FACT CHECK: Fact-Checking Trump’s Claim That The US Left $85 Billion Worth Of Equipment In Afghanistan

Christine Sellers | Fact Check Reporter

During a June 15 community roundtable event in Detroit, Michigan, 2024 presumptive Republican nominee and former President Donald Trump claimed the U.S. purportedly left $85 billion worth of brand-new military equipment in Afghanistan when it withdrew from the country in 2021.

Verdict: Misleading

Multiple sources and experts indicate that Trump conflated the $88.61 billion the U.S. spent on security in Afghanistan with the value of the equipment left behind. Two reports from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan (SIGAR), released in 2019 and 2021, respectively, state the U.S. spent $18 billion on equipment.

Fact Check:

The New York Court of Appeals declined to hear Trump’s appeal regarding the gag order on his hush money payments case, for which he was recently convicted, according to The Associated Press.

During the June 15 event, Trump claimed the U.S. purportedly left $85 billion worth of brand-new military equipment in Afghanistan when it withdrew from the country in 2021. “Eighty-five, think of it, $85 billion worth of brand-new equipment we left [during the 2021 withdrawal],” Trump said.

The claim is false. A press release summarizing an August 2022 report from the Lead Inspector General (Lead IG) indicates $7.12 billion worth of U.S. military equipment was left in Afghanistan following the 2021 withdrawal.

“The [U.S. Department of Defense, or DOD] estimated that U.S.-funded equipment valued at $7.12 billion was in the inventory of the former Afghan government when it collapsed, much of which has since been seized by the Taliban. This included military aircraft, ground vehicles, weapons, and other military equipment,” the release states.

“The condition of these items was unknown, and the long-term operability of the vehicles was likely to deteriorate without U.S. contractor maintenance. The U.S. military removed or destroyed nearly all major equipment used by U.S. troops in Afghanistan throughout the drawdown period in 2021,” it adds.

The press release summarizing the report, which is available via the DOD’s Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) website, was referenced in a January 2023 article from NBC News.

According to NBC News, “more than half” of the equipment left in Afghanistan was ground vehicles. The equipment also included “more than 316,000 weapons worth almost $512 million, plus ammunition and other accessories.”

Likewise, in April 2022, CNN reported the $7 billion worth of U.S. military equipment left in Afghanistan had been “transferred to the Afghan government over the course of 16 years,” citing a “congressionally mandated report from the DOD” it had viewed. Referencing the same report, the outlet indicated that the DOD said it had “no plans” to “return to Afghanistan to ‘retrieve or destroy’ the equipment.” (RELATED: Fact-Checking Biden’s Claim About Wage Increases Versus Inflation)

Furthermore, The Associated Press reported in August 2021 that Trump previously claimed the U.S. left $85 billion worth of equipment in Afghanistan via a social media post. According to the outlet, the number Trump shared was close to that of a July 30, 2021 quarterly report from the SIGAR.

Appendix B of the report shows that the U.S. has spent a total of $144.98 billion in funds for reconstruction in Afghanistan since Fiscal Year 2002. Included in the total is $88.61 billion designated for security purposes, with $82.9 billion provided via the Afghan Security Forces Fund (ASFF) to train and equip the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF). In addition, Figure 2.9 of the report shows that $74.68 billion had been disbursed to the ASFF from Fiscal Year 2005 to Fiscal Year 2021, with $18.56 billion used for equipment and transportation purposes.

Similarly, according to page 67 of a June 2019 SIGAR report, the U.S. used $18 billion to equip the ANDSF from 2002 to 2018.

Newsweek also reported only $18 billion was spent on equipment when it debunked the claim in October 2021, specifying that the money came from the ASFF. Besides social media, Trump stated the claim on an October 7 episode of Fox News host Sean Hannity’s show at the time, the outlet indicated.

Multiple foreign policy experts shared their perspectives on Trump’s claim with Check Your Fact.

Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center, said Trump’s claim is “completely false” and that “[t]here is absolutely no indication that $85 billion in new US military equipment was left behind.”

“It’s unclear where he got that figure. The total amount the US spent to support Afghan security forces during the war was around $80 billion. Maybe he was referring to that figure, though in an absolutely wrong context,” Kugelman said.

“A DoD study done after the US withdrawal found that about $7 billion worth of US military equipment was left behind. But that equipment had been transferred to Afghan security forces. So we’re essentially talking about equipment abandoned by the collapsed Afghan military, not by US forces. It wasn’t brand new. And it didn’t total anywhere close to $85 billion,” Kugelman added.

Dr. Michael Rubin, a senior fellow who specializes in the Middle East at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, indicated that Trump conflated the numbers but said people “can judge Trump by the forest or the trees.”

“Trump conflates total assistance given to the Afghan National Security Forces over two decades with the equipment left behind. The Pentagon claims that equipment left behind amounted to only slightly more than $7 billion,” Rubin said.

“Given how the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction reportedly found poor oversight and equipment leakage as well as the circle-the-wagons mentality in the Pentagon to protect itself from criticism for such a disastrous withdrawal, it is foolish to accept the Pentagon figure at face value.”

“Even if we did, though, that figure still amounts to more than the entire defense budget of NATO allies Finland, Greece, and Belgium.  Assuming that equipment constitutes one quarter of the defense budget as it did in Afghanistan, then we are talking about the annual equipment purchase of countries like Australia, Canada, and Israel,” Rubin continued.

“Trump may have elided the figures, but his point remains solid. At the same time, it is wholly irresponsible to try to quibble the trees as Trump’s critics do, in order to remain blind to the forest,” he added.

Dr. Daniel Pipes, director of the conservative Middle East Forum, said that $7 billion is the “generally accepted figure” in relation to the value of U.S. military equipment left in Afghanistan.

“I have no independent sources on this topic. I can say that the generally accepted figure for U.S. equipment left behind in Afghanistan is $7 billion, as reported in 2022 by the Department of Defense in response to a Congressional inquiry,” Pipes said.

“I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of that figure. Assuming it is correct, Donald Trump multiplied it by twelve, though his reason for doing so is unclear to me, as both 7,000,000,000 and 85,000,000,000 are staggeringly large numbers incomprehensible to most humans,” he added.

Bruce Riedel, a non-resident senior fellow at the left-of-center Brookings Institution’s Center for Middle East Policy, said Trump’s number was “exaggerated.”

“That number is very exaggerated. The United States force in Afghanistan in 2021 did not have even 10% of those resources nor did our Afghan allies,” Riedel explained.

Additionally, both The Washington Post and Fact Check.org fact-checked Trump’s claim. Check Your Fact also previously reported the claim is misleading.

The DOD OIG deferred to the DOD for comment. Check Your Fact has contacted the DOD and a Trump spokesperson for comment.

Christine Sellers

Fact Check Reporter