How does the Taliban make money?

Taliban militants

The Taliban are considered one of the richest insurgent groups in the world, and after two decades of fighting against US and partner forces, the militants now control Afghanistan.

So how does the Taliban support each other?

How rich are the Taliban?

The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until the end of 2001, when they were overthrown by US forces.

Despite the 20 years of conflict that followed and the deaths of tens of thousands of Taliban fighters, the group’s territorial control and military strength have grown in recent years.

By mid-2021, they had around 70,000 to 100,000 fighters, up from around 30,000 ten years ago, according to the United States.

Taliban fighters

Taliban fighters

Maintaining this level of insurgency required significant funding from sources both inside and outside Afghanistan.

The group’s annual income as of 2011 has been estimated at around $ 400 million (£ 290 million) by the United Nations (UN).

But by the end of 2018, that could have grown significantly, up to $ 1.5 billion a year, according to BBC surveys.

Where do the Taliban get their money?

BBC interviews in Afghanistan and abroad indicate that the group operates a sophisticated financial network and tax system.

They have developed a number of sources of income. We’ve looked at some of the main ones.

1. Foreign donations

Several Afghan and American officials have long accused countries – including Pakistan, Iran and Russia – of providing financial assistance to the Taliban. It is a practice that they frequently deny.

However, private citizens of Pakistan and several Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar, are considered the top individual contributors.

While impossible to measure exactly, these sources of funding are believed to provide a significant portion of the Taliban’s income. According to experts, this could reach $ 500 million per year.

These links have been around for a long time. A classified US intelligence report estimated that in 2008 the Taliban received $ 106 million from foreign sources, particularly from the Gulf states.

2. Drug trade

It has long been thought that the Taliban applied a system of taxation to cover their insurgent operations, including on the illegal drug trade.

Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of opium, which can be refined to make heroin.

With an estimated annual export value of between $ 1.5 billion and $ 3 billion, opium is big business, supplying the overwhelming majority of heroin in the world.

Poppy cultivation

Opium harvest provided nearly 120,000 jobs in Afghanistan in 2019, UN says

A 10% cultivation tax is levied on opium producers, according to Afghan government officials.

Taxes would also be levied on laboratories processing opium into heroin, as well as traders who smuggle illicit drugs.

Estimates of the Taliban’s annual income from the illicit drug economy range from $ 100 million to $ 400 million.

Drug trafficking accounts for up to 60% of the Taliban’s annual income, US Commander General John Nicholson said in the 2018 Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (Sigar) report.

But some experts say this figure is an overestimate.

The Taliban often deny any involvement in the drug industry and pride themselves on having banned the cultivation of the opium poppy for a period while in power in 2000.

3. Expand control areas

The Taliban’s financial network extends far beyond the simple taxation of the opium trade.

In an open letter in 2018, the Taliban warned Afghan traders to pay their taxes on various goods – including fuel and building materials – as they passed through areas they controlled.

After overthrowing the Afghan government, the Taliban now control all of the country’s major trade routes, as well as border crossings, creating more potential sources of income from imports and exports.

Taliban fighters

Taliban fighters

Over the past two decades, a significant amount of Western money has also unwittingly found its way into the pockets of the Taliban.

First, the Taliban have taxed development and infrastructure projects – including roads, schools, and clinics – funded primarily by the West.

Second, the Taliban are said to have made tens of millions of dollars a year by taxing truckers supplying international forces stationed in various parts of the country.

They are also believed to have made a lot of money from the services provided by the Afghan government.

The head of the Afghan electricity company told the BBC in 2018 that the Taliban made more than $ 2 million a year charging consumers for electricity in different parts of the country.

And there is also income generated directly by the conflict. Every time the Taliban seize a military post or an urban center, they empty treasures and seize dozens of weapons, as well as cars and armored vehicles.

4. Mines and minerals

Afghanistan is rich in minerals and precious stones, much of which is under-exploited due to years of conflict. The mining industry in Afghanistan is worth around $ 1 billion a year, according to Afghan government officials.

Most of the mining is small-scale and much of it is done illegally.

Lapis stones

Lapis stones – often used in jewelry – are mined in Afghanistan

The Taliban have taken control of mining sites and extorted money from ongoing legal and illegal mining operations.

In its 2014 annual report, the United Nations Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team said the Taliban received more than $ 10 million per year from 25 to 30 illegal mining operations in southern Province. Helmand.

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