U.S. arms left in Afghanistan are turning up in a different conflict

The year opened in violence as Kashmir police blamed militants for a Jan. 1 gunfire attack that killed four people in the southern village of Dhangri, followed by an explosion in the same area the next day that killed a 5-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl. At least six people were injured on Jan. 21 in two explosions in the city of Jammu.

While the U.S.-made weapons are unlikely to shift the balance of power in the Kashmir conflict, they give the Taliban a sizable reservoir of combat power potentially available to those willing and able to purchase it, said Jonathan Schroden, director of the Countering Threats and Challenges Program at the Center for Naval Analyses, a research group based outside Washington.

“When combined with the Taliban’s need for money and extant smuggling networks, that reservoir poses a substantial threat to regional actors for years to come,” he said. 

A trove of weapons

More than $7.1 billion in U.S.-funded military equipment was in the possession of the Afghan government when it fell to the Taliban in August 2021 amid the withdrawal, according to a Defense Department report published last August. Though more than half of it was ground vehicles, it also included more than 316,000 weapons worth almost $512 million, plus ammunition and other accessories.

While large numbers of small arms that had been transferred to Afghan forces most likely ended up in the hands of the Taliban, “it’s important to remember that nearly all weapons and equipment used by U.S. military forces in Afghanistan were either retrograded or destroyed prior to our withdrawal,” Army Lt. Col. Rob Lodewick, a spokesperson for the Pentagon, said in a statement.

The Defense Department report also pointed out that the operational condition of the Afghan army’s equipment was unknown.

Questions around the weapons being used in Kashmir were raised in January 2022, when a video of militants brandishing what appeared to be American-made guns was shared widely on Indian social media. Though the origin of the weapons in such cases can be difficult to verify — some may be modified to look like U.S. weapons, while others may not have been manufactured in the U.S. — the Indian military says it has recovered at least seven that are authentic.

“From the weapons and equipment that we recovered, we realized that there was a spillover of high-tech weapons, night-vision devices and equipment, which were left by the Americans in Afghanistan [and] were now finding their way toward this side,” Maj. Gen. Ajay Chandpuria, an Indian army official, was quoted as saying by Indian media last year.

Jammu and Kashmir Lt. Gov. Manoj Sinha said the government was aware of the issue and that measures were in place to combat the infiltration of U.S. weapons into Kashmir.

“We are monitoring the situation closely and have taken steps accordingly. Our police and army are on the job,” Sinha, the region’s top official, said on the sidelines of a news conference last year at his official residence in Srinagar.

Kashmir police official Vijay Kumar also said authorities were fully capable of countering the militant threat.

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