Who funds the Taliban in Afghanistan?
The Islamist militia has overpowered the Afghan military despite a significant numerical imblance, so how have they funded their offensive across the country?
In recent weeks the Taliban has almost entirely retaken the lands lost after the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001. The two decades-long military intervention in the country has been undone before American forced were even able to complete their withdrawal.
During the course of that effort the US is thought to have spent around $88.3 billion to support the reconstruction effort, according to the aid spending watchdog, in the hope that they would leave before a functioning government.
However the roughly 300,000-strong Afghan army was quickly overpowered by the 80,000 Taliban fighters who converged on the capital of Kabul on Sunday. But who has funded the Taliban throughout the past decade and allowed them to surge back to prominence in Afghan society?
How is the Taliban funded?
Throughout the period of American involvement the Taliban has managed to maintain itself in the face of the largest and most expensive military force assembled in human history. To do so the Islamist militia have benefitted from various illegal activities, primarily from the production and distribution of heroin in the region.
The Taliban insurgents who control much of the territory used in the drug production process impose a tax on everyone from poppy farmers to the traders. Afghanistan is thought to be the world’s largest producer of opium and exports product with an annual value between $1.5 and $3 billion. The Taliban also benefit from other illicit trades such as illegal mining activities.
Throughout their time in the country the US has tried to strangle the Taliban’s funding source by clamping down on the narcotic production in the region. The US military has estimated that around 60% of funding for the Taliban comes from narcotics. In August 2018 the US claimed to have wiped out half of the Taliban drug laboratories but the long-term impact of that success is less certain.
In June the UN Monitoring Team on Afghanistan reiterated that the Taliban maintains a close allegiance with terrorist group al-Qaeda and this relationship has been a profitable one for both sides.
A confidential report obtained by Radio Free Europe in 2020 claimed that the Taliban had earned $1.6 billion during the financial year ending March 2020 from these illicit activities.
The report says: “That financial independence enables the Afghan Taliban to self-fund its insurgency without the need for support from governments or citizens of other countries.”
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