How wealthy are the Taliban?
The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until late 2001, when they were overthrown by US forces.
Despite the 20-year conflict that followed and the deaths of tens of thousands of Taliban fighters, the group’s territorial control and military strength has increased in recent years.
By mid-2021 they had an estimated 70,000-100,000 fighters, up from around 30,000 a decade ago, according to the US.
1. Foreign donations
Several Afghan and US officials have long accused certain countries – including Pakistan, Iran and Russia – of giving financial aid to the Taliban. This is a practice they frequently deny. However, private citizens from Pakistan and several Gulf countries including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar are considered to be the largest individual contributors. Although impossible to measure exactly, these sources of funding are thought to provide a significant proportion of the Taliban’s revenue. According to experts it could be as much as $500m a year. These links are long-standing. A classified US intelligence report estimated that in 2008 the Taliban received $106m from foreign sources, in particular from the Gulf states.
2. Drug trade
The Taliban have long been thought to run a taxation system to cover their insurgent operations, including on the illegal drug trade. Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of opium, which can be refined to make heroin. With an estimated annual export value of $1.5-$3bn, opium is big business, supplying the overwhelming majority of heroin worldwide.
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