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Taliban's Cash Flow Grows From Heroin Trade, Crime
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Taliban's Cash Flow Grows From Heroin Trade, Crime

Afghanistan

Taliban's Cash Flow Grows From Heroin Trade, Crime
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AUDIE CORNISH, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

The latest review of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan says coalition troops are making gains against the Taliban. But that has not stemmed the flow of money into Taliban coffers. U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks revealed growing frustration with Arab allies over their failure to deal with charities and private donors that send money to extremist groups.

But NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports that donations to the Taliban could become a moot point, given the group's increasing ability to generate cash on its own.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: U.N. investigators are fanning out across Afghanistan this month to forecast the country's opium crop in the coming year. They haven't yet filed their report. But already, their boss says he's very worried.

Here is Jean-Luc Lemahieu, who heads the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime in Afghanistan.

Mr. JEAN-LUC LEMAHIEU (U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime in Afghanistan): The prices have been skyrocketing over the last months and that is bad news. The last time we had seen that happening was in the period 2000, 2001, 2002. And we knew what happened after that. I mean, the increasing cultivation areas and the high production.

NELSON: With farmers able to make 10 times more money on opium than wheat at the moment, temptation is high, Lemahieu says. Taliban and, quote, "other anti-government elements" take their cut from farmers. The Taliban is also becoming a bigger player in running drug labs and smuggling, says scholar Gretchen Peters. She penned the book�"Seeds of Terror" and studies organized crime and insurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Ms. GRETCHEN PETERS (Author, "Seeds of Terror"): Now, these days you hear multiple reports of Taliban commanders running their own drug labs, running processing centers that process the raw opium into morphine base, into heroin, and in fact exporting those shipments and profiting at much higher levels than they were before. That would indicate that the Taliban is turning into something much more along the lines of a drug cartel than a political movement.

NELSON: It's not just drug money that is filling Taliban accounts; experts say extortion, smuggling, kidnapping and payments from Western contractors trying to keep their projects safe also provide a hefty sum. But just how much the militants bring in is unclear. Estimates range from tens of millions of dollars to a half-billion each year. What most analysts and officials can agree on is that the Taliban earns far more than they spent.

Mr. ALEX STRICK VAN LINSCHOTEN (Scholar, Author): Certainly al-Qaida would love to have the kind of money that's coming into the Taliban.

NELSON: That's Alex Strick van Linschoten, a scholar and author who spent years living in southern Afghanistan to research the Taliban and al-Qaida. He says more Taliban money appears to be leaving Afghanistan these days than is staying. He adds that he knows one Taliban commander who bought an apartment in Dubai with the proceeds. The author adds the Taliban leadership in Pakistan is trying to get a better handle on the finances. That's evident in the rule books the Taliban issues.

Mr. VAN LINSCHOTEN: There have been�three different versions, and each one has slowly tried to gain more control over this kind of financing element of things. And slowly we've seen more bureaucracy develop.

NELSON: Author Gretchen Peters says the Taliban leadership in Quetta, Pakistan, also punished some individual commanders for hanging onto money. Peters says�the U.S.-led coalition needs to figure out where the money is going if the coalition is to win.

Ms. PETERS: Instead of sending a surge of more troops to Afghanistan, we really need to send a surge of accountants.

NELSON: The failure to adequately address funding of extremist groups like the Taliban is frustrating not only to the West, but also to some of America's allies in the Arab world. At a recent regional security conference in Bahrain, Nasser al-Bloushi, the island kingdom's ambassador to Paris, complained that none of the leaders there were talking about the subject.

Mr. NASSER AL-BLOUSHI (Bahraini Ambassador to Paris): Continuity of terrorist attacks is not only on account of their determination, but because we failed to stop the flow of finance into their hands.

NELSON: It isn't because the West isn't trying, says Nigel Inkster. He used to work for British intelligence and is a director at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, which organized the Bahrain conference.

Mr. NIGEL INKSTER (Director, International Institute for Strategic Studies): Obviously�this money does not come with a tag saying Taliban. And a lot of it, I think, might be quite hard to distinguish or identify.

NELSON: Inkster adds that as long as drugs and corruption remain key sources of revenue in Afghanistan, it will be very difficult to clamp down on Taliban financing.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Cairo.

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