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Who is financing America's enemies? You don't want to know.
A shadowy office in Kabul houses the Taliban contracts officer, who examines proposals and negotiates with organizational hierarchies for a percentage. He will not speak to, or even meet with, a journalist, but sources who have spoken with him and who have seen documents say that the process is quite professional.
The manager of an Afghan firm with lucrative construction contracts with the U.S. government builds in a minimum of 20 percent for the Taliban in his cost estimates. The manager, who will not speak openly, has told friends privately that he makes in the neighborhood of $1 million per month. Out of this, $200,000 is siphoned off for the insurgents.
If negotiations fall through, the project will come to harm — road workers may be attacked or killed, bridges may be blown up, engineers may be assassinated.
The degree of cooperation and coordination between the Taliban and aid workers is surprising, and would most likely make funders extremely uncomfortable.
One Afghan contractor, speaking privately, told friends of one project he was overseeing in the volatile south. The province cannot be mentioned, nor the particular project.
“I was building a bridge,” he said, one evening over drinks. “The local Taliban commander called and said ‘don’t build a bridge there, we’ll have to blow it up.’ I asked him to let me finish the bridge, collect the money — then they could blow it up whenever they wanted. We agreed, and I completed my project.”
In the south, no contract can be implemented without the Taliban taking a cut, sometimes at various steps along the way.
One contractor in the southern province of Helmand was negotiating with a local supplier for a large shipment of pipes. The pipes had to be brought in from Pakistan, so the supplier tacked on about 30 percent extra for the Taliban, to ensure that the pipes reached Lashkar Gah safely.
Once the pipes were given over to the contractor, he had to negotiate with the Taliban again to get the pipes out to the project site. This was added to the transportation costs.
“We assume that our people are paying off the Taliban,” said the foreign contractor in charge of the project.
In Farah province, local officials report that the Taliban are taking up to 40 percent of the money coming in for the National Solidarity Program, one of the country’s most successful community reconstruction projects, which has dispensed hundreds of millions of dollars throughout the country over the past six years.
Many Afghans see little wrong in the militants getting their fair share of foreign assistance.
“This is international money," said one young Kabul resident. “They are not taking it from the people, they are taking it from their enemy.”
But in areas under Taliban control, the insurgents are extorting funds from the people as well.
In war-ravaged Helmand, where much of the province has been under Taliban control for the past two years, residents grumble about the tariffs.
“It’s a disaster,” said a 50-year-old resident of Marja district. “We have to give them two kilos of poppy paste per jerib during the harvest; then we have to give them ushr (an Islamic tax, amounting to one-tenth of the harvest) from our wheat. Then they insisted on zakat (an Islamic tithe). Now they have come up with something else: 12,000 Pakistani rupee (approximately $150) per household. And they won’t take even one rupee less.”
It all adds up, of course. But all things are relative: if the Taliban are able to raise and spend say $1 billion per year — the outside limit of what anyone has been able to predict — that accounts for what the United States is now spending on 10 days of the war to defeat them.
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