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Islamic State In Afghanistan Is Funding Itself With Illegal Exports Of Baby Powder

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter

The Islamic State’s affiliate in Afghanistan is getting rich under the radar through illicit sales of a key ingredient in baby powder and other household products, a global corruption monitor said Tuesday.

The terror group, which goes by the official name Islamic State in the Khorasan Province (ISKP), has in recent years taken over dozens of talcum mines in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province, according to a report from Global Witness, a nonprofit that tracks natural resource exploitation.

ISKP controls at least three sites in Nangarhar’s Achin district, where the group first emerged as a major threat in Afghanistan, Global Witness reported, citing sources close to the operations. Each site is home to between five and 20 talcum mines, giving ISKP access to one of Afghanistan’s most lucrative mineral exports.

Unlike gold, copper and zinc, talcum does not immediately spring to mind as a valuable mining commodity, but it is a big business in South Asia. Between March 2017 and the same month this year, Afghanistan exported more than 500,000 tons of the mineral, mostly to neighboring Pakistan, according to Afghan mining ministry figures cited in the report.

Pakistan in turn mixes the Afghan talcum with its own supplies and exports it to the West, where it is used in a vast array of consumer products including paint, cosmetics, plastics and baby powder. About 80 percent of Pakistan’s talc exports go to the U.S. or Europe, meaning at least some of what Western consumers spend on talc-derived products ultimately benefits ISKP, Global Witness says.

“Unwitting American and European consumers are inadvertently helping fund extremist groups in Afghanistan,” Nick Donovan, the group’s campaign director, said in a statement, according to Reuters.

It is not clear exactly how much money ISKP has earned through sales of talc and other minerals extracted from its mines. Revenue from Nangarhar mines could amount “anywhere from the high tens of thousands to the low millions of dollars a year,” the Global Witness report stated. A plausible mid-range estimate is in the hundreds of thousands, it added. (RELATED: The Taliban Almost Took Over An Afghan City, Proving That It’s Far From ‘Losing Ground’)

The talcum mines have become a source of conflict between ISKP and the Taliban — Afghanistan’s primary insurgent group — in the mineral-rich Nangarhar province. Like Islamic State affiliates in other parts of the world, ISKP has sought to seize control of natural resources as a way to fund its insurgency, putting it in direct competition with the Taliban, which already earns about $300 million each year in the mineral trade.

The Afghan government has established a special committee to coordinate a security response to the talcum issue, Reuters reported.

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