and the Taliban are engaged in a bitter battle over control of mines in Afghanistan that supply much of the talcum used by European and US consumers.
The mineral, used in everything from baby powder and cosmetics to paint and car parts, is mined in areas of eastern Afghanistanwhere the Taliban and Islamic State in are vying for supremacy.
The struggle to control the extraction of talc and other minerals, such as chromite, has been exposed in . The campaign group has spent months investigating how the murky trade means western consumers are effectively supporting insurgents in the country.
Nick Donovan, campaign director for Global Witness, said that while talc lacked the imaginative allure of blood diamonds, which have featured in and global , it was nonetheless a “blood mineral”.
“This report shows the insidious way in which insurgents have become involved in talc mining and the threat of groups like Isis becoming more involved,” said Donovan.
He added that, while the Taliban’s involvement in talc mining is now well established, the move by the Afghan branch of Isis into mining the mineral appeared to follow a pattern whereby the group attempts to seize and exploit resources as a way of funding its efforts. The trend has been particularly marked in Iraq and Syria, where the group has moved into crude oil refining.
According to the report, Isis in Afghanistan now controls large talc, marble and chromite mines in eastern Afghanistan, particularly around their stronghold in Achin district in Nangarhar province, the same area where the US military dropped the against Isis-held caves in April 2017.
Several sources interviewed for the report said significant mining has taken place under Isis since they took control. The group has fought major battles with the over neighbouring districts containing even richer deposits.
One former security source told researchers they believed Isis had been involved in trying to construct a road to Pakistan to export minerals from areas controlled by the group.
“The Islamic State appears to have a significant strategic interest in Afghanistan’s minerals and controls some major mining areas,” said Donovan. “Given its track record of exploiting natural resources in Iraq and Syria, this should be a wake-up call for both the Afghan government and the Trump administration.
“They must strengthen control over the trade in places like Nangarhar, but just as importantly put in place desperately needed transparency and oversight reforms so that legitimate mining has a chance to provide a viable alternative.”
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The findings of the Global Witness investigation follow research suggesting that the Taliban is making millions annually from talc as part of the estimated $300m (£225m) a year they rake in from minerals across Afghanistan.
Almost all of Afghanistan’s talc is exported to Pakistan, said the report, which in turn exports more of it to the US than to any other country.
Pakistan provides more than a third of US imports of talc, with EU countries also major buyers.
“Unwitting American and European consumers are inadvertently helping fund extremist groups in Afghanistan,” said Donovan, adding that a ban on the talc trade in Afghanistan, imposed in early 2015, had been weakly enforced – not least because of the involvement of political figures in the trade.