Sunday, October 26, 2014

Taliban’s Foreign Support Vexes U.S.

By YOCHI J. DREAZEN-

U.S. officials recently concluded that the Afghan Taliban may receive as much money from foreign donors as it does from opium sales, potentially hindering the Obama administration’s strategy to rehabilitate Afghanistan by stopping the country’s drug trade.

Gen. David Petraeus, who oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said in a recent interview that the Taliban has three main sources of funding: drug revenue; payments from legitimate businesses that are secretly owned by the armed group or that pay it kickbacks; and donations from foreign charitable foundations and individuals.

“You have funds generated locally, funds that come in from the outside, and funds that come from the illegal narcotics business,” he said. “It’s a hotly debated topic as to which is the most significant and it may be that they are all roughly around the same level.”

Gen. Petraeus estimated that the Taliban raise a total of “hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars” each year from the three sources, and said the U.S. doesn’t have precise figures.

The Taliban have depended in part on foreign support for decades. In an interview last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said some Afghan militants could draw on “external funding channels” created in the 1980s for wealthy Muslims — with U.S. support — to funnel money to Islamic fighters battling the Soviet military. “It wouldn’t surprise me if those channels have remained open,” he said.

Two senior U.S. officials said the Central Intelligence Agency has identified individuals and charities suspected of providing the bulk of the Taliban funding, but declined to name them, citing continuing operations to disrupt the money flows.

Senior U.S. officials said the Taliban received significant donations from Pakistan — where sympathy for the group is widespread in the country’s Pashtun community — and Gulf nations such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Pakistani Ambassador Hussein Haqqani said his government had frozen hundreds of bank accounts tied to the Taliban and other extremist groups and said the effort is a “work in progress.”

“The extremist networks continue to find new financing schemes and methods to evade law enforcement,” he said.

A senior Saudi official here said his government regularly arrested citizens suspected of funneling money to armed groups such as the Taliban but questioned the extent of the practice. The official said Saudi charities are barred from sending money outside the country.

“If the Americans have actionable intelligence on Saudis who are supporting the Taliban, they should provide us the intelligence, and we will act on it,” he said.

Officials from the Kuwaiti Embassy declined to comment.

The Taliban’s ability to continually replenish its coffers concerns U.S. policy makers such as Mr. Gates, who conjectured in the interview that American public support for the war will dissipate before the end of the year unless the administration achieves a “perceptible shift in momentum” there.

American officials said most of the money was sent to the Taliban through the informal hawala money-transfer system — a network of money brokers with little outside oversight. A 2006 World Bank report about Afghanistan said the hawala system “carries out the majority of the country’s cash payments and transfers.”

The resurgent Taliban have been mounting attacks in recent months, inflicting heavy casualties on U.S., North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Afghan soldiers. On Thursday, U.S.-led forces raided a suspected foreign-fighter camp in eastern Afghanistan, setting off a gun fight that killed 34 militants, according to an Afghan official.
-Siobhan Gorman contributed to this article.

Source: The Wall Street Journal