Diverse set of donors fuels Afghan insurgency

By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post / September 27, 2009

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KABUL, Afghanistan - The Taliban-led insurgency has built a fund-raising juggernaut that generates cash from such an array of criminal rackets, donations, taxes, shakedowns, and other schemes that US and Afghan officials say it may be impossible to choke off the movement’s money supply.

Obama administration officials say the largest source of cash for the Taliban, once thought to rely on Afghanistan’s opium trade to fund its operations, is foreign donations. The CIA estimated that Taliban leaders and their allies received $106 million in the past year from donors outside Afghanistan.

For the past decade, the US Treasury and the UN Security Council have maintained financial blacklists of suspected donors to the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The UN list, originally designed to pressure the Taliban to hand over Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, requires all UN members to freeze the assets of designated Taliban officials and their supporters. The blacklists were greatly expanded after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Since 2005, however, only a handful of alleged Taliban benefactors have been added to the lists.

Some US and Afghan officials said the US government, which had been a leading nominator of names for the UN blacklist, paid less attention to Taliban donors after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Richard Barrett, the coordinator of the United Nations’ Taliban and Al Qaeda Monitoring Team, said Taliban sympathizers are much more skillful today at masking their donations.

In July, Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said the Taliban was reaping the bulk of its revenue from donors abroad, especially from the Persian Gulf.

Other US officials have noted that the Taliban received substantial financial help from Gulf countries during the 1990s, when Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - along with Pakistan - were the only nations that gave diplomatic recognition to the Taliban government.

US officials said there is no evidence today that the Saudi, UAE, or other Gulf governments are giving official aid to the Taliban. They suspect that Pakistani military and intelligence operatives are funding the Afghan insurgency, although the Islamabad government denies this.

As the insurgency has grown in strength, the Taliban has embraced diversification. With money pouring in from so many sources, the Taliban has been able to expand the insurgency, US and Afghan officials said.

US officials said reliable estimates of the Taliban’s cash flow are difficult to calculate because the insurgency has many factions and commanders. But annual revenue is thought to total hundreds of millions of dollars.