Taliban May Have Black Hawks Now, But NC Rep's Claim Lacks Context, Fact-Checker Says
It's been almost a month since the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan after nearly 20 years of occupation, leaving it once again in control of the Taliban. But the political fallout continues. And in this week's fact check, we're taking a look at a claim made by a Charlotte-area member of Congress.
U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson of North Carolina's 8th District said recently on Facebook that the Taliban now has 33 Black Hawk military helicopters, commonly used by the U.S. military. "Thanks to President Biden, the Taliban now has more Black Hawk helicopters than 85% of countries in the world," the Concord Republican wrote.
Paul Specht of WRAL joins us to assess Hudson's claim.
Marshall Terry: OK, Paul, so Hudson is referring to Black Hawk helicopters the U.S. military left behind when it pulled out of Afghanistan last month. Did they, in fact, leave 33 of them behind?
Paul Specht: We don't know. That's the short answer. That number comes from a Department of Defense report that was published in July before the last troops pulled out of Afghanistan. So we don't know if that number is up to date. From our research, we couldn't find a hard number of helicopters actually left in possession of the Taliban.
We've seen some reports that they may have one or two. In fact, there's video showing them flying one of them, but we don't know exactly how many.
Terry: Now, what about the second number that Hudson posted — that the Taliban now have more Black Hawk helicopters than 85% of countries in the world? Is that true?
Specht: It is true. But there's a lot of context missing here. You might think, "Hey, if we don't know how many helicopters that the Taliban has, how can we get this 85% number?" And that's because there are only 29 countries in the world that have even one Black Hawk helicopter.
So if the Taliban gets its hands on even one Black Hawk, then they will have more than 85% of countries in the world... There are 195 countries in the world. Twenty-nine have a Black Hawk. The other 166 do not.
Terry: Did you reach out to Hudson about this post?
Specht: We did. He never got back to us. But his claim was originally stated by a different congressman: Jim Banks, a Republican from Indiana. And we reached out to his office, and he was the one that pointed us to that stat of 29 countries having Black Hawks. That comes from Lockheed Martin. They're a company that makes military equipment, and that number comes from one of their webpages.
Terry: Hudson, like many in Congress, has been critical of the U.S. withdrawal. Is it fair to say that his main point with his post stands? And that is that the Taliban has a lot of high-tech U.S. military equipment, and that's not a good thing.
Specht: It's certainly fair for him to say that — for him to say that, "Hey, the military left behind some very expensive military equipment that, you know, our tax dollars pay for and now the Taliban has it." That is certainly fair to say. But pairing up that number of 33 Black Hawks with that percentage of having more than 85% of countries, that just needed some clarification here.
Terry: Do the Taliban know how to fly Black Hawks?
Specht: You know, we asked experts about that, and they said they might be able to figure it out. And as I mentioned, there's video of the Taliban flying a Black Hawk — not very high. But there is video online of them flying one after they seized it — sort of this celebratory display flyover.
But what experts told us was, you know, these things are difficult to fly, and they might be even harder to maintain. And so, the question will be like, sure, they can get it off the ground, but how long can they keep these helicopters? And then if something goes wrong, do they have the wherewithal to actually fix it? Now, maybe, and maybe they get help from outside Afghanistan, but that remains to be seen.
Terry: So how did you rate this claim by Richard Hudson?
Specht: We rated this half-true. Let's go through these numbers one at a time. The 85% number: Even if the Taliban has one Black Hawk helicopter, that would mean they do have more Black Hawks than 85% of the countries in the world. That math checks out, and it does appear that they have at least one Black Hawk helicopter. Now over to the other number: 33 Black Hawks left behind. That report that number comes from is old and possibly outdated.
Now, it's certainly within the realm of possibility that 33 or so helicopters were left behind, even though there was still a month between the time that report was published and when the last troops were pulled out. However, experts told us the real number is probably lower — probably around a dozen or even in the single digits. We just don't know. We set out with this fact check to tell people, "Hey, this percentage over here, the 85 percentage, is right, even if the number of Black Hawks left behind is not as high as 33. And so that's why on balance, we rated this claim half-true.
Terry: All right, Paul, thank you.
Specht: Thank you.