WASHINGTON — The Taliban have been posting propaganda pictures and videos of war spoils captured on the battlefield.
Since the resurgent group announced the start of Operation Mansouri — the annual spring offensive named after former Taliban leader Mullah Mansour who was killed in a U.S. drone strike last May — Taliban media representatives have been posting photos to social media accounts.
The pictures may depict a trend of sophisticated U.S. military weapons and hardware supplied to the Afghan military falling into Taliban hands.
The photos are Taliban propaganda, and Military Times cannot verify authenticity or the events described in the photos.
Many of the photos depict U.S. M240 and M249 machine guns; weapons optics, including Aimpoint and laser designators; and M4 and M16 rifles with M203 grenade launchers.
Two of the photos depict tactical VHF radios. One picture shows a Datron PRC1077 radio supplied to the Afghan army, and another shows what appears to be a Harris tactical hand-held radio, though the blurred image could also be a cheap push-to-talk radio.
The U.S has provided nearly 2,667 Harris RF-7850M-HH radios to the Afghan military, according to CDR. Patrick L. Evans, a spokesperson for the Defense Security Cooperation Agency.
The Taliban propaganda machine is robust and routinely posts highly exaggerated claims. Those claims of late have been actively rebuffed by Operation Resolute Support social media accounts.
The U.S. weapon systems depicted in the Taliban propaganda photos could have been acquired at different times than originally claimed by the Taliban, and through a myriad of ways. It is also possible some are fakes.
The Afghan/Pakistan region is known to be a hotbed of trafficked arms, but there also is a thriving market for knockoff weapons and optics, according to a U.N. representative working on the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team for Afghanistan.
Chinese companies also make knockoff brands of U.S. military optics, which are sold in the region. However, according to a U.N. report last fall, the Taliban have been able to acquire highly specialized foreign military equipment.
“Several-high ranking officials of the Government of Afghanistan highlighted the fact that, during the ongoing fighting season, an increasing amount of highly specialized, modern equipment such as sniper rifles, laser sights and night-vision goggles had been seized from Taliban fighters,” the report reads.
The seized equipment was described as “of foreign origin” in the report, and the problem of specialized foreign military hardware falling into Taliban hands “had reportedly grown and could no longer be explained solely by individual incidents of theft or battlefield capture.”
A U.N. representative told Military Times that the equipment mentioned in the report was of “high grade” and generally “hadn’t been seen before.” The foreign equipment “looked like the original,” he said.
Nevertheless, the Taliban’s propaganda machine continues to develop, and appears to be adapting to methods employed by ISIS’ media tactics seen in Iraq and Syria.
The latest assessment by the U.N. monitoring team on Afghanistan highlighted a new Taliban maneuver — the use of small commercial drones to film attacks and raids carried out by the resurgent group.
ISIS’ media propaganda site, known as Amaq, has been known to feature suicide attacks, vehicle-borne improvised explosive device strikes and attacks filmed by small quadcopter drones.
According to a U.N. representative, the drones used by the Taliban are commercially available drones. The representative was not able to ascertain the origin, but said the drones are known to be flown by civilians in Kabul.
The Taliban are using the drones in similar fashion as ISIS to shoot propaganda films, a U.N. representative said. However, the Taliban have not yet learned to weaponize the small quadcopters like ISIS has.
Since 2002, the U.S. has allocated nearly $76 billion for Afghan security, according to a recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
Some of that assistance has found its way into Taliban hands, where struggling Afghan forces are now at times pitted against U.S. military weapons originally destined for its own armories.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.