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Afghan Taliban income: $400 million last year, UN estimates

Six Afghan civilians are reportedly dead after a Taliban suicide bomber detonated explosives in Kabul. NBC's Atia Abawi reports.

The Taliban network in Afghanistan raised about $400 million last year from sources that included donations, taxing local economies and extorting money from such targets as drug dealers, cell phone operators and aid projects, the U.N. reported Tuesday.

About $275 million of that income reached Taliban leadership and the rest was collected, spent or misappropriated at the local level, according to the report to the U.N. Security Council by the sanctions monitoring team.

"The team understands Taliban funding as follows: revenue raised from taxing the local economy serves primarily to support local operations and is only in a few cases channeled upwards," the report said.

"Revenue extorted from nation-wide enterprises such as narcotics producers and traffickers, construction and trucking companies, mobile telephone operators, mining companies and aid and development projects goes to the Taliban Financial Commission which answers to the Taliban leadership," it said.

Local taxes imposed by the Taliban include a 10 percent tax on harvest and a 2.5 percent tax on wealth, the report said. The group will also tax services such as water or electricity, even though it has no control over the supply, and in some areas it will charge small businesses a 10 percent tax. 

NBC's Atia Abawi reports from Kabul, where a Taliban source tells NBC News that they have a plan to either kidnap or kill Prince Harry, who is currently deployed in Afghanistan.

Another lucrative source of income has been the foreign funding of aid projects. 

"Estimates of Taliban income from contracts funded by the United States and other overseas donors range from 10 to 20 percent of the total, usually by the Taliban agreeing protection money with the contractor or demanding a cut," the report said. 

Donations were another major source of funding, which also went directly to the Taliban leadership.

The estimate covers the financial year ended March 20, 2012.

The U.N. team warned against a general perception that the Taliban's main source of income was Afghanistan's opium poppy economy. Afghanistan has long been the world's leading supplier of opium, accounting for about 90 percent of global output.

It said that Afghan officials estimate that the Taliban earned about $100 million in 2011/2012 from the opium poppy industry, a small share considering the annual value of the drug crop is estimated at $3.6 billion to $4 billion.

"This suggests that the Taliban do not make great efforts to exploit this potential source of revenue," the report said.

"While it provides enough to finance much of the insurgency in the main poppy growing provinces of Helmand, Kandahar and Uruzgan, the money raised from the drug trade is insufficient to meet the cost of insurgent activity elsewhere," it said.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force estimated that between $100 million and $155 million of the Taliban's income was spent mounting attacks in 2011, while the rest maintained the insurgency, according to the U.N. report.

"Since 2006 the Taliban have managed to finance an ever-increasing number of attacks, reflecting a year-on-year increase in income," the U.N. report said.

U.S.-backed Afghan forces toppled the Taliban government in late 2001 when it refused to hand over al-Qaida militants, including Osama bin Laden, after the Islamist network's hijacked airliner attacks on the United States on Sept. 11 that year.

Foreign troops have started gradually handing over security control to Afghan soldiers and police, a process that is due to be completed by the end of 2014.

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