Taliban fighters display their weapons during a patrol in Ghazni province on January 23, 2010.  The commander of NATO-led troops in Afghanistan has said foreign fighters allied with the Taliban cannot be "reintegrated" into Afghan society and some may have to be killed or captured.  Plans by Kabul to persuade Taliban members to lay down their arms would not apply to foreigners who had joined the insurgency, often for ideological reasons, US General Stanley McChrystal suggested in a NATO video posted on the web on.

Exclusive: The Taliban Goes Broke

Afghanistan’s insurgents have endured hard times before, but nothing quite like this. A look at the group's crippling financial crisis

Mullah Yaseen is penniless. Wrapped in a heavy black coat, the 45-year-old Afghan insurgent huddles inside a heatless tea shop near the Pakistani-Afghan border and pours out his troubles. Over the past eight months, he and his 15 Taliban fighters have received no support from the group’s central command, Yaseen says. Not a bullet or a cent.

The winter snows were just melting last year when Yaseen traveled from his home village in eastern Afghanistan to the city of Quetta, in southwestern Pakistan. That’s where most of the Afghan insurgency’s top leadership is based, and Yaseen needed to requisition supplies and ammunition for the fighting season ahead.

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He had no luck. Instead, he was told that there were temporary cash-flow problems and he should ask his fellow villagers for a loan. He would be given the money to reimburse them within a month, he was promised. Back home, Yaseen scraped up roughly $2,000 to keep his men fighting. He has yet to be repaid, and his neighbors want the money.

An Afghan money changer displays a 100 US dollar bill at the currency exchange market in Kabul on December 30, 2013. The Afghanistan afghani (AFN) currently stands at 56.40 against the US dollar, and 0.534 against the Pakistani rupee .
(AFP/Getty Images)

Afghanistan’s insurgents have endured hard times before, but nothing quite like this. At first glance the war might seem to be turning in their favor. America’s combat forces are leaving by the end of the year, and every few days another insurgent bombing unnerves the inhabitants of Kabul, the country’s capital. Nevertheless, Mullah Yaseen and hundreds of Taliban foot soldiers like him—the heart and soul of the armed struggle against the U.S.-backed Kabul government—are running out of food, money and ammunition.

Their plight is unlikely to improve anytime soon. People familiar with the Taliban’s finances say the organization’s main sources of revenue have dried up. Wealthy Arab donors, Afghan businessmen and even Pakistan’s powerful and secretive spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, have all reduced or stopped funding, each for their own reasons.

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The Arabs’ departure is a crippling blow. Support from private Saudi donors has been crucial to Afghanistan’s insurgents ever since the war against the Soviets in the 1980s—many years before the rise of Mullah Mohammed Omar and his armed followers. But interest in Afghanistan has faded among hard-liners in the Gulf region. Osama bin Laden is dead; most of Al Qaeda’s surviving operatives have fled the constant threat of U.S. drone attacks, and the Taliban never really shared bin Laden’s desire to take his holy war worldwide. Now global jihad and its Arab backers have moved on to more promising arenas, like Iraq and Syria.

As the financial crisis continues, Afghan civilians say they aren’t merely disappointed with the Taliban—they’re fed up. The group’s fundraisers in Pakistan used to make regular collection rounds in places where conservative Afghan businessmen congregate. Those appearances have slowed or stopped. “Six months ago they visited our mosque to collect their usual donations,” says one mullah in Pakistan. “Everyone just walked away from them. They haven’t come back.”

Many former contributors no longer trust the insurgents. “We don’t regard the Taliban as soldiers of God anymore,” says a conservative Afghan businessman in Peshawar. “Their fundraisers used to come on foot to collect donations. Now they show up in luxury cars. It’s clear they’re stealing the money.” A 40-year-old former Taliban commander echoes the complaint: “Instead of going to jihad, the donations are cruising down the streets of Peshawar, Quetta and Karachi.”

But the thing that alienates many former supporters more than the blatant corruption is the Taliban’s wanton disregard for the lives and safety of ordinary Afghans. It’s evident in the Taliban’s indiscriminate suicide attacks, as bystanders are often the main victims. “The Taliban aren’t fighting Americans or NATO forces anymore,” the businessman says. “Instead they kill poor Afghans. Islam forbids us to give money that would encourage the murder of civilians.”

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The group isn’t totally destitute. According to an official with the Afghan National Security Council, the ISI continues to channel support to those insurgent leaders who reliably do Pakistan’s bidding. But everyone else is on his own, and there are few viable alternatives. Local Taliban units used to drive a lucrative trade in ransom kidnapping, but they finally ran out of potential victims. Although the group still imposes “taxes” on the country’s multibillion-dollar heroin industry, much of that money seems to end up filling private bank accounts, rather than helping fighters in the field. 

Afghan farmers work at a poppy field in Jalalabad province May 5, 2012.
Afghan farmers work at a poppy field.

The group’s military planners economize by focusing on splashy attacks in major cities. These strikes may not achieve any genuine military objectives, but the true aim appears to be breaking the public’s will to resist. Meanwhile, fighters like Mullah Yassen are left to fend for themselves in the countryside—“in B category,” as one former Taliban cabinet minister describes their status.

In the tea shop, Yaseen lingers in the cold air. Anything is better than going outside, where the weather is downright bitter. “We waited, but we never heard from the men in Quetta,” he says. “We were ashamed to face our creditors. It was ridiculous. While we went out hunting for Americans to fight, we were hiding from our neighbors.”

(FILES) In this picture taken on September 26, 2008, Fighters with Afghanistan's Taliban militia stand on a hillside at Maydan Shahr in Wardak province, west of Kabul.  Afghanistan's long years of unrest have produced a new generation of Islamic militants, many of them bent on holy war, who are reinforcing the "old Taliban" in their deadly insurgency, analysts say. When the Taliban regime was toppled in a US-led invasion in late 2001, the hardliners were considered a spent force. But in their safe havens across the border in Pakistan, they have been able to regroup, recruit and -- armed with new ideologies, funds and warfare from the Al-Qaeda terror network -- make a deadly comeback, analysts say.
Taliban fighters in Wardak Province, west of Kabul
(AFP/Getty Images)

The Taliban’s finance department has a special office dedicated to resolving complaints, but it was no help. “They told me, ‘Sorry, we don’t have that much money right now.’”

He says he has left the front lines. As much as he wants to rejoin the jihad, he doesn’t dare go back until he repays the $2,000 he owes his neighbors. He’s not afraid to die, he says. What scares him is the idea that he might die with an outstanding loan. “Anytime I’m out there, I could be martyred,” he says. “And God does not forgive anyone—even a martyr—who dies without paying his just debts.”

Respond Now
  • Get a job.

  • This story is heart breaking! My only solice is the fact that the ‘left’ is setting up an 800 number and plannng a telethon to help out. If it saves just one life…

    1 Reply - Reply Now
    • right and Mccain and the GOP are going to drag the US into war with Mother Ruand then when the soldiers return will cut food stamps and medical care.

  • Wht the author left out was that one of the biggest sources of money and supplies for the Taliban was the US Military.  Between US supply convoys coming up from Karachi to multi-million dollar construction contract in Afghanistan, the Taliban got a piece of all of it.  SIGAR estimated as much as $0.52 of every dollar we spent there went to the Taliban!  So long, farewell.  Time to get the hell out of that hell hole.

    1 Reply - Reply Now
    • And this is the same admintration that is gonna control your health and well being. 

  • Now the lowly Taliban can see that they were just being used by the wealthy Muslims who claimed “they fought the war” due to their money being used.  The money is drying up so everyone is keeping it in their own pockets as much as possible. 

  • ….because the terrorists used such expensive and high tech ways to destoy the twin towers…. 

  • Damn and with Phillip Hoffman dead they are going to lose a ton of money off those poppies.

  • Show More

  • Sad to see that ‘income inequality’ exists with the Taliban…perhaps their leader Barry can help…maybe tack on a Jihadist supplimental aid bill to the communist healthcare law.

  • Quick, Barack, send your comrades billions more of US taxpayer money.  China says it is OK.

  • Are you sure this is true?  I wouldn’t bet anyones life on this

    1 Reply - Reply Now
    • You did notice there are only six guys in the picture.   It probably only applies to them. Hard to believe someone fighting us is not benefiting from that opium money.

  • May Jehovah grant them all martyrdom and the sooner the better, so they can begin their true mission:  swimmin’ in the lake of fire.

  • Hey, no problem, obama will just impose a terrorist aid fund tax on Americans to help out, you know, level the playing field. LOL

    1 Reply - Reply Now
    • They should benefit from O’s redistribution of someone else’s wealth, too, right?   May God grant O the same as these bozos.

  • What?  Did the CIA stop paying the Tali’s to ship dope?

  • They will never be broke as long as the US is over there.

  • He’s not afraid to die, he says. What scares him is the idea that he might die with an outstanding loan.

    A sentiment, that the Western society — where bankruptcy presents no moral hardships, only legal ones — might want to reacquire…

  • So in the end, it really is all about the money.

  • “Afghan farmers work at a poppy field.”ROFLMAO!!  More like, “Afghan drug lords tend this years Opium harvest.”

  • Time for an Al Jaziera telethon guys or ask Karzi for a loan, he has plenty of stashed bucks.

  • No money? If we could have forced them to buy ObamaCare sooner, they would have surrendered sooner.We should force all of our enemies to buy ObamaCare.

    1 Reply - Reply Now
      1. You sound like your picture looks.
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