BRUSSELS – Taliban militants are receiving more funding from their sympathizers abroad than from Afghanistan's illegal drug trade, the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan said Tuesday.
Richard Holbrooke also urged the international community to help Pakistan deal with refugees uprooted by the fighting in its Swat Valley because the region is a vital staging area for militant operations in neighboring Afghanistan.
"More money is coming from the Gulf than is coming from the drug trade to the Taliban," Holbrooke told journalists at NATO headquarters in Brussels. He didn't identify the countries where the sympathizers were donating from, but nations located on the Persian Gulf include Iran, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Iraq.
NATO military officials in Afghanistan have estimated that the Taliban raise $60-$100 million a year from the trade in illegal narcotics, which has ballooned since the 2001 invasion of the country by U.S.-led forces.
The Taliban deny they are collecting money from drugs, pointing out that they had largely abolished illegal production of drugs while they held power in Afghanistan.
Holbrooke noted that the U.S. is setting up an interdepartmental task force to deal with the problem. It will be led by the Treasury Department and include other relevant agencies such as the FBI and the Pentagon.
He said there was no evidence that governments in the Gulf or anywhere else were providing the financing.
"The money is coming in from sympathizers from all over the world with the bulk of it appearing to come from the Gulf," he said, adding that he did not have hard figures for the amount of overseas funding reaching the Taliban.
"What I believe happens is that the Taliban funds local operations in the Pashtun belt out of drug money, but the overall effort gets massive amounts of money from outside Afghanistan," Holbrooke said.
A NATO official said it was a well-established fact that the militants continue to receive substantial amounts of cash from overseas. Drug money represents only a portion of their operational funding, but it's not known how large that sum is compared with overseas donations, the official said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Holbrooke briefed EU officials in Brussels on the progress of the anti-Taliban campaigns in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
He said more international assistance to the 2.5 million refugees from Pakistan's Swat valley, recently retaken from the Taliban by the Pakistani army and security forces, was urgently needed.
"This is more than a humanitarian crisis, this is a strategic issue as well," he said. "Those refugees are in the exact area where al-Qaida and where the Taliban are, and it's right up against the Afghanistan border."
"In order to succeed in Afghanistan, we need to have some degree of stability and control on the Pakistan side of the border."
The U.S. has given $335 million to resettle the refugees in their homes. The EU offered Pakistan euro72 million in humanitarian relief aid, on top of euro485 million the bloc pledged at an international donors conference for Pakistan in April.