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Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Heroin for Osama 

You're certainly aware that our botched war in Iraq has provided Al Qaeda with a potent recruiting tool and a safe haven for terrorists, but you may not know that our botched war in Afghanistan has provided that murderous organization with something just as important -- a steady flow of cash. From Time (courtesy of Altercation):
U.S. forces on the trail of Osama bin Laden and the leaders of the Taliban in late 2001 didn't worry much about elderly, pious-looking men like Haji Juma Khan. A towering tribesman from the Baluchistan desert near Pakistan, Khan was picked up that December near Kandahar and taken into U.S. custody. Though known to U.S. and Afghan officials as a drug trafficker, he seemed an insignificant catch. "At the time, the Americans were only interested in catching bin Laden and [Taliban leader] Mullah Omar," says a European counterterrorism expert in Kabul. "Juma Khan walked."

That decision has come back to haunt the U.S. and its allies in Afghanistan. Western intelligence agencies believe Khan has become the kingpin of a heroin-trafficking enterprise that is a principal source of funding for the Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists. A Western law-enforcement official in Kabul who is tracking Khan says agents in Pakistan and Afghanistan, after a tip-off in May, turned up evidence that Khan is employing a fleet of cargo ships to move Afghan heroin out of the Pakistani port of Karachi. The official says at least three vessels on return trips from the Middle East took arms like plastic explosives and antitank mines, which were secretly unloaded in Karachi and shipped overland to al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters . . . .

The World Bank calculates that more than half of Afghanistan's economy is tied up in drugs. The combined incomes of farmers and in-country traffickers reached $2.23 billion last year — up from $1.3 billion in 2002. Heroin trafficking has long been the main source of funds for local warlords' private armies, which thwart Karzai's attempts to expand his authority beyond Kabul. But the drug trade is becoming even more dangerous: U.S. and British counterterrorism experts say al-Qaeda and its Taliban allies are increasingly financing operations with opium sales. Antidrug officials in Afghanistan have no hard figures on how much al-Qaeda and the Taliban are earning from drugs, but conservative estimates run to tens of millions of dollars.

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