Fact check: Hudson says Taliban now have 33 Black Hawks, more than '85% of countries'
Posted September 15, 2021 2:06 p.m. EDT
Updated September 15, 2021 4:40 p.m. EDT
Republicans say the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan was so haphazard that it left the Taliban with a weapon only used by 15% of the world’s countries.
In a Facebook post on Sept. 1, North Carolina Congressman Richard Hudson posted an image that said the “Taliban’s new arsenal” included 33 Black Hawk helicopters, adding:
“Thanks to President Biden, the Taliban now has more Black Hawk helicopters than 85% of countries in the world.”
Hudson didn’t respond to an email about his post. But he later updated it, saying that social media companies had “censored this post” and that “fact-checkers have disputed the exact dollar amount of equipment left in Afghanistan.” Hudson acknowledged that some of his numbers might be off, but said he wanted to emphasize the poor execution of the withdrawal.
The claim comparing the Taliban’s Black Hawk arsenal to the rest of the world appears to have originated with Congressman Jim Banks, a Republican from Indiana. Banks cited the same statistic in a press conference on Aug. 25.
It’s unclear whether the U.S. military left as many as 33 usable Black Hawks behind in Afghanistan.
But even if the Taliban has just one, which reports seem to indicate, the claim that the Taliban has more helicopters than “85%” has factual basis.
Black Hawks in Afghanistan
The U.S. military did have 33 operational Black Hawks in Afghanistan as of June 30, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Defense. (They’re also known as UH-60 helicopters)
However, as PolitiFact previously reported and as Banks’ office acknowledged, it's unclear how many of the Black Hawks are now in the hands of the Taliban.
Media outlets such as the BBC, NPR and the Washington Post have hesitated to report a specific number of Black Hawks under Taliban control. Meanwhile, one blog run by independent military analysts reports the Taliban seized 18 Black Hawks but that only six are operable.
It’s also unclear whether the Taliban has the ability to effectively operate Black Hawk helicopters for warfare.
Bradley Bowman, a former Black Hawk pilot in the Army, told NPR that learning to pilot Black Hawks is “not something that you can do in a week or a month.” But that obstacle isn’t insurmountable.
A bigger problem for the Taliban may be maintaining the Black Hawks, said Jonathan Schroden, the director of the Countering Threats and Challenges Program at the Center for Naval Analyses. Schroden told NPR the Taliban might “not be able to fix them.”
John Pike, a longtime military expert who founded the nonprofit research group GlobalSecurity.org, said the Taliban may have trouble finding pilots, too.
“The Taliban made a practice of assassinating pilots and air crews in recent years and might have some difficulty in tricking them to return to the warm embrace of the Motherland,” Pike told PolitiFact NC in an email.
“Pakistan does not fly the UH-60 and so they will be of little help to their puppet regime,” he continued. “With few pilots, few maintainers, and no spare parts, the handful of flyable UH-60s will be of little use to the Taliban over the coming months, before they become completely unflyable due to lack of maintenance and spares.”
Taliban vs. the world
Hudson and Banks both said the Taliban now has more Black Hawk helicopters than 85% of the world’s countries.
Banks defended the figure saying that 85% of the world’s countries don’t have a Black Hawk at all. He cited a page on Black Hawk-builder Lockheed Martin’s website, which says the company supplies the helicopters to 29 countries in the world.
PolitiFact NC called and emailed a spokesperson for Lockheed Martin to see if the company’s website is up to date, but didn’t receive a response. So let’s move forward with the information available and do some math.
If there are 195 countries in the world and 29 have Black Hawks, that means 166 of them don’t — which comes out to 85%. That means, if the Taliban has taken even one Black Hawk, they would have more Black Hawks than 85% of the world.
And it appears they do. CNN reported the Taliban included a Black Hawk helicopter in a recent air display. Russian media also tweeted a video purporting to show footage of the Taliban flying a Black Hawk.
“The simple math checks out,” said Mitchell Hailstone, communications director for the Republican Study Committee, which Banks chairs.
“If the Pentagon would tell us how many Black Hawk helicopters the Taliban has in its possession, we’d be able to calculate a more accurate percentage,” Hailstone said.
Hudson’s post said the U.S. military left 33 Black Hawks that are now part of the “Taliban’s new arsenal,” and that the group now has more of the helicopters than “85%” of all countries.
Hudson’s claim about the “Taliban’s new arsenal” is based on a report published before the last troops left Afghanistan on Aug. 30. So that may be off.
His claim about how the Taliban’s stock of Black Hawks compares to other countries appears to be accurate.
Hudson’s post gets some of the numbers right, but leaves out key context. We rate it Half True.