FAIZABAD, AFGHANISTAN – Afghan Taliban militants have strengthened their grip on lucrative illegal mining operations in the north of the country, as security forces focus most of their efforts on battling the insurgency in the volatile south, officials said.
Abuses by local commanders with private militias and beyond the purview of central government have also driven people into the hands of Islamist fighters, the officials added, making it easier for them to profit from small-scale mines in the region.
“The Taliban provide protection for the villagers to mine and the people are happy to do it despite the fact that there’s a presidential decree banning any uncontrolled mining,” said Gul Mohammad Bedar, deputy governor of Badakhshan province. He estimated that the militant group, fighting to overthrow the Western-backed government in Kabul, raised about a third of its funding needs in Badakhshan from deposits of minerals, including semi-precious lapis lazuli, found in its mountains.
Opium, grown mainly in the south of Afghanistan, is by far the biggest source of revenue for the Taliban nationwide, with the total value of opiates reaching as much as around $2-3 billion annually, according to the United Nations. Mining, by comparison, is worth several tens of millions of dollars a year, although that proportion rises in the north.
Insurgents have taken authorities by surprise in the last year or so by seizing large swathes of territory in a part of the country where their presence has traditionally been weaker.
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