Who are the Taliban funded by? Inside its £1 billion fortune and deadly arms cache

Crying Afghan girl shares fears as Taliban take control of country

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The Taliban’s capturing of Afghan capital Kabul ended the militant faction’s rapid and calculated resurgence in the country. A mass exodus of people is now seeking refuge in any nation that will take them, with the US and its allies expected to take the initiative. As the world searches for answers as to how the middle eastern country could fall back into the hands of the extremist faction, people will have started questioning how the Taliban regrouped and engulfed the country so fast.

Who are the Taliban funded by?

The Taliban emerged from a group of “mujahideen” fighters backed by the CIA against the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

After a brief five years in power between 1996 and 2001, western forces ousted the insurgents and installed their own government while fighting to keep the Islamist group on the back foot.

While this appeared to have worked, the recent withdrawal from Afghanistan seems to have resulted in the Taliban having fundraised itself back to prominence.

Officials from the United Nations (UN) have never assigned the Taliban an exact net worth, but suspect it could top out at $1.6 billion (£1.1 billion).

Available intelligence has identified several potential income streams, helping to prop up the new dominant force in Afghanistan.

A June 2021 report compiled with member-state intelligence found the group relies on drug trafficking, extortion, kidnapping for ransom and opium production.

The opium trade is one of the Taliban’s most lucrative investments, which allows them to profit both from unprocessed seeds and heroin.

Between 2018 and 2019, UN officials estimated the Taliban made $400 million (£288 million) from the trade.

But estimations on this total vary between a minimum of $40 million (£28 million) and a maximum of $460 million (£332 million).

Afghanistan supplies a vast chunk of the world’s illicit opiates, despite concerted efforts from occupying militaries.

Over the last 15 years, the US has spent more than $8 billion (£5.7 billion) alone attempting to eradicate poppies and labs with precision airstrikes.

The report suggests the Taliban supplements its income with investment from the regions it holds.

Afghanistan has vast deposits of natural resources across its territory, with more than 1,400 mineral fields.

Miners can find valuable gemstones such as emerald, garnets and rubies and natural gas, petroleum, coal, copper and gold deposits.

These income streams together give the Taliban a firm foundation for self-sufficiency.

But it also allegedly gets funding from some supporting nations.

Both Afghan and US officials have accused regional governments of funding the Taliban, having long-suspected Pakistan, Iran, and Russia have offered their assistance at some point.

The most individual contributions come from Pakistan and Gulf nations such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, providing an estimated annual income of $500 million (£360 million).

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Who arms the Taliban?

No country has admitted to arming the Taliban forces, but they certainly seem to have a rather huge and deadly supply of weapons.

In 2018, the then-head of US forces in Afghanistan Gen John Nicholson accused Russia of supporting and even supplying arms to the Taliban in a damning interview.

He claimed Russian weapons were being smuggled across the Tajik border to the Taliban, adding: “We’ve had stories written by the Taliban that have appeared in the media about financial support provided by the enemy.”

“We’ve had weapons brought to this headquarters and given to us by Afghan leaders and said, this was given by the Russians to the Taliban. We know that the Russians are involved.”

Russia has denied such allegations, citing a lack of evidence.

The United States had spent billions supplying the Afghan military with the tools to defeat the Taliban – but many of these ‘tools’ have now been seized from the very people they were supposed to be protecting against.

So far the Taliban has found itself the new owners of hundreds of guns, light tactical vehicles, Humvees and artillery pieces.

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