The U.S. State Department approved a possible $60 million sale of military equipment including rifles, machine guns and grenade launchers to Afghanistan under the Pentagon’s Foreign Military Sales program, according to an August 18 press release by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA).
In detail, the Afghan government has requested the sale of 4,891 M16A4 assault rifles, 485 M240B machine guns, 800 M2.5 caliber machine guns, next to a number of M249 light automatic machine guns, M110 sniper rifles, MK-19 40mm grenade launchers and machine gun mounts. The deal is subject to congressional approval.
“Afghanistan has an urgent requirement to increase its stocks of crew-served weapons for ongoing counter-insurgency operations and enduring threats to its national sovereignty. These articles were determined to be necessary and are based on Afghanistan’s force structure and operational requirements,” according to the DSCA press release.
Some of the rifles and machine guns may be drawn from existing U.S. Army stocks to expedite the delivery. The Pentagon thinks that the weapons sale will be critical to maintain the Afghan National Army’s (ANA) fighting strength. “Without these defense articles, the ANA will not have the military capabilities that are necessary to maintain security and stability,” the DSCA statement reads.
According to research by Iain Overton, the executive director of the London-based charity Action on Armed Violence, the Pentagon has provided Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) with over 465,000 firearms since 2001. It is unclear how many of these weapons have made it into the hands of the Taliban and other insurgent groups.
“While equipment for the ANA is typically purchased with Title 10 Afghanistan Security Forces Fund (ASFF) appropriations and implemented by DSCA through pseudo-FMS cases, Afghanistan will use U.S. government grants to fund and support this proposed purchase,” the press release elaborates.
Since 2002, the United States Congress has appropriated more than $68 billion to train, equip, and pay the salaries of up to 352,000 soldiers and police in in the ANSDF, as well as 30,000 members of the Afghan Local Police (ALP), according to an April 2016 report of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).
However, “with fewer forces in theater, the United States military has lost much of its ability to make direct observations, provide tactical mentoring, and collect reliable information on ANDSF capability and effectiveness,” SIGAR notes.
6,637 ANDSF personnel were killed and 12,471 wounded in 2015. The number killed is about 20 percent higher in 2016 in comparison to the previous year, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, announced in late July without providing specific numbers. Over 1,600 Afghan civilians were killed and 3,565 injured in the first half of 2016, which marks “an overall increase of four per cent in total civilian casualties compared to the same period last year,” according to a United Nations report published in July.