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Taliban moving captured US military vehicles and Soviet tanks to Iranian border

Taliban vs. Iran.
Jeff Schogol Avatar
Taliban convoy
A Taliban convoy of captured M117 Armored Security Vehicles heads to Afghanistan's Iranian border. (Screenshot of video posted on Twitter)

Video shared on social media shows the Taliban sending U.S. military vehicles captured from the former Afghan National Defense and Security Forces along with some ancient Soviet-era tanks to Afghanistan’s border with Iran following a recent skirmish about access to the Helmand River.

On May 27, fighting broke out in Nimroz province in southern Afghanistan between the Taliban and Iranian border guards. At least three people were killed in the exchanges of fire.

Should hostilities increase between the two sides, Taliban fighters will have thousands of vehicles at their disposal that were paid for by American taxpayers.

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A May 27 video of fighting near an Iranian border outpost was taken by a Taliban fighter from inside the turret of an M240 machine gun mounted on a Humvee. More recent videos posted to Twitter purportedly show Taliban convoys of American-made Humvees and M117 Armored Security Vehicles enroute to Afghanistan’s Iranian border.

In addition to M117s and Humvees, the Taliban also uses American-made MaxxPro Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles and M113 armored personnel carriers, said Vishal Sengupta, a research analyst at Janes, a defense intelligence firm.

It is difficult to determine how many of the U.S.-made military vehicles that the Taliban captured are still operational, Sengupta told Task & Purpose. Open sources indicate that the Taliban keeps its fleet of vehicles running by cannibalizing parts from other vehicles.

A top Taliban official told reporters in February 2022 that Taliban fighters had captured roughly 61,000 military vehicles and 26,000 heavy weapons in the final days of the Afghanistan war, according to Al Jazeera. 

The Defense Department has estimated that the former Afghan government had about  $7.1 billion in military equipment provided by the United States when the Taliban took over the country. 

Taliban fighters parade atop humvee vehicles as they celebrate the first anniversary of the withdrawal of US-led troops from Afghanistan, near the former US embassy in Kabul on August 31, 2022. (Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images)

Moreover, a non-public report from the Defense Department to Congress in March 2022 found that between 2002 and 2021, the United States had given the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces more than 96,000 ground vehicles, including 53,180 general purpose or light tactical vehicles, 23,825 Humvees and nearly 900 armored combat vehicles, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR.

Of those vehicles, more than 500 were destroyed or removed before all U.S. troops left Afghanistan, including 330 tactical vehicles and 182 MRAPs, SIGAR noted in a Feb. 28 report.

In addition to its fleet of U.S. military vehicles, the Taliban are also sending at least two of the Soviet-era tanks that are likely from the former Afghan National Army’s sole tank battalion to reinforce Afghanistan’s border with Iran, a video posted on Twitter shows.

It is unclear if the tanks are operational. The video shows the tanks being hauled atop flatbed trucks, just as they were during an August 2022 military parade, which also featured Scud missiles that were likely provided to Afghanistan’s former communist government by the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

Most of the former Afghan military’s tanks had ceased to be operational long before the Taliban’s victory in August 2021. 

By 2018, the Afghan National Army’s only tank battalion was being converted to an infantry unit, Stars and Stripes reported at the time. The former Afghan military was able to deploy just over a dozen T-55 and T-62 tanks to combat zones, of which four tanks served as immobile pillboxes in Helmand province. Many more inoperable tanks sat in Kabul, where they waited to be sold for scrap.

Jonathan Schroden, an Afghanistan expert, said he is skeptical that the tanks the Taliban are sending to the Iranian border could move on their own power.

It’s possible that the hulks are being used as a show of force as part of an ongoing war of words between Taliban and Iranian leaders, said Schroden, who works for CNA, a nonprofit research and analysis organization in Arlington, Virginia.

“The Iranians have military jets, drones, and anti-armor weapons and the Taliban have little to nothing to stop those capabilities,” Schroden said. “Which means the surest way for the Taliban to lose what few tanks they have is to employ them operationally against the Iranians.”

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