53 pm

    It depends on who you are trying to demonize.
    Since we must destroy Biden for pulling the plug on Afghanistan, we must pretend that the Taliban have never seen M16’s until they were gifted the by Uncle Joe. The author mentioned that the AK47’s were old but wait. Didn’t our Intel agencies say that Russia, China, and Iran were showering the Taliban with new lots of AK47’s?

    So many demons to blame.

  4. Charles Phillips

    August 25, 2021 at 12:46 am

    According to people that I have talked to who have been over there, including my brother who had two tours with the Army there… The Afghans are terrible at maintenance and even those trained by NATO were pitiful. The Taliban depended on capturing trucks (that ran) from NATO supplies, their trucks ran until they overheated from having no coolant in the radiators. Trucks we gave to the Afghans ran until they seized because they never put oil in them. In 30 days the Taliban/Afghans will not have many trucks that do run, unless they bring in Chinese technicians to maintain them.

  5. wesley bruce

    August 25, 2021 at 12:10 pm

    Soldiers fight on instinct. If you use the enemy’s weapons and markings in the heat of battle a stressed soldier will fire at what he has learned to kill. US uniforms and guns. This will produce thousands of friendly fire cases within the Taliban. There are also reports from Indian, Uzbekistani and Iranian media that the Taliban have spread out using the new US vehicles to hunt people in the interior ministries lists. In their search they got spread to thin and the local tribal population and in one case a police officer have wiped them out or arrested them. There are reports that Amrullah Saleh’s Panjshir resistance are on the edge of Bagram but are not trying to take it, NATO hold it, but are chewing though the Taliban sent to attack them. It seems some major afghan army units, including armor, did not defect or run away but went to ground in hidden locations regrouped and are now advancing on Kabul from the north.
    If you want to kill an insurgency make them fight a conventional ground war on open terrain.
    Oh and Amrullah Saleh wrote those interior ministries lists. What could go wrong?

  6. Lepke Buchalter

    August 25, 2021 at 12:14 pm

    When the M-16s start jamming, they won’t like them. You can’t just pull a knotted shoe string thru the barrel and call it good.
    Afghans don’t properly maintain anything. Their acquired aircraft will be hanger queens like the last Afghan airforce.

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