As the U.S. military offensive against the Taliban intensifies, one of the key strategic objectives is to hit the enemy where it hurts: its cash flow.
High-level U.S. intelligence officials and Afghan government officials estimate the total funding for the Taliban in both Afghanistan and across the border in Pakistan is in the area of $300 million a year. Precise numbers, they concede, are impossible to obtain.
The presumption has always been that about half of the funding base on the Afghanistan side of the border comes from poppy cultivation and trade. That’s why U.S. and coalition forces are targeting the Taliban’s control over areas where poppy is grown in the south, particularly focusing on trafficking kingpins. As interdiction efforts by U.S., Afghan and Pakistani forces have been successful, a newly released Senate report quotes U.S. and Afghan intelligence estimates that the total funding coming from poppy is about $70 million, though later this summer the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is expected to release a new estimate that will put the number at around $125 million.
But drug money isn't the only story.
As GlobalPost correspondents Jean MacKenzie in Kabul and Shahan Mufti in Islamabad uncovered, the Taliban has been working hard to come up with other ways to pay its troops, arm them and keep them on the move.
These other sources range from kidnapping to taking a cut from mining and logging industries to taking a percentage off the top of the multi-billion industry of non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, that operate on the tax dollars of the same coalition countries that are fighting against the Taliban.