KABUL -- Afghan officials are preparing to crack down on the recent Taliban scheme of collecting illegal taxes at temporary, make-shift customs stations set up in Pusht-e-Koh District, Farah Province, local officials say.
The customs stations have been bringing in up to 30 million AFN ($432,530) per month, which the Taliban then use to purchase weapons from Russia and Iran, according to Dadullah Qani, a member of the Farah Provincial Council.
"For the past four months, the Taliban have set up a customs station in Pusht-e-Koh District," he told Salaam Times.
"The taxes they collect ... are 8,000 AFN ($115) from fuel tankers, 15,000 AFN ($216) from trucks carrying food supplies, 5,000 AFN ($72) from trucks carrying rebar [reinforcement steel bars] and 3,000 AFN ($43) from trucks carrying construction materials," he said.
Afghan officials say security forces are preparing to respond to the Taliban's extortion efforts.
"The Taliban in Farah Province don't have any fixed customs stations," said Mohammad Radmanesh, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defence. "Occasionally, they carry out a street attack and set up a mobile checkpoint for a short period through measures like placing a few tires in the middle of the road."
"The Ministry of Defence has directed the 207th Zafar Corps to launch an operation in Farah Province to crack down on the Taliban as soon as possible, especially on the routes where they commit their acts of extortion," he said.
"Police and [Afghan] National Army forces are planning to launch a military operation over the next few days in order to destroy the checkpoints established by the Taliban for the purpose of tax collection," Iqbal Bahir, a spokesman for the Farah Province chief of police, told Salaam Times December 13.
"One part of the security forces' plan for preventing tax collection by the Taliban ... is to establish more security checkpoints on the aforementioned routes," he added.
Funding the Taliban war machine
"The Taliban have made tax tickets [printed with the] emblem of the Islamic Emirate of the Taliban," one of the drivers from whom the Taliban have collected tax a number of times.
"They give one of these tax tickets to each truck that crosses through their customs areas and extort money from them," the driver told Salaam Times on the condition of anonymity.
The customs scheme is one of the Taliban's many acts of extortion -- such as exactions under the pretext of ushr and zakat, ransom taking and drug trafficking -- that constitute a large portion of the Taliban's revenue sources, local officials and residents say.
The Taliban have kept their war machine active through these efforts, they say.
"In areas under their control, the Taliban collect from each farmer an annual tax of 6,000 to 12,000 AFN ($87 to $173)," Qani said. "Every Friday, they also collect tax from shops located in Khak-e-Safid and Bakwa districts, both of which are under Taliban control."
"Up to 300 cars transporting merchants' goods and merchandise go through the Taliban's customs station every day," Jamila Amini, another member of the Farah Provincial Council, told Salaam Times. "The group's monthly customs revenue from this source alone is estimated at 30 million AFN."
"In addition to purchasing modern weapons with money from taxation, extortion and drug trafficking and the financial help they receive from Iran, the Taliban have kept their war machine active in Farah Province with the same money," she said.
Purchasing weapons from Russia
The Taliban are purchasing weapons with the illegal money they collect, Amini said.
"They buy modern weapons from countries like Russia, Iran and Pakistan," she said, adding that on December 14 "the Taliban killed a police officer with a scope-equipped weapon in Pusht-e-Rud District."
"Recently, the Taliban have used extremely advanced weapons they didn't have before," Qani said. "Mostly, the Taliban are using Russian-made weapons in Farah Province."
"Two months ago, in a face-to-face fight with the Taliban [in Farah], Afghan security forces seized a weapon equipped with a laser sight that had Russian markings," he said.
"The Taliban's use of Russian-made weapons indicates that Russians are not only [arming] the Taliban but also sell [modern] hardware to them like laser-equipped weapons," Qani said.
"The Taliban's multi-million-afghani income has expanded the scope of war compared to what it was in the past," Mohammad Sardar, a resident of Farah city, told Salaam Times.
"Historically, war and violence in this province used to wane in wintertime and with the arrival of low temperatures," he said. "This year with the arrival of winter, however, the war has intensified in various areas of Farah."
"This intensification of war has made residents of Farah Province worried about their future," Sardar said.