Video circulated online this week that suggested in addition to the vast quantities of American military hardware that was supplied to the Afghan Army and captured by the Taliban, the insurgent group may have seized an arsenal of tanks. The footage showed “row after row” of tanks and other armored vehicles that the Taliban now possess.
That would seem to be a serious problem. Yet as with the equipment captured in Kabul, there is the issue of how useable the captured material may actually be.
Earlier this week, Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), told reporters that all of the heavy equipment left behind by U.S. forces in Kabul had been destroyed or otherwise demilitarized. Such efforts wouldn’t be required for those tanks and other armored vehicles seen in the video.
The Sun newspaper was among the outlets hyping up the fact that the Taliban now has a significant tank force – but the vehicles probably aren’t of much use to the group. What the Taliban have captured is actually akin to a “used car lot” or junkyard of aging and even antiquated vehicles.
“There has been a lot of hype surrounding heavy equipment the Taliban has ‘inherited,'” explained John Adams-Graf, editor of Military Vehicles Magazine. “All of the material in this footage is quite old – at least 30-40 years. While dramatic and potentially frightening to outsiders, it appears the Taliban had stumbled into a tank or vehicle boneyard, rather than a stockpile of ready-to-roll vehicles.”
In other words, the equipment would be a museum or military collector’s dream find – not something any fighting force would want. Much of it was likely from the Soviet-Afghan War dating back well before the Taliban were in power.
“What I saw in this short video will be to the best advantage to the Taliban if they intend to become exporters to collectors or small governments,” Adams-Graf told this reporter. “Though I couldn’t make out all the varieties, I did notice a large collection of Soviet-pattern T54/T55 tanks, which date back to before US involvement in Vietnam; BTR-60s, wheeled armored vehicles that would be very useful in Afghanistan, but they do require a lot of maintenance; BMP armored personnel carriers, again, great for moving troops if you have the crews to maintain the vehicles; and even a ZSU-23-4 anti-aircraft tracked vehicle.”
The video may also make it seem like it was a huge discovery by the Taliban, but that may just show they’ve become masters of propaganda. It is unlikely that this graveyard of old vehicles wasn’t already on the radar. Yet, even if the equipment were usable – which it likely isn’t – would it be of any use to the Taliban now?
The country may fall into civil war, and fighting continues in parts of the country. However, without a supply of parts, it could be difficult to keep the tanks and other vehicles in running order. Even then, as the Soviets found out, these weren’t always the best options for the rugged terrain.
“Bear in mind, no matter the level of training and expertise of the Taliban, Afghanistan is not well-suited for armored warfare,” said Adams-Graf.
The vehicles could serve a better role in propaganda and convincing the populace that the Taliban is not only the legitimate government, but has a modern – or modernish – military to back it up.
Adams-Graf noted, “Any tank or armored vehicle is useful in moving the emotional barometer of civilians, so whether combat ready or not, these vehicles could have a positive impact for the Taliban owners.”
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.