Tora Bora officials pay the TalibanApril 24, 2012
But first, some semi-related analysis… Organizations like Al Qaeda can operate on a shoestring budget because they don’t have a ground force militia. They have individual operatives in Asia and Africa sleeper cells in the West. Many of their members, especially in the U.S. and Europe, are able to fund their own daily lives, pay their own rent, buy their groceries, etc. Their operatives aren’t living hand-to-mouth with a band of fellow wasteland jihadists.
Groups like the Taliban and al-Shabaab, on the other hand, have paramilitary forces with a very physical presence in their communities. They keep young men on the payroll who need to be fed, transported, clothed, and armed by the organization itself. That is partly why the Taliban and al-Shabaab have even larger budgets than terrorist groups that have international reach.
The physical presence of the Taliban also gives them a distinct fundraising advantage. They can intimidate the local population and shake them down for money. They can even get money from local leaders who are theoretically on the same side as the Afghan central government and ISAF.
We overlooked this great article from Afghanistan Today (h/t @douglaswissing) last fall. It describes how Afghan law enforcement, local politicians, and even members of the national parliament pay zakat as protection money to the Taliban. The U.S. and UN have flawed contracting procedures that help fund the Taliban, but this article is a must-read for understanding how our ally is keeping the Taliban’s ground game alive too:
Currencies of protection
In eastern areas of high insurgent activity and low levels of conflict, there are growing signs of secretive payment systems for keeping state officials and security forces safe from attack.
by Abdul Rahim Mohmand , Jalalabad , 28.9.2011
For some Afghan government officials in the eastern Nangarhar and Kunar provinces, paying off the Taliban on a regular basis with money or weapons and ammunition is the most reliable way of staying alive.
“We pay so they don’t kill us, that’s how we save ourselves. And the Taliban are happy with the sum and leave us alone.”
“My older brother works as a senior law-enforcement official in Jalalabad, and I pay local Taliban every month on his behalf from 100,000 to 200,000 afghanis (2,000 to 4,000 US dollars),” said Abdul R, whose full name and his brother’s post are withheld for security reasons.
“We pay so they don’t kill us, that’s how we save ourselves. And the Taliban are happy with the sum and leave us alone,” he added.
The practice is now believed to involve numerous law enforcers and security officials, district sub-governors and even parliamentarians. And as can be expected, it is most prevalent in areas where the Taliban are strongest.
In the Tora Bora district of Nangarhar, insurgent forces that fled from this mountain territory by Pakistan in 2001 have reestablished their presence with camps, bunkers and even their own website named after the district, where they post text reports and audio and video clips recorded during operations against Afghan government and international forces.
The Tora Bora insurgent headquarters’ spokesman, Qari Sajjad, confirmed in a recent phone call that both money and weapons are accepted from government officials. But these were as much voluntary offerings as forced donations to ensure their safety, he said.
“Our mujahedin [fighters] and elders do not make people send them money and weapons. Some do so because they fear us, while others do so out of Islamic and Afghan sympathy [for our cause],” Sajjad said. “If they help us, the mujahedin in turn respect them, and not only do our men not threaten them but they also guarantee their lives and wealth.”
According to Mullah Abdul Wodod, a former district head in both Kunar and Nangarhar in the Taliban era who now leads an insurgent group in the region, Afghan security authorities are forthcoming with logistical support under a covert non-aggression pact.
“Some government commanders freely send us AK47s, ammunition and other equipment under a deal by which we do not harass them if they keep up this support,” he said. “They don’t attack the mujahedin and we don’t attack the local police.”
Earlier reporting also bears out claims of such mutually beneficial arrangements in Nangarhar. Already a year ago, Taliban forces in the Shirzad region said they were only interested in fighting foreign troops, having come to an understanding with local Afghan units.
“My fighters do not target the Afghan military and police as long as they are not attacked by them,” said Mullah Ismail, a local insurgent commander.
His claim was later confirmed by a provincial police spokesman, who said the Taliban were “not regarded as a threat to ANP units in Shirzad.”
Broader evidence of this unorthodox status quo is visible in the form of small and vulnerable police checkpoints in Tora Bora and other areas that continue to exist without being attacked.
Payment of zakat also boosts insurgent coffers
The Taliban also receive support in the form of zakat, monies that are paid as a traditional Islamic obligation by the wealthy to help the poor, including family members.
Hamid, whose brother is a member of parliament for Nangarhar, is one such contributor. “Every year we give zakat, of which a smaller amount goes to our relatives and the lion’s share goes to the Taliban,” he said. “We buy clothes, ammunition and sometimes small arms for them.”
Awkward official response
Unsurprisingly, the existence of this situation is not something civil and security authorities of Nangarhar and Kunar provinces will willingly confirm.
The head of the Nangarhar security headquarters, Sardar Mohammad Sultani, bluntly dismissed the suggestion that some police commanders bought off the Taliban with weapons and money: “Supporting the enemy in such a way is treason and if I find anyone doing this I will hand him over to the law,” Sultani said.
The spokesman for the Nangahar provincial government, Ahmad Zia Abdul Zai, said he had heard stories of officials paying for their safety, but had no concrete examples.
“This is not to say that authorities may have given money or weapons to the Taliban. But when it comes to saving their own lives, I suspect some would do it.” Kunar Governor Fazlullah Wahidi
Asked about non-standard relations with the insurgent forces, Kunar Governor Sayed Fazlullah Wahidi told Afghanistan Today that there were mechanisms for resolving issues directly between the sides.
“We sometimes solve our problems with the Taliban through the elders of the tribes,” Wahidi said. “If the Taliban take hostage any police, district head, director or commander then we send a tribal jirga to them to solve the problem.”
While he said he had no hard evidence of cases where local government authorities supported insurgents, Wahidi left open the issue of paying for protection.
“This is not to say that authorities may have given money or weapons to the Taliban,” he continued. “But when it comes to saving their own lives, I suspect some would do it.”
Foreign forces may also pay for peace
The claimed practice of paying for peace may not be restricted only to Afghan government forces and authorities.
In August 2008, 10 French troops were killed and 21 injured in the Sarobi district of Kabul Province, just west of Nangarhar, after taking control of the area from Italian troops.
Numerous allegations were publicly made from within NATO circles that in order to minimize casualties, Italian intelligence agents had regularly paid large sums to local insurgent commanders. These then attacked the French after the funding stopped with the Sarobi handover.
Abdul Rahim Mohmand and other names in this story are pseudonyms used for security reasons