Who finances the Taliban and Al-Qaeda? We do.

As the war in Afghanistan settles into its eighth year, it might be worth asking ourselves how the Taliban and Al-Qaeda can possibly remain so strong. Who has been financing these guys for eight years? What if the answer is “us”?

Let’s consider a homeowner in Kabul. Prior to the U.S. invasion, he might have been able to rent out his house for $250 per month. Whatever his political or religious beliefs, he would not have been able to support any cause because he would need all $250 to feed his family. After the U.S. invasion, dozens of U.S., U.N, and NGO groups moved into Kabul, driving up the market rent to over $1,000 per month (due to overwhelming demand, Kabul is now one of the most expensive cities in the world; see this U.N. report showing that the cost of living in Kabul was higher than in New York City in 2005). Our homeowner now has a $750 per month windfall. What will he spend it on? Depending on his feeling about the U.S. occupation, he may well choose to spend some of that to pay the salary of a Taliban fighter.

The U.S. military buys food and supplies in various local markets in Afghanistan. It pays vastly higher prices for these items than it would pay at a Walmart in Kansas. Some of the higher cost translates into profits for Afghans who sympathize or are connected with the Taliban. When the U.S. trucks in supplies, it pays the Taliban directly not to attack the trucks (source). When a fraction of these supplies go missing from U.S. bases, they are sold by Afghans (source), who may turn over a percentage of their profits to fighters against the U.S.

Let’s consider an aid project in a village. We’ve heard that Afghanistan is one of the most corrupt countries in the world (source) and that at least 50 percent of the money that we’re putting in gets siphoned off by various politicians and their cronies (though perhaps not as much as Wall Street, GM, and Chrysler siphoned from U.S. taxpayers!). If half of those siphoned funds end up in the Taliban’s pockets, that’s enough to support a large army.

Given the high cost of supporting a U.S. soldier in the field, the low cost of paying an Afghan fighter, and the level of corruption and anti-U.S. feeling in Afghanistan, it would not be surprising to learn that every soldier we put into Afghanistan supports ten Kalashnikov-toting Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters.

Assuming that we cannot win a decisive victory when outnumbered by 10:1, this is a simple recipe for an endless self-sustaining war.

5 thoughts on “Who finances the Taliban and Al-Qaeda? We do.

  1. 10:1 … this almost sounds feasible (note: almost):


    Until one remembers that the NATO forces might be able to win decisive battle victories against 10:1 odds, but only when everyone counted for the NATO side is a combat soldier. Unfortunately, most of the troops deployed under the ISAF mandate in Afghanistan are support troops who never leave their bases.

  2. For more on this topic, see last week’s 60 Minutes piece on Iraq road bomb sweepers. Simple remotely triggered mines (the soldiers estimate them at $10 in parts) take out a million-dollar US armored vehicle. We then watch the bombers escape across a field as the soldiers shout at each other to shoot them.
    The rationale for this costly operation? An officer wanted to travel for a face-to-face meeting with a local warlord. Why not simply send the guy a macbook with built-in webcam? We could even let him keep it, generating valuable goodwill.

  3. Glad to see somebody pointing this out. NPR did a piece on it a few months back that was never followed up on. They were estimating that between 10% and 20% of all of our “nation-building” spending was ending up directly financing the insurgency. They did not have numbers on the percentage of military spending, which was speculated to be lower, but not insignificant.

    Since the strategic assumption amongst the military and civilian command is that the war in Afghanistan is a necessity, it is apparent that we will be continuing to occupy the country, which in turn means we’ll continue spending money we don’t have on the occupation.

    It seems to me that, as horrible of a conclusion it is, the only way we have any hope for maintaining control of Afghanistan is to completely eliminate all nation-building and non-military spending, to choke off funding to the Taliban. This will mean civilian suffering as humanitarian projects languish. After a year or two of this, we should be able to maintain control of most of the nation. Only then, once the Taliban has been marginalized, if not destroyed, can we attempt to win the favor of the Afghan population via nation-building projects.

    Since that is a political impossibility, though, we’re more or less guaranteed a Vietnam-like experience.

  4. The other way we support terrorism is via the oil price. Even gallon of gas fees money to the oil gulf which in turn provides funds to terrorists.

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