The claim: The Biden administration “gifted” the Taliban $80 billion in weapons and wants to take 9 mm pistols away from Americans
“The current regime that just gifted the Taliban with $80+ billion worth of military grade weapons wants your 9mm pistols,” reads an Aug. 17 text post on Facebook. “THINK ABOUT IT.”
The post accumulated more than 46,000 shares within three days. Similar posts that criticize both the Biden administration’s gun policies and its handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal have racked up tens of thousands of interactions on Facebook, according to CrowdTangle, a social media insights tool.
As the Taliban took over Afghanistan, it recovered military equipment the U.S. provided to the Afghan National Security Forces. The Islamic fundamentalist group now possesses guns, ammunition, Humvees and helicopters left behind by fleeing Afghan forces.
Fact check roundup:What’s true and what’s false about the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan
But the Facebook post misleads on the value of that equipment – and its claim about Biden’s position on handguns is wrong.
The U.S. spent more than $83 billion equipping and training the Afghan military, but not all of that money went toward weapons, as the post makes it seem. Foreign policy experts told USA TODAY it’s wrong to say the Biden administration “gifted” those weapons to the Taliban, since the aid was meant for Afghan forces.
And Biden has not proposed taking away Americans’ 9 mm pistols.
“It is very typical for gun rights activists to claim that Democrats and gun control supporters want to ban gun ownership and take away all weapons,” Melissa Merry, an associate professor of political science at the University of Louisville, said in an email. “I would characterize this claim as just the latest iteration of this argument.”
USA TODAY reached out to social media users who shared the posts for comment.
Weapons claim overreaches
The U.S. spent more than $80 billion equipping and training the Afghan military, but not all of that money went toward weapons. And the Biden administration didn’t “gift” equipment to the Taliban.
“That is totally ridiculous,” Barnett Rubin, a senior fellow at the Center for International Cooperation at New York University, said in an email. “If you give a gift to A, and then B steals the gift, it is not fair to say that you gave a gift to B.”
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said at an Aug. 17 White House press briefing that the Taliban had recovered a “fair amount” of military equipment the U.S. provided to the Afghan National Security Forces.
“We don’t have a complete picture, obviously, of where every article of defense materials has gone,” he said. “But certainly a fair amount of it has fallen into the hands of the Taliban. And obviously, we don’t have a sense that they are going to readily hand it over to us at the airport.”
Reuters reported that, while the Biden administration doesn’t yet have definitive numbers, intelligence assessments estimate the Taliban has recovered more than 2,000 armored vehicles and up to 40 aircraft. That includes U.S.-supplied Humvees and Black Hawk helicopters.
“Those Black Hawks were not given to the Taliban,” Sullivan said during the briefing. “They were given to the Afghan National Security Forces to be able to defend themselves.”
Over the course of the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. spent more than $83 billion building up the Afghan military, according to an August report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. More than $28 billion of U.S. aid went to “defense articles and services, including weapons, ammunition, vehicles, night-vision devices, aircraft, and surveillance systems,” according to a separate report published in December.
That’s far from the $80 billion figure cited in the Facebook post.
“That money was not exclusively used to buy weapons,” Julie Garey, an assistant teaching professor of political science at Northeastern University, said in an email. “And even if that number was broken down to determine exactly how much was used for weapons, it still wouldn’t really be relevant. Not all of the weapons supplied are recoverable.”
USA TODAY reached out to the Defense Department for comment.
Biden hasn’t proposed banning pistols
Independent fact-checking organizations, gun policy experts and the White House have debunked the claim that Biden wants to ban 9 mm pistols.
The claim appears to stem from a July 26 blog post from the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action. The advocacy group’s lobbying arm wrote that, during a July 21 CNN town hall in Cincinnati, Biden reiterated his “call to ban 9mm handguns.”
In response to USA TODAY’s request for comment, NRA spokesperson Amy Hunter sent a 2019 tweet linking to a Townhall story. The article comments on something Biden said at a Seattle fundraiser about 9 mm pistols that “can hold 10 or more rounds.”
The article doesn’t prove Biden wants to ban all 9 mm handguns. And the full context of Biden’s remarks in Cincinnati show he wasn’t referring to all handguns.
“The idea you need a weapon that can have the ability to fire 20, 30, 40, 50, 120 shots from that weapon, whether – whether it’s a 9 mm pistol or whether it’s a rifle, is ridiculous,” Biden said during the town hall. “I’m continuing to push to eliminate the sale of those things.”
“Looking at the statement, he’s clearly taking a position on regulating assault weapons,” said Merry, the University of Louisville associate professor. “He’s not specifically proposing to ban 9 mm guns.”
PolitiFact rated false a similar claim from House Republicans. The independent fact-checking organization reported that, while experts disagree on the definition of an assault-style weapon – and states have different standards for what qualifies as a high-capacity magazine – none of the most popular handguns would be affected by what Biden has proposed.
And if Biden’s policies did pass Congress, the federal government would not take assault pistols away from gun owners.
Biden has proposed banning the manufacture and sale of assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines. Americans who already possess those weapons could either sell them to the federal government or register them under the National Firearms Act.
“President Biden has never proposed the ban of 9 mm pistols or other caliber pistols,” Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy, said in an email. “He certainly has never taken pistols away from people who are legal gun owners.”
USA TODAY reached out to the White House for comment, but it did not provide one on the record.
Our rating: False
Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that the Biden administration “gifted” the Taliban $80 billion in weapons and wants to take 9 mm pistols away from Americans. The U.S. spent $28 billion on weapons, vehicles and other military equipment for the Afghan National Security Forces, not $80 billion. The Biden administration did not “gift” that equipment to the Taliban – the group recovered some of it from retreating Afghan forces. And Biden has not proposed taking 9 mm pistols away from Americans. Instead, he’s proposed banning the sale and manufacture of assault-style firearms and high-capacity magazines.
Our fact-check sources:
- USA TODAY, Aug. 17, White House says a ‘fair amount’ of US military equipment provided to Afghans is now in Taliban hands
- CrowdTangle, accessed Aug. 20
- Barnett Rubin, Aug. 19, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- Associated Press, Aug. 16, Billions spent on Afghan army ultimately benefited Taliban
- Reuters, Aug. 19, Planes, guns, night-vision goggles: The Taliban’s new U.S.-made war chest
- Melissa Merry, Aug. 19, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- The White House, Aug. 17, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, August 17, 2021
- Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, August 2021, WHAT WE NEED TO LEARN: LESSONS FROM TWENTY YEARS OF AFGHANISTAN RECONSTRUCTION
- Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, December 2020, Military Equipment Transferred to the Afghan Government: DOD Did Not Conduct Required Monitoring to Account for Sensitive Articles
- Julie Garey, Aug. 20, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- National Rifle Association, July 26, Biden Reiterates Call to Ban 9mm Handguns
- PolitiFact, July 22, No, Joe Biden doesn’t want to ban handguns
- Cincinnati Enquirer, July 21, Joe Biden town hall in Cincinnati: Here’s the full CNN transcript
- The White House, June 23, Fact Sheet: Biden-Harris Administration Announces Comprehensive Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gun Crime and Ensure Public Safety
- PolitiFact, accessed Aug. 20, Ban the manufacture and sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines
- Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, accessed Aug. 20, Large Capacity Magazine
- CNBC, Feb. 21, 2018, Definition of what’s actually an ‘assault weapon’ is a highly contentious issue
- JoeBiden.com, accessed Aug. 20, THE BIDEN PLAN TO END OUR GUN VIOLENCE EPIDEMIC
- USA TODAY, Aug. 17, How did Afghanistan end this way? The finger-pointing begins.
- USA TODAY, Aug. 16, Afghanistan in chaos as thousands try to flee Kabul after Taliban takeover
- Daniel Webster, Aug. 19, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- The White House, Aug. 19, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- USA TODAY, Aug. 16, Panicked people at Kabul airport cling to plane taking off as the Taliban takes over Afghanistan
- USA TODAY, Aug. 15, How did the Taliban retake Afghanistan so quickly? What’s happening now? What we know
- NRA, Nov. 20, 2019, Twitter
- Townhall, Nov. 19, 2019, Crazy Uncle Joe Strikes Again, This Time He Takes Aim at Handguns
- The Seattle Times, Nov. 15, 2019, Speaking at the ‘House of Amazon,’ Joe Biden gently raises company’s role in middle-class job losses
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