A Taliban fighting unit called the Badri 313 Battalion was spotted patrolling Afghanistan with U.S.-made gear, and posting one photo appearing to mock the iconic World War II photo, Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima.
Propaganda videos posted this week on channels affiliated with the Taliban show soldiers in the little-known Badri 313 Battalion carrying U.S. and U.S. ally-made weapons and gear that appear to be stolen from allied militaries while patrolling parts of Kabul.
In one propaganda photo, members of the Badri 313 Battalion are seen hoisting a Taliban flag in a similar fashion to the six U.S. Marines who raised the U.S. flag on Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945.
"This has only been recently revealed, is a militia, a special operations unit of the Taliban that is being deployed not just in Kabul but elsewhere as well that has provided a completely different picture. No more just the sons of farmers and shepherds, a ragtag bunch of religious terrorists, but a special operations group comparable, perhaps, with the best in the world," senior editor and television anchor at India Today, Shiv Aroor, said in a news segment this week.
The Badri 313 special unit differs from typical Taliban fighters as they are made to look more like U.S. soldiers, with camouflage, combat boots, and body armor. They also carry M4 carbines and drive armored Humvees, the Sinclair Broadcasting Group reported.
"With the Taliban now in power, there is every reason to believe the militia could grow in strength," Aroor added. "Expect to see much more of the Badri 313 in the weeks and months ahead."
President and founder of Eurasia Group, Ian Bremmer, also posted a photo of Taliban fighters "with their new American gear" on Twitter Saturday morning.
The U.S. gave Afghan forces an estimated $28 billion in weaponry between 2002 and 2017. But now, "everything that hasn't been destroyed is the Taliban's now," a U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters.
The seizure of American weaponry, such as advanced aircraft, serves as a propaganda tool, as insurgents are unable to operate the aircraft without training.
"When an armed group gets their hands on American-made weaponry, it's sort of a status symbol. It's a psychological win," Elias Yousif, deputy director of the Center for International Policy's Security Assistance Monitor, told The Hill.
"Clearly, this is an indictment of the U.S. security cooperation enterprise broadly," he added. "It really should raise a lot of concerns about what is the wider enterprise that is going on every single day, whether that's in the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia."
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Tuesday that, "we don't have a complete picture, obviously, of where every article of defense materials has gone."
"But certainly a fair amount of it has fallen into the hands of the Taliban," he continued. "And obviously, we don't have a sense that they are going to readily hand it over to us at the airport."