Pakistani premier claims US military equipment left behind in Afghanistan is now in militant hands

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan's caretaker prime minister claimed on Monday that U.S. military equipment left behind during the American withdrawal from Afghanistan has fallen into militant hands and ultimately made its way to the Pakistani Taliban.

The equipment — which includes a wide variety of items, from night vision goggles to firearms — is now “emerging as a new challenge” for Islamabad as it has enhanced the fighting capabilities of the Pakistani Taliban, Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar said.

The Pakistani Taliban, known as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, have over the past months intensified attacks on Pakistan's security forces. They are a separate militant group but an ally of the Afghan Taliban.

The Taliban overran Afghanistan in mid-August 2021 as U.S. and NATO troops were in the last weeks of their chaotic pullout from the country after 20 years of war. In the face of the Taliban sweep, the U.S.-backed and trained Afghan military crumbled.

There is no definite information on how much U.S. equipment was left behind — but the Taliban seized U.S.-supplied firepower, recovering guns, ammunition, helicopters and other modern military equipment from Afghan forces who surrendered it. Though no one knows the exact value, U.S. defense officials have confirmed it is significant.

Speaking to a select group of journalists at his office Monday in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, Kakar did not provide any evidence to support his allegation or directly link the Afghan Taliban and the TTP. He said there was a need to adopt a “coordinated approach” to tackling the challenge of the leftover equipment.

Kakar also did not criticize the Afghan Taliban — Islamabad has tried to reach out and act as an interlocutor between the international community and the new rulers in Kabul, who have been ostracized for the harsh edicts they imposed since their takeover.

However, two security officials in Islamabad told The Associated Press that the TTP either bought the equipment from the Afghan Taliban, or was given it as an ally. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the subject.

The Pakistani Taliban have also released statements and video clips in recent months, claiming they possess, for example, guns with laser and thermal sighting systems.

TTP fighters now target Pakistani troops from a distance, while before their only weapons were AK-47 assault rifles, one of the officials said, without elaborating.

Still, Pakistani security forces will continue to fight militants "to defend our home, children, mosques and places of worship,” Kakar said.

Kakar, 52, was sworn in last month as Pakistan's youngest prime minister to head a caretaker government. His Cabinet will run day-to-day affairs until the next parliamentary elections. The vote, which was to be held in October or November, is likely to be delayed until at least January 2024 as Pakistan's elections oversight body says it needs time to redraw constituencies to reflect the latest census results.

Kakar ruled out any talks between the government and the TTP since the militants unilaterally broke off a cease-fire last November.

Since the Taliban takeover next door, Islamabad says TTP fighters have increasingly been given shelter by the Afghan Taliban, straining relations between Islamabad and Kabul.

Pakistan became a key ally of Washington in its war against terror after the 9/11 attacks in the United States. This majority Muslim country is currently facing one of the worst economic crises even as its political turmoil deepens.

At his news conference, Kakar also stressed that all political parties — including the Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaf opposition party of now imprisoned former Prime Minister Imran Khan — would be allowed to participate in the upcoming elections.

“We are here just to assist electoral process,” Kakar said.

He did not directly mention Khan, who is not eligible to run in the elections as he is serving a three-year prison term for corruption. Khan, who was ousted in a no-confidence vote in April 2022, remains the country’s leading opposition figure.