Kandahar: As the United States trumpeted its success in persuading Pakistan to end its seven-month blockade of supplies for NATO troops in Afghanistan, another group privately cheered its good fortune: the Taliban.
One of the Afghan war`s great ironies is that both NATO and the Taliban rely on the convoys to fuel their operations a recipe for seemingly endless conflict.
The insurgents have earned millions of dollars from Afghan security firms that illegally paid them not to attack trucks making the perilous journey from Pakistan to coalition bases throughout Afghanistan a practice the US has tried to crack down on but admits likely still occurs.
Militants often target the convoys in Pakistan as well, but there have been far fewer reports of trucking companies paying off the insurgents, possibly because the route there is less vulnerable to attack.
Pakistan`s decision to close its border to NATO supplies in November in retaliation for US airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani troops significantly reduced the flow of cash to militants operating in southern and eastern Afghanistan, where the convoys travel up from Pakistan, said Taliban commanders.
Pakistan reopened the supply route in early July after the US apologised for the deaths of the soldiers.
"Stopping these supplies caused us real trouble," a Taliban commander who leads about 60 insurgents in eastern Ghazni province said in an interview.
"Earnings dropped down pretty badly. Therefore the rebellion was not as strong as we had planned."
A second Taliban commander who controls several dozen fighters in southern Kandahar province said the money from security companies was a key source of financing for the insurgency, which uses it to pay fighters and buy weapons, ammunition and other supplies.
"We are able to make money in bundles," the commander told the AP by telephone. "Therefore, the NATO supply is very important for us."
Both commanders spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being targeted by NATO or Afghan forces, and neither would specify exactly how much money they make off the convoys.
The US military estimated last year that USD 360 million in US tax dollars ended up in the hands of the Taliban, criminals and power brokers with ties to both. More than half the losses flowed through a USD 2.1 billion contract to truck huge amounts of food, water and fuel to American troops across Afghanistan.
The military said only a small percentage of the USD 360 million was funnelled to the Taliban and other insurgent groups. But even a small percentage would mean millions of dollars, and the militants, who rely on crude weaponry, require relatively little money to operate.