Afghanistan: How does the Taliban make money?

The United States invaded Afghanistan and deployed their troops in 2001, right after the 9/11 terror attacks.

The invasion has not been cheap for the United States. Over the past two decades the US has spent over $2 trillion funding the war in Afghanistan, which has been financed through borrowings.

The interest on the borrowings is expected to hit a record $6.5 trillion by the end of 2050. Every American citizen would almost be paying $20,000 towards these debts.

This simply means war isn’t a cheap affair.

So how does one fund itself to fight a nation pumping trillions of dollars? Let’s look.


The Taliban’s major and core source of revenue is through opium trade. Afghanistan is one of the biggest exporters when it comes to opium across the world.

While the Taliban have been expanding and swallowing regions the group have found several other alternative sources of income, such as extortion.

The militant group’s extortion activities mostly involve kidnapping of employees and top level management officials of various infrastructure companies in the region.

In several regions of Afghanistan that they have seized control of they have even implemented ‘ushr’, which is a form of tax. In 2012 through this form of tax they levied 2.5% tax on wealth and 10% for harvest, said a report by the United Nations.

During the pandemic year Taliban is said to have earned a sum total of $1.6 billion. Of this they made roughly $464 million through mining alone. Through opium trade they amassed nearly $500 million.

“The Taliban have counted on the Afghan opium trade as one of their main sources of income. More production brings drugs with a cheaper and more attractive price, and therefore a wider accessibility,” said Cesar Gudes, head of the Kabul office of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime.

Apart from illegal drugs, it has also raised money from illegal mining, real estate, levies and fees against movement and transportation of goods and services, and a few other unnamed regional benefactors. All these together have helped the militant group earn at least $1.5 billion every year.

“The Taliban has expanded its financial power in recent years through increased profits from the illicit drug trade, illegal mining, and exports,” all this was revealed by a confidential report that was compiled by NATO.

They also have been making income through several external forces such as donations from wealthy people and countries. A United Nations report has said that a network of many non-governmental charitable foundations have contributed to a significant part of their wealth.

“The primary sources of Taliban financing remain criminal activities, including drug trafficking and opium poppy production, extortion, kidnapping for ransom, mineral exploitation and revenues from tax collection in areas under Taliban control or influence,” a report by the United Nations said.