Pakistan militants launch attacks with advanced US weapons left behind in Afghanistan

Influx of leftover military equipment has strengthened militant groups amid sharp rise in attacks

Afghan Taliban fighters in Kabul. The group's takeover in 2021 has allowed militants in neighbouring Pakistan to obtain advanced US weapons. AP
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Advanced weapons and technology left behind by US and Nato troops during their withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 have been used by militants in Pakistan to attack police and soldiers, security officials have said.

The Tahrik-e-Taliban in Pakistan and Baloch militants are among the groups that have obtained modern weapons in Afghanistan.

Experts have said the influx of arms has led to a sharp rise in attacks.

"The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan has emboldened and strengthened militant groups in the region," Rafiullah Kakar, a security expert in Pakistan's Balochistan province, told The National.

"The withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan in August 2021 has significantly reduced US air strikes in the region, allowing the militants to operate more freely."

Militants killed six Pakistani soldiers in a north-western tribal district bordering Afghanistan, the army said on Thursday. The Tahrik-e-Taliban claimed responsibility.

Pakistan has increased its efforts to fight against militants after a rise in attacks, including a February mosque bombing that killed more than 100.

Islamabad is struggling to contain the Tahrik-e-Taliban amid an economic crisis and political polarisation.

Emboldened by the Afghan Taliban's victory, the Pakistani group continues to wage war against the country's government.

The Afghan Taliban facilitated a four-month ceasefire between the TTP and Islamabad last year.

But peace talks broke down because of disagreements over terms, leading to a new wave of attacks.

The number of terrorist attacks in the country increased by 27 per cent last year, compared with 2021, said the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies, a think tank in Islamabad.

At least 419 people were killed in 262 terrorist attacks last year, while 734 were injured, the institute said.

$7 billion in US weapons left behind

About $7.2 billion worth of aircraft, weapons, vehicles, ammunition and equipment including night vision goggles and biometric devices were left behind in Afghanistan, according to a Pentagon report to Congress last year.

The leftover weapons have fallen into the hands of groups including the Balochistan Liberation Army, Baloch Nationalist Army, Sindhudesh People’s Army and Islamic State Khorasan Province, Mr Kakar said.

The Pakistani military has been stretched by terrorist attacks on state infrastructure and Chinese investments in Balochistan, hitting investment hard.

Chinese investors have been increasingly active in Pakistan's economy, funding infrastructure projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor initiative.

But China has repeatedly expressed concern about the security situation in Pakistan, calling on Islamabad to do more to protect Chinese citizens and businesses.

In April 2021, nine Chinese citizens were killed in a bus explosion in south-western Balochistan province.

The attack was claimed by the Balochistan Liberation Army, a separatist group that has been involved in several attacks on Chinese workers in the region.

The Afghan Taliban are reported to have released more than 7,000 suspected terrorists from prison, including a large number of TTP militants.

Police in the north-western Pakistani region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa said TTP extremists used advanced weapons and equipment left behind in Afghanistan to carry out ambushes.

The TTP used a sniper rifle equipped with a thermal scope in an attack in the suburbs of Peshawar in January, said Moazzam Jah Ansari, provincial police chief at the time. Three police officers were killed.

In November, Mr Ansari said militants "picked up sophisticated weapons left behind by the Americans and waged war against [the province's] police".

TTP fighters have used similar equipment in ambushes in the districts of the province including Dera Ismail Khan, Bannu and Lakki Marwat.

Police statistics show 118 officers were killed in terrorist attacks in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2022.

Members of the Balochistan Liberation Army have used weapons left in Afghanistan by US and coalition forces, said Pakistan's former interior minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad.

He made the comments after attacks in February on two Pakistani military bases in remote Panjgur and Naushki in Balochistan province.

He did not say how the BLA obtained the weapons or whether the Afghan Taliban was involved in providing arms to the group.

The Taliban government in Kabul have denied the TTP and other militant groups had access to abandoned weapons.

But TTP propaganda videos show militants practising with modern US-made weapons, research group War Noir said.

The weapons included M24 sniper rifles, M4 carbines with Trijicon ACOG scopes and M-16A4 rifles with thermal scopes.

A police officer in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa told The National that security operation were more dangerous because militants had advanced weapons.

In a recent incident, officers at a checkpoint were shot at.

"We couldn't see anything, [we could only hear] the sound of the fire," the office said.

"The fact is that the militants can see us in the dark while we cannot see them, and this gives them an enormous advantage."

The International Centre for Counter-Terrorism said the US and Nato spent hundreds of billions of dollars during the war in Afghanistan.

Of $88 billion allocated to equip the Afghan army and police, less than a third went to military. material and equipment, including about 600,000 small arms and ammunition.

Most of the equipment was destroyed or removed from Afghanistan after the US and Taliban signed the Doha agreement in February 2020.

Akhtar Ali Shah, former Inspector General of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Police, told The National that militants had used US weapons for decades.

He said the business of selling American-made weapons in Pakistan is reminiscent of the 1980s, when western nations sent millions of dollars worth of arms to the Afghan mujahideen, who were fighting against the Soviet invasion in 1979.

“Law enforcement agencies have sophisticated weapons and equipment, but sudden attacks cause confusion and difficulties," Mr Shah said.

Brig Mahmood Shah, a former secretary of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan, told The National that the increase in extremism was a result of previous government policies, including peace talks with TTP that led to the release of high-profile terrorists.

He said “stronger law enforcement and intelligence-based operations" were needed in border areas to tackle the problem.

"Not only the TTP, but smugglers and businessmen are also involved in illegal activities in these areas,” Mr Shah said.

Black market flooded

Pakistani arms dealers have said the black market has been flooded with sophisticated weapons since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

Western weapons abandoned in Afghanistan are sold in illegal markets in tribal areas along the border with Pakistan, they said.

Arshad Afridi, a licensed arms dealer from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said the US weapons available on the black market were "excellent quality and very lethal".

A US-made M4 assault rifle in good condition can be purchased for between $1,500 and $3,000, while M-16 rifles cost from $1,600 to $2,000, Mr Afridi said.

“Popular American-made pistols such as Glock, Beretta, and Smith and Wesson 9mm can be purchased for $300 to $800," he said.

"US military communication gear, such as Harris Engineering Falcon Three Radios, can also be bought for around $3,500.”

The Director General of the Inter-Services Public Relations said that in the first four months of 2023, 1,400 suspected terrorists had been arrested and 188 killed.

Updated: May 06, 2023, 8:11 AM