Merchant of Death
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Blood from Stones

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The Taliban's Continuing Foreign Support
Little noticed in the discussion of the Pakistan/Afghanistan Taliban issues are the points raised recently by Gen. David Petraeus about the continued use of charities and other external support for the radical Islamist group.

While there has been considerable attention paid to the revenue generated from opium trafficking in the Taliban's financial structure, little has been relatively little attention paid to the continuing role of charities in skimming off money that benefits the Taliban and others.

"You have funds generated locally, funds that come in from the outside, and funds that come from the illegal narcotics business," he said. "It's a hotly debated topic as to which is the most significant and it may be that they are all roughly around the same level."

Gen. Petraeus estimated that the Taliban raise a total of "hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars" each year from the three sources, and said the U.S. doesn't have precise figures.

Charities, as we learned right after 9/11 are not only valuable for the money they can raise and distribute virtually undetected, but for the identification cards and travel facilities they offer radical operatives to move around with official cover.

(This was shown by both the Benevolence International trial and the recent Holy Land Foundation trial, where principals received stiff sentences because of their charitable support for Hamas.)

This points to one of the fundamental conundrums in dealing with the Taliban-the drug trafficking ties have shown been impossible to sever. And there is enough support for the jihadist movement to insure that, even if that revenue stream were cut off, that charities and other private donors could allow the group to continue to operate financially.

Charities are particularly difficult to deal with for a variety of reasons. Often they do provide legitimate humanitarian aid, while diverting a small percentage of the proceeds to the terrorists. Shutting the charity down does, in fact, hurt people on the ground . This means that by cutting off those funds one almost always antagonizes a significant group of people in need of aid.

So it is a win-win for the Taliban. The charities they have access to give them political and religious credibility among the local population. Shutting them down doesn't hurt the Taliban, but furthers their story line that the West is out to hurt Muslims, no matter who or where they are.

Verification of charitable activities is not only time consuming but often futile. If someone claims to have bought 7,000 bricks for a clinic, but only purchased 5,000 and the remaining funds given to the Taliban, who would know? Who should know?

These are not easy questions. Islamist charities in this country, which has some capacity to enforce record keeping and transparency, were able to funnel millions of dollars to terrorist organizations. Pakistan or UAE has neither the capacity nor the will try to enforce even minimal standards.

The financial structure is adaptable. I find it hard to accept Petraeus's premise that perhaps all three of the funding pools are equal. Opium can generate more than all the charities combined. How much the Taliban actually gets is a matter of debate, but I think it far outweighs the internal and charitable contributions.

But it does show just how difficult it is to hit the moving target of terror financing.

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