The last few weeks of the news have been dominated by accounts of the Taliban retaking control of Afghanistan in the midst of American military departure.
Stories of Afghan salons vacating their properties, prospective soccer players falling from planes leaving Kabul and interpreters left behind fearing capture combined to form a bleak perception of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. The images associated with these articles include the Taliban reenacting the Imo Jima flag raising in American equipment and air bases left full of planes and helicopters. These depictions provide a glimpse of how a hurried withdrawal can lead to a peculiar situation where a former adversary of the United States is now using American weapons.
Carol Chavez, a lecturer in supply chain at the Gatton College of Business and Economics, offers a unique perspective in the matter of military logistics. Prior to Chavez’ time lecturing at UK, she spent 20 years in the United States Air Force and worked in the private sector for companies such as Capital One and the McKesson Corporation.
“In the military, being able to get the supplies and equipment to the theaters is critical to life, whereas being able to ensure that you get your products to the marketplace rarely involves people’s lives,” Chavez said.
With human lives on the line, the military is required to use rigorous processes to ensure their equipment doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. However, Chavez said no amount of serial number tracking can protect against situations caused in the chaos of war.
“In order to operate overseas, you have to have civilian personnel who are local nationals working with you,” she said.
The need to rely on foreign civilians creates a high risk of damage and theft. Civilians who have no loyalty to the United States are more likely to sell equipment on the black market or give it directly to adversaries, according to Chavez. This can be seen by the manner in which Afghan police left armories filled with U.S. weapons unattended while the Taliban closed in.
She said the truth of the matter is that evacuating a warzone is a complicated and often imperfect endeavor.
“When you are evacuating a losing situation, you just can’t get it all,” Chavez said about the military’s efforts in recovering equipment used in deployments.
Dire circumstances, such as an enclosing enemy force, can often cause the military to rush procedures, according to Chavez.
“Normally, during peacetime, there is a very specific process that we go through to make sure we are getting the most value out of equipment in use,” she said, but when those processes fail, the results can be dangerous.
According to an article by the Wall Street Journal, the Taliban has seized up to 600,000 small arms, 76,000 vehicles and 208 airplanes. While U.S. forces tried to disable as many as they could, the Taliban flew an abandoned U.S. Black Hawk helicopter over Kandahar earlier this September.
While this is a discomforting sight to a nation that spent the last 20 years engaged in a war with the Taliban, it should not become a national security concern, Chavez said. As a former Air Force supply officer, she understands what it takes to maintain military aircraft; the logistics needed to maintain and support an air force are “intense,” she said.
“When you are ensuring aircraft are ready to fly and fight, the type of manufacturing done is considered make-to-order,” Chaves said, going on to explain how replacement parts are produced specifically to repair issues when they arise.
Because of the complexities involved in maintaining a collection of aircraft, Chavez said the Taliban could make more practical use of their captures by selling them to a country with an existing air force.
All things considered, Chavez does not consider the lost equipment to be much of an issue for the United States.
“Our presence in Afghanistan was more of an issue than our withdrawal from Afghanistan,” Chavez said, as she saw the war as a drain on the country’s resources.
During her time in active duty, Chavez spent time in South Korea and was familiar with the military’s plans to evacuate all US civilians in the event of an invading force. She said that “the non-combatant evacuation operation (in Afghanistan) went as good as it could go,” but she also recognized that withdrawing as a loser in a war is extremely hard.
Chavez’ perspective on the complexities of leaving a warzone leads to a better understanding of why U.S. equipment is being used by a former enemy. Going to war involves a great quantity of resources, which can’t always be successfully recovered or secured by allied forces before leaving.
Developing armed forces often use captured enemy weapons to equip their soldiers, and the new Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is no exception. Years of guerilla warfare have already organized the tribes of the country into a cohesive military force. However, the newly formed government will have major setbacks establishing the logistical support necessary to use the equipment that was left in Afghanistan.
Chavez illustrates the Taliban’s inability to maintain their equipment by comparing it to survivors on AMC’s show The Walking Dead.
In the show, the further the group survives past the collapse of society, the less they are able to maintain their modern day equipment. They get to the point they don’t have the ability to repair and reload their weapons and can no longer use them. Chavez suggests that “eventually, the same will happen to the Taliban.”