By John M. Donnelly / CQ-Roll Call
WASHINGTON — The Trump administration asked Congress earlier this year for funds to reimburse Afghanistan’s Taliban for expenses the insurgent group incurs attending peace talks, according to a spokesman for the chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.
The money would cover the Taliban’s costs for expenses such as transportation, lodging, food and supplies, said Kevin Spicer, spokesman for Indiana Democrat Peter J. Visclosky, in a statement to CQ Roll Call.
“The Defense Department requested fiscal 2020 funding to support certain reconciliation activities, including logistic support for members of the Taliban and, in March 2019, they sent a notification letter to the committee on using fiscal year 2019 funds for similar activities,” Spicer said.
The Pentagon’s request to funnel U.S. funds to the Taliban “would implicate provisions of law concerning material support to terrorists, the Taliban’s ongoing offensive operations against U.S. service members, and their continuing lack of acknowledgement of the government of Afghanistan or the rights of women in Afghan society,” Spicer said.
Consequently, Visclosky’s panel Wednesday approved a $690.2 billion defense spending bill for fiscal 2020 that bars any funds for reimbursing the Taliban.
Under the request, however, the U.S. government would funnel funds to a violent group that once harbored Osama bin Laden — a fighting force U.S. troops have been combating for more than 18 years.
The Taliban is a well-funded organization, too. And much of its money has been earned from a drug trade that is killing record numbers of Americans. The group may net at least $800 million a year from opium trafficking and related activities.
Afghanistan’s opium trade has, in turn, contributed to a surge in opioid-related deaths in the United States that hit nearly 48,000 in 2017, according to federal statistics.
Steve Ellis, executive vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, said the request for reimbursing the Taliban is like “life imitating The Onion.”
“Even if you leave aside that they are still conducting operations against our interests and allies, having to pay for someone to be at the table undercuts our bargaining position and demonstrates their lack of enthusiasm for a deal,” Ellis told CQ Roll Call. “I’m sure the Taliban would like whatever cash we’re willing to give them, but it’s not like they aren’t able to continue funding their fighting. How about using some of that cash instead of American taxpayer dollars?”
Aides declined to disclose the amount of money at issue in the fiscal 2020 request or the fiscal 2019 expenditure until the committee report accompanying the legislation is made public next week.