Management of weapon stocks in bases and depots

The Taliban appear to have carried out a comprehensive cataloguing of weapons previously held in Republic depots. Following the events of August 2021, they promptly began registering weapons and ammunition in existing depots—typically through handwritten lists. The MoI Department of Technical Affairs, created during the Republic and retained by the Taliban, is currently responsible for weapons management. The department relies largely on the Republic-era policies, and has representatives in each battalion and platoon.

The implementation of these policies has faced some challenges. While the Taliban tend to have greater control over stockpiles in major bases, lists are generally only kept on paper. In addition, one source remarked that some weapons storage facilities were initially kept unlocked.[1] At Kunduz airport, for example, it is estimated that about 6,000–7,000 weapons went missing in the early days following the Taliban takeover.[2]

Challenges have included staffing and capacity issues. Republic-era staff were initially ordered to stay, to ensure the continuity of systems and procedures for weapons management. They were not paid, however, and many eventually left, with some time lag before being replaced. Once active, however, their replacements had less understanding of Republic-era systems, and no knowledge of weapons management in general.

Stockpile management has nonetheless improved over time. Facilities are now generally locked, and some degree of weapons maintenance is conducted. Delegations from Kabul have carried out regular inspections of the major depots in the country. These delegations, created by the MoI and the MoD, travel to depots, and check the stocks of weapons and ammunition against their own records.

A formal process exists for requesting weapons and involves completing a form entitled ‘number 14’. At the national level, this form can be approved by a minister, deputy minister, or director-level official—depending on the situation and the level or type of request. In the provinces, approval for the distribution of police weapons lies with the chief of police or the provincial governor. Once the relevant paperwork is submitted, it is sent to the Department of Technical Affairs.

Although these procedures have been in effect for some time, many commanders and others still do not follow them. This is due to a lack of knowledge or understanding of the procedures, and the availability of alternative paths to obtain weapons through personal connections. The formal procedure is therefore generally used by those that have just finished the military or police academy.

The reporting line between the local commanders and the central authorities is often unclear when it comes to weapons management. There is also a significant gap in tracking the movement of weapons, exacerbated by the frequent transfer and rotation of local Taliban units and delgai.[3] In Helmand, for instance, delgai commanders and other officials do not know what happened to the lists they shared with the MoI. Additionally, the majority of commanders who were in Helmand moved to Kabul, Herat, Kandahar, and other parts of Afghanistan, taking their weapons with them. Consequently, the weapons that are supposed to be in Helmand, according to their initial registration with the local commanders, are now elsewhere.

[1] Interview with Taliban official, Kunduz, 2 December 2022, and Taliban officials, Kabul, 24 December 2022.

[2] Interviews with Taliban commanders, Kunduz, 3 and 5 December 2022.

[3] Mahaz were larger fighting groups prominent during the insurgency, each commanding a set of smaller units known as delgai (with anywhere between 3 and 20 fighters). Some delgai have not been integrated into units within the government system, making it unclear where accountability lies. For more on the history of these structures, see Jackson and Amiri (2019).