WASHINGTON, D.C (Press Release)–As the United States prepares to ramp up troop levels in Afghanistan and bring that war to a close, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (Democrat, Oregon) called on Richard C. Holbrooke, Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, to turn attention to the illicit funding streams that are propping up the Taliban’s ability to remain a threat to U.S. troops and the Afghan people.
In a letter dated December 21, Wyden asked for greater investigation into private donors and charities in Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries that have long been a funding source for the Taliban rivaling even the illicit drug trade. These donors, while operating outside of Afghanistan and Pakistan, inevitably affect the Taliban’s ability to wage armed conflict. Shutting down these funding streams will inhibit the Taliban’s effectiveness and help to make the region safer. Choking off funding from these groups will also benefit broader counterterrorism efforts as the same financiers aiding the Taliban are undoubtedly funding other like-minded terrorist groups.
“In order to reduce the flow of funds to the Taliban, the U.S. and its allies must be more active in pressuring these governments,” Wyden wrote in the letter, “Simply put, if these countries are important to the Taliban and other enemies of the U.S. then they must also be important to the United States.”
In the letter, Wyden suggests the U.S. identify other cooperative governments and “lend U.S. expertise, provide training, share information and work jointly against facilitiators.” He also called on the U.S. to apply pressure to those governments not working collaboratively with the U.S. and “explore ways that American agencies can take action directly, or in concert with other allies.”
As efforts on the ground in Afghanistan continue to operate toward conclusion of that war, Wyden said it was pivotal that the U.S. combat terrorist funding streams throughout Middle East.
“In short, while connections between the Persian Gulf and the mountains of Afghanistan may not be intuitive, cutting off the invisible ties that bind them together will nonetheless be a vital part of any successful Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy,” Wyden concluded in the letter.
Full text of the letter is below:
December 21, 2009
The Honorable Richard C. Holbrooke
Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan
US Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Ambassador Holbrooke:
As the executive branch moves to implement the President’s new strategy for beating back the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, it will be important to cut off the revenue that the Taliban relies on to operate. I urge you, as the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, to ensure that these efforts look beyond Central Asia and specifically address funding sources in the Persian Gulf.
The Taliban rely almost entirely on illegal funding sources for their very existence. Some of these sources are internal (including extortion and pseudo-taxation in Taliban-held or contested territories) but the majority are external to Afghanistan and Pakistan. While narcotics trafficking tends to garner the most international attention, funding from private donations actually rivals drug money as a Taliban revenue source. And while it is difficult to quantify these donations precisely (as the Taliban, after all, do not publish an annual report) it is clear that a large portion of these donations come from private donors and charities in Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries. Therefore, any strategy for weakening the Taliban should take them into account. Simply put, if these countries are important to the Taliban and other enemies of the US then they must also be important to the United States.
Private donors and charities in the Gulf states have long been a fount of funds for a variety of Islamist terrorist groups around the world. In recent years, the governments of Saudi Arabia and several other Gulf countries have started to recognize the threat posed by al Qaida and other terrorist groups that have conducted spectacular attacks in Arab nations. This has led to some cooperation on counterterrorism efforts targeting al Qaida. But it is clear that there is more work to be done. As a September 2009 GAO report put it, “The Saudi Government has initiated legal action against terrorist financiers, but the United States has reported the need for further action.” Furthermore, it is not at all clear that these governments see the Taliban, and other violent groups (such as Hamas) that do not target them directly, as an equivalent threat to al Qaida. Therefore, in order to reduce the flow of funds to the Taliban, the US and its allies must be more active in pressuring these governments.
As some of the same financiers are undoubtedly raising money for al Qaida and other terrorist groups, cutting off these funding streams for the Taliban will pay dividends for other counterterrorism efforts, both in Central Asia and around the world.
Efforts to choke off Taliban fundraising in the Gulf states can take many forms. To the extent that the governments of these countries are cooperative, the US can lend expertise, provide training, share information and work jointly to arrest facilitators, interdict couriers, and otherwise stem the flow of illicit funds to the Taliban. To the extent that these governments are not cooperative, the US can pressure them to take a more active role in combating fundraising, and explore ways that American agencies can take action directly, or in concert with other allies. (This could build on work the Treasury Department is already doing to single out particular financiers, or making extradition requests when couriers travel to third countries, for example).
Efforts to build the capacity of friendly governments will also enable them to be more effective in combating other forms of illicit financing, to include money laundering and other criminal activities.
In short, while connections between the Persian Gulf and the mountains of Afghanistan may not be intuitive, cutting off the invisible ties that bind them together will nonetheless be a vital part of any successful Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy.
Thank you for your attention to this matter. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be helpful to your efforts on this issue.
United States Senator