Afghanistan: February 8, 2002


Several thousand Taliban and al Qaeda troops are still being held prisoner by various warlords. More are being arrested, particularly Pakistanis (who tend to be Taliban) and other foreigners (who tend to be al Qaeda.) The reason is money. As early as last December, Afghan middlemen with satellite phones began negotiating with warlords holding men from well off families in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. For a price, daddy would be allowed to bail their wayward kids out of a nasty situation. When U.S. special forces got wind of this, there were some tense moments, and rumors of a bidding war over some choice prisoners. The current price for Pakistanis is said to be $3-5,000. For other foreigners, it can be a lot more. All this is nothing more than an extension of the practice encountered during the battle of Tora Bora, when Taliban and Al Qaeda men with money were able to pay cash to get past the Afghans "guarding" the escape routes. This is one reason why the operations around al Qaeda camps after that were carried out with just American and allied troops. No one on the American side likes to talk about the role of cash in the Afghanistan war, but it was significant, and continues to be even though the fighting has died down. Note that the practice of ransoming prisoners of war is an ancient one, and still popular in places like Afghanistan.


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