After a decade of fighting, the Taliban is transforming from a religion-focused revolutionary group into something that resembles a drug cartel, a senior lawmaker said Wednesday.
And the Taliban’s increased reliance on the drug trade to stay alive is just the beginning of what will likely be a growing trend among embattled terrorist groups around the world, said California Sen. Dianne Feinstein at a hearing of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control.
“I’m trying to draw a corollary of this problem across the world because I think it’s going to become a world problem,” she said. “Just as the Taliban is turning into a narco-cartel, rather than a revolutionary movement, the question becomes, does [al Qaeda in North Africa] and others follow that pattern? I think it’s something we have to know.”
Feinstein was joined by a senior Drug Enforcement Administration official who said that in turning to the drug trade, the Taliban has done almost exactly what Colombia’s revolutionary Marxist insurgent group, known as the FARC, did when it became desperate for cash after decades of war with the Colombian government.
Deputy DEA administrator Thomas Harrigan said that like the FARC, the Taliban started out by simply providing security and transportation to drug runners in Afghanistan and “taxing” the farmers who supplied the drug makers.
However, “eventually, the FARC came to the realization that they could make a lot more money if they were involved in the drug trade, as we say, from the farm to the arm,” Harrigan told Military.com after the hearing. “We’re seeing the evolution now of the Taliban becoming more involved in the drug trade as well, over the last several years.”
This trend will only grow, said Harrigan: “They’re in it to make money. What better way to make money than trafficking drugs?”
The UN recently estimated that worldwide, “anywhere between $350 and $400 billion a year is made by illicit drug trafficking [worldwide]. That far exceeds what trafficking in other illicit goods or human trafficking, what that would bring in. Even if a small percentage of that where going back to the terrorist organization — whether it’s [al Qaeda in North Africa], Taliban, Hezbollah, the FARC — those are significant numbers.”
When asked whether the law enforcement and intelligence effort against the Taliban’s drug organization would become more important as NATO prepares to leave Afghanistan, Harrigan said “the DEA’s not going anywhere.The DEA continues to work with shoulder to shoulder with U.S. military, with ISAF forces …We’re [also] relying more and more on our Afghan partners, because eventually, we’re handing this over to the Afghans.”
He added that efforts to field a competent Afghan counter narcotics police force are going “very well.” Still, Harrigan acknowledged that like their army counterparts, Afghanistan’s drug enforcement officers have room to improve.
“Is it great? Absolutely not. But from where we were five, six years ago versus where we are today, Afghan officers are making their own cases; they’re going before Afghan judges, they’re swearing out affidavits for search warrants, arrest warrants, for wiretapping affidavits – it’s all the Afghans. They’re made tremendous progress,” said Harrigan.
Still, corruption – a key enabler of the drug trade anywhere in the world – within the Afghan security forces remains a challenge, he acknowledged.