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Richard Holbrooke declares war on Taleban bankrollers

Catherine Philp, Diplomatic Correspondent / July 29, 2009


Barack Obama’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan has declared war on the Taleban’s bankrollers, announcing a campaign to interdict hundreds of millions of dollars of foreign funds flowing into the militants' coffers each year.

Richard Holbrooke, the former Balkan peace enforcer now tasked with America’s Afghanistan and Pakistan policy, said the volume of money reaching insurgents from sympathisers in the Gulf, exceeding even the profits of the lucrative opium trade.

Among the countries of origin are staunch American allies like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates but sympathisers in Western Europe were also responsible for fuelling the insurgency.

While the Afghan Taleban battling in the Pashtun belt are still largely funded by the $400 million per annum opium trade, the wider insurgency relies on of “massive amounts of money from outside Afghanistan”, Mr Holbrooke told reporters at the Nato headquarters in Brussels after talks with Nato counterparts.

 “This is a huge problem, and we are forming up a task force to work on this,” the special envoy said. “The money is coming in from sympathisers from all over the world with the bulk of it appearing to come from the Gulf, not any money we know of coming from governments. Money is probably coming from sympathisers in Western Europe as well.”

 The “task force on drugs and money” is to be led by the US Treasury with officials from the FBI and CIA in a bid to trace insurgent funds back to their origins. Much of the foreign money flowing into Pakistan and Afghanistan, however, is channelled through the complex but informal halwala system, making it notoriously difficult to trace.

 “There are a lot of ways that money flows,” Mr Holbrooke said. “People carry it in suitcases. It’s such a daunting issue.” Mr Holbrooke also berated European allies for failing to stump sufficient aid money for the refugee crisis in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, warning that it could become the newest recruiting hotspot.





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