The Taliban’s haul of American weapons and equipment taken from the Afghan military could worsen instability in the region – including Xinjiang in China – if they fall into the hands of extremists, analysts say.
Taliban fighters seized guns, ammunition, helicopters and even combat aircraft, according to the Associated Press, as they took over provincial capitals, military bases and on Sunday Kabul, in a rapid offensive after American troops withdrew. They met little resistance from US-trained Afghan forces.
The insurgents are now trading weapons like Russian Kalashnikov AK-47s for modern American assault rifles, and according to Chinese military researcher Zhou Chenming, it is this type of weaponry that could help fuel the expansion of extremist and terrorist groups in the region.
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“If this weaponry that has been supplied by the US [to Afghan forces] – like guns, ammunition and armoured vehicles – is seized by extremists then it will certainly add to the difficulty and challenges of counterterrorism operations for all governments in the region,” said Zhou, from the Yuan Wang military science and technology institute in Beijing.
“In the past, extremist groups have … carried out surprise attacks using knives and home-made bombs, but the casualties will be much higher if they get hold of more powerful weapons.”
China – whose far western region of Xinjiang shares a short border with Afghanistan – is highly concerned about security in the country. Senior Chinese diplomats have called on the Taliban to cut ties with extremist groups such as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, which it has blamed for violent attacks in Xinjiang.
Zhou said given the political turmoil in Afghanistan, China needed to step up border security to stop extremists from entering Xinjiang via the Wakhan Corridor – a narrow strip of Afghan territory that borders the Chinese region.
He added that Central Asian countries were not equipped to counter well-trained, armed extremist groups. “That’s why China and Russia staged a joint counterterrorism drill in northwest China last week, in Ningxia, the Gobi Desert – they were preparing for possible cooperation in the future, say if Moscow needs help from the People’s Liberation Army,” he said.
Andrei Chang, editor of the Canada-based Kanwa Defence Review, noted that America had spent an estimated US$83 billion on equipping and training Afghan security forces in the past two decades since US-led forces entered the country in 2001. But he said some of the weapons supplied by the US had been sold to warlords and extremist groups on the underground market.
The US-supplied firepower that is now in Taliban hands could not only help terrorist groups expand, it might also fuel the drug trade in Central Asia and beyond, according to Eagle Yin, a research fellow with the China Foundation for International and Strategic Studies in Beijing.
“Opium is the key resource that supports the operation of terrorist and extremist groups based in Afghanistan – they make up more than 25 per cent of the world’s drug trade,” Yin said.
“The drug problem in Afghanistan will be another headache after the war for the regional counterterrorism group, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation … the opium from Afghanistan is smuggled through Central Asia to Russia and Europe and causes serious social problems,” he said.
Li Wei, a counterterrorism expert in Beijing, said neighbouring countries will be hoping for reassurance from the Taliban on “whether it will be able to stop extremist groups from expanding” in the region and beyond. “But this will also rely on support and close monitoring from the international community, it will need powers like the US, China and Russia to work together,” he said.
Additional reporting by Reuters
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