Business is booming for the Taliban, which gets up to 60% of its money through Afghanistan’s opium supply chain.
According to the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime, opium production in Afghanistan has increased by 46% since 2015. In 2016, the opium economy made up a full quarter of Afghanistan’s GDP.
According to reports, the Taliban are building more and more drug labs so that opium can be refined into heroin and morphine before it leaves the country.
“The ability to smuggle out refined product explodes the bottom line for the terrorist group fueling its ongoing insurgency against the US-backed Afghan government,” reports The Daily Caller.
This trend comes alongside a further weakening of the Afghan government, which now controls only 60% of the country. The other 40% is controlled by the Taliban.
This instability is great for opium growers. It prevents military and law enforcement from destroying crops and it allows them to use the Taliban as their private security force.
Meanwhile, the Taliban is also raking in money through illegal mining, smuggling precious stones, and kidnapping for ransom. According to UN estimates, the group makes over $10 million per year through unlicensed marble mining.
This cash flow has transformed some Taliban factions into “mafia-like crime syndicates” that are more motivated by money than by religion, reports the UN.
As long as the Taliban’s money pipelines continue to flow, there is little hope that the Afghanistan government will be able to tame the insurgency.
“If an illiterate local Taliban commander in Hemland makes a million dollars a month now, what does he gain in time of peace?” said one senior Afghan official.
The Trump Administration has promised to keep US soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan until conditions improve, but conditions will not improve unless we can interrupt the Taliban’s cash flow.
The Taliban’s reliance on drug production should be United States’ primary interest in Afghanistan. If we destroy the drug trade, we destroy the Taliban.
“Without drugs, this war would have been long over,” said Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. “The heroin is a very important driver of this war.”
Editor’s note: This is the same pattern we saw in Colombia, the FARC supported by Pablo Escobar and the Ochoa’s. You can’t enforce laws in a region where the police are not in control. Instability is the friend of illegal drug traffickers.