Variety of sources feeding Taliban war chest: NYT

      A sophisticated financial network appears to be paying for the Taliban insurgent operations, and some of the sources include the illicit drug trade, criminal activity, kidnappings, extortion and foreign donations that American officials say they are struggling to cut off. According to the New York Times, in Afghanistan, the Taliban have imposed an elaborate system to tax the cultivation, processing and shipment of opium, as well as other crops like wheat grown in the territory they control. In the Middle East, Taliban leaders have sent fund-raisers to Arab countries to keep the insurgency's coffers brimming with cash. Proceeds from the illicit drug trade alone range from 70 million dollars to 400 million dollars a year, according to Pentagon and United Nations officials. By diversifying their revenue stream beyond opium, the Taliban are frustrating American and NATO efforts to weaken the insurgency by cutting off its economic lifelines, the officials say. Despite efforts by the United States and its allies in the last year to cripple the Taliban's financing, using the military and intelligence, American officials acknowledge they barely made a dent. "I don't believe we can significantly alter their effectiveness by cutting off their money right now," the paper quoted Representative Adam Smith, a Washington State Democrat on the House Intelligence and Armed Services Committees who traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan last month, as saying. "I'm not saying we shouldn't try. It's just bigger and more complex than we can effectively stop," he added. American officials are debating whether cracking down on the drug trade will anger farmers dependent on it for their livelihood. But even if the United States and its allies were able to stanch the money flow, it is not clear how much impact it would have. The C.I.A. recently estimated in a classified report that Taliban leaders and their associates had received 106 million dollars in the past year from donors outside Afghanistan, a figure first reported last month by The Washington Post. Private citizens from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran and some Persian Gulf nations are the largest individual contributors, an American counter-terrorism official said. Top American intelligence officials and diplomats say there is no evidence so far that the governments of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates or other Persian Gulf states are providing direct aid to the Afghan insurgency. American intelligence officials say they suspect that Pakistani intelligence operatives continue to give some financial aid to the Afghan Taliban, a practice the Pakistani government denies. Drugs play an important role. Afghanistan produces more opium than any other country in the world, and the Taliban are widely believed to make money at virtually every stage of the trade. Counter-terrorism experts warn that the relationship of the insurgents to drug trafficking is shifting in an ominous direction. The United States has created two new entities aimed at disrupting the trafficking networks and illicit financing. One group, the Afghan Threat Finance Cell, is located at Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul. The second group, the Illicit Finance Task Force based in Washington, also aims to identify and disrupt the financial networks supporting terrorists and narcotics traffickers in the region. American officials say they are working closely with the Afghan government to dry up the Taliban financing, but as one senior American military officer in Afghanistan put it last week, "I won't overstate the progress."

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