A senior Treasury Department official said early today that the Taliban is in much stronger financial shape than al-Qaida due to it’s involvement in a wide range of criminal activities. David Cohen who works as the U.S. assistant secretary for terrorist financing said that Taliban extorts money from poppy farmers and heroin traffickers involved in Afghanistan’s booming drug trade. In addition, the Taliban also demands protection payments from legitimate Afghan businesses, he said during a speech at a conference on money laundering enforcement.
Cohen’s assessment came as President Barack Obama and his advisers discuss whether more troops may be needed in the 8-year-old Afghanistan conflict. A critical part of the deliberations is whether the fight should be a narrower one against al-Qaida or a broader battle against the Taliban-led insurgency. Recent reports indicate that, al-Qaida is a cash-strapped organization that is losing its clout. In the first half of 2009, al-Qaida’s leaders made four public appeals for money to bolster recruitment and training.
“We assess that al-Qaida is in its weakest financial condition in several years, and that, as a result, its influence is waning,” Cohen said. The Taliban on the other hand, appear to be heading in the other direction despite an international effort to shut down the movement’s cash supply. Drugs are a major money maker for the group. The diversity of the Taliban’s streams of cash makes it difficult to shut-down their ability to operate. It will be interesting to see what comes from this. What do you think?