Who is funding the Taliban? Has the US or UK ever funded the group in Afghanistan - and how they make money

The Taliban make their money from a number of sources, including a highly debated list of neighbouring Arab and Gulf states

Increased humanitarian aid for Afghanistan will not be handed to the Taliban, Downing Street has said.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said that aid funding for the country would double to £286 million but said: “We are not giving this money to the Taliban.”

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He said it would be distributed in conjunction with the UN and other NGOs (non-governmental organisations).

From the outside looking in, it may seem as if the Taliban are a ramshackle group of guerrilla insurgents, making use of cheaply available weapons and equipment as outdated as the group’s views.

But in reality, the Taliban is highly organised and with cash to burn - in 2020, it was estimated the group had an income of $1.6 billion (£1.2 billion).

So where do they get that money from?

Here is everything you need to know.

Who funds the Taliban?

The bulk of the Taliban’s funds come through the illicit drug trade, with Afghanistan being the biggest natural producer of poppy seeds - used to create opium and heroin - in the world.

The group generates hundreds of millions through the drug trade, as well as through mining metals and rare minerals in the vast Afghan mountain ranges.

The group also earns a significant revenue through taxes, extortion, real estate, and charitable donations from supporters across the Arab and Gulf states, according to a researcher from the Centre for Afghanistan Studies.

In late 2019, a lawsuit filed on behalf of the charity Gold Star Families - founded by individuals who lost family in the Iraq War to protest US military action there - claimed some US defence contractors involved in Afghanistan made illegal "protection payments" to the Taliban.

This, according to the lawsuit, funded a "Taliban-led terrorist insurgency" that killed or wounded thousands of Americans in Afghanistan.

That same year, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the "protection money" was "one of the major sources of funding for the Taliban”.

How rich are they?

The Taliban earns significant revenue through taxes, extortion, real estate, and charitable donations from supporters across the Arab and Gulf states (Photo: -/AFP via Getty Images)

In 2020, Mullah Yaqoob, the son of the late Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, revealed the Taliban’s income sources in a confidential report commissioned by NATO.

It was revealed that the group brought in $1.6 billion (£1.2 billion) in that fiscal year, almost a third as much as the legitimate Afghan government, which brought in $5.5 billion ($4 billion).

Throughout their long history, the Taliban has received financial and other forms of support from various states, while now the group is thought to be largely self-sufficient, collecting significant revenues internally.

There is some debate about which states have formally funded the Taliban, though in their very earliest days the group was armed and funded by the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as a proxy against the Soviet-backed regime.

US security sources claim that a number of states, including Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan fund the Taliban to the tune of around $500 million (£367 million) per year, though these figures are impossible to verify.

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