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Official: Cracking down on Taliban funding is "like punching jello."
KABUL, Afghanistan — The United States government is widening its investigation into reports that U.S. aid and development funds in Afghanistan are being diverted to the Taliban, GlobalPost has learned.
A number of U.S. government agencies are investigating corruption related to military and development contracts, including: the Department of Defense Inspector General, the State Department Inspector General; the General Accounting Office and Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR).
The Afghan Threat Finance Cell (ATFC), a grouping of different military and civilian agencies, is the latest group organized to investigate the overall funding to the Taliban and to combat the corruption that is keeping the insurgents’ coffers full.
As GlobalPost first reported in September, USAID’s Office of the Inspector General is probing allegations of a protection racket in which Afghan subcontractors are paying protection money to local Taliban leaders to prevent their projects and employees from being targeted. That investigation is underway, but USAID officials have declined to comment on specifics of the case.
The Afghan Threat Financing Cell began operations in mid-2009. The ATFC is a multi-agency organization currently comprising about 30 specialists on loan from the Department of Drug Enforcement, Department of the Treasury, Department of Justice, Department of Defense’s CENTCOM, the CIA and the FBI.
“Our job is to identify and disrupt sources of funding for the Taliban and other insurgent groups,” said an ATFC spokesman, sipping a tall coffee from the courtyard espresso stand in Kabul’s U.S. Embassy, hunkered behind high blast walls and massive security. He explained the insurgents fund their operations from a number of sources, including opium, Persian Gulf donations and crime. “We also focus on corruption, part of the thrust to protect the Afghans, both from the Taliban and their own government.”
(Read about how in the field U.S. operatives must try to distinguish friend from foe and suspect some Afghan contractors of skimming off the top to pay off the Taliban.)
The U.S. Treasury Department assistant secretary for terrorist financing, David Cohen, indicated the ATFC is using a “multi-pronged approach” to disrupt Taliban funding through investigations and capacity-building with Afghan authorities. This strategy includes scrutinizing the hawala networks, the informal banking system of Afghanistan and much of the Islamic world. Though the vast majority of the banking done through the hawalas is legitimate and essential the economy, insurgents use the system to move massive amounts of cash around the world quickly and inexpensively.
“We’re looking hard at the hawalas,” the ATFC official said. The ATFC’s initial steps include trying to help institute uniform licensing and attempting to identify hawalas involved with insurgent activity. The previous day, the ATFC had helped Afghan authorities bust three hawalas connected to insurgents and drug networks.