Taliban militants derive nearly 60 percent of their income from the drug trade amid a revolution in the Afghan opium supply chain, The New York Times reports.
U.S. and Afghan officials lamented that the Taliban are now constructing drug labs all over the country in order to refine opium into heroin or morphine. The ability to smuggle out refined product explodes the bottom line for the terrorist group fueling its ongoing insurgency against the U.S. backed Afghan government.
The troubling trend follows a country awash in opium and poppy fields under increasingly precarious Afghan government control. The Taliban now control or contest approximately 40 percent of the territory in Afghanistan, which is nearly one-third of the total population. The United Nations Office On Drugs And Crime also estimated in October 2016 that opium production had already surged by an additional 46 percent from 2015.
The group’s reliance on heroin and opium production to finance its operations will likely be a major target of U.S. and Afghan National Security Forces in the coming months. President Donald Trump committed in an Aug. 21 address to an enduring U.S. presence in Afghanistan until conditions on the ground merited withdrawal.
The U.S. presence will militarily support the Afghan National Security Forces in the fight against the Taliban with the ultimate goal of pushing the militant group to the negotiating table. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson described the message to the Taliban Oct. 18 saying “we’ll be here as long as it takes until you change your mind.”
“You will not win a battlefield victory. We may not win one, but neither will you,” he previously told the group.
The Taliban, however, have little reason to negotiate after banner years in the Afghan war. “If an illiterate local Taliban commander in Helmand makes a million dollars a month now, what does he gain in time of peace?” an Afghan official lamented to TheNYT.
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