Merchant of Death
Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

Blood from Stones

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The Power of the Criminal-Terror Network in Afghanistan
The increasingly sophisticated attacks by the Taliban against U.S. and NATO troops, including the recent coordinated strikes that left 10 French soldiers dead shows how the Taliban has evolved over the past year.

What is clear is that, whatever the strategy there is, it is not working. I would argue that the almost exponential growth rate of opium cultivation in recent years is the vital component in allowing the Taliban to obtain the resources to replenish its fighting capabilities, which were almost destroyed in the wake of 9/11.

This source of income to the Taliban is free from any controls a state sponsor would be able to impose on the use of donated funds. The commodity can be easily exchanged for weapons, or turned into cash to pay for new recruits, training, protection and logistics. A consequence, in addition to the sophisticated frontal attacks, is the rapid growth of increasingly sophisticated road side bombs, now causing the most casualties of any weapon in Afghanistan.

Given that the cash pipeline is not being attacked in any way that is making a significant difference, the plans for a mini surge there, with additional U.S. troops is unlikely to make a key difference.

As US News reported, Some U.S. military officials express skepticism, however, about the impact more U.S. troops can make seven years into the war, in a large country that has grown increasingly violent—with citizens, they add, who are increasingly disillusioned. "I don't know if it's too late," says a senior military official. "But it's going to be much, much harder to turn things around at this point."

In fact, what is alarming in the discussions of the surge in Afghanistan is the almost-total lack of focus on opium revenues as a key component.

If one looks at two recent cases where there has been measurable and important successes against non-state armed groups (Al Qaeda in Iraq and the FARC in Colombia), one of the key components is the shutting off of financial revenues.

In the case of AIA, this has been largely accomplished by going after the money couriers, individual donors and charities that were moving the money through Syria and Jordan. Intelligence gathering operations specifically targeted the financial movements, which over time let to significant choking off of funds arriving from the outside.

In the case of the FARC, which is more similar to that of the Taliban, the key was not the erradication of coca plants. As in Afghanistan and poppy, coca cultivation in Colombia has been growing.

What has been targeted are the bulk cash shipments and the routes that move the product (cocaine) to the market. This, over time, created significant cash flow problems for the FARC, which has gradually forced to reduce the rations to its troops, limit its use of vehicles and expose its network to greater risk in efforts to move cash.

This strategy, again built over a period of years of targeted intelligence gathering, has the added benefit of not directly attacking the farmers-a sensitive political problem in both situations, where illicit crops offer a far higher return to peasant farmers than do traditional crops. Attacking the farmers creates hostility to any counter-insurgency program.

What is clear is that the inability to shut off the flow of millions of dollars of resources to the Taliban not only makes the Afghanistan mission impossible to complete, but the money will flow into the tribal areas and strengthen the most radical groups there as well.

The _mujahadeen_ in Afghanistan showed a great resourcefulness in the war against the Soviet Union, and won the war when (largely U.S.) resources flowed to them. These people know how to fight. Unless their money flow is cut off, adding 12,000 or 50,000 troops will not be enough to achieve the goal of a stable Afghanistan free of the Taliban as a force that can directly challenge the government.
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