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Report / 22 May 2018

Talc: the everyday mineral funding Afghan insurgents

How talc from Afghanistan’s opaque and poorly regulated mining sector is helping fuel the Islamic State and Taliban

Islamic State is known to have vastly exploited natural resources in Iraq and Syria. Now we reveal how it appears to be turning its attention to Afghanistan, particularly the country’s talc mines.

Download the full investigation: At any price we will take the mines: the Islamic State, the Taliban, and Afghanistan's white talc mountains (PDF, 3MB)

Through interviews with informed sources and analysis of satellite imagery we have exposed how talc mining has become a key strategic priority for the Islamic State in Afghanistan (IS-KP). As one IS-KP commander told us: ‘At any price we will take the mines’.  

Access to talc mines is also a current source of conflict between the IS-KP and the Taliban – already estimated to be making around $300 million a year from Afghanistan’s mineral wealth - in the mineral-rich Nangarhar province.


Afghanistan’s mineral wealth mining sector should, and could, be used to fund development and government services. Yet as the story of talc shows, without immediate action the mining sector is far more likely to fuel more corruption and conflict.

The Western appetite for Afghanistan's talc

Talc is a common ingredient in a vast number of everyday products; from cosmetics to paints, and plastics to baby powder. The lifestyle and habits of Western consumers is driving the demand for talc production – and the biggest single market is the United States. 

Our research shows that talc mined in Afghanistan is transported across the border into neighbouring Pakistan where it is mixed with Pakistani mined talc before export. Some 40% of talc exported from Pakistan goes to the US; with the EU as another large market.

Consumers and companies in these countries could, therefore, unknowingly be funding the Afghan insurgency. 

Flow of talc infographic Afghanistan talc report

How to stop Afghan talc funding conflict

The Afghan government and its partners need to start treating this problem with a sense of urgency that matches the scale of the threat.  We call on them to:

  • Strengthen control over the trade in places like Nangarhar and across Afghanistan, especially the movements of minerals through the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan
  • Implement desperately needed transparency and oversight reforms so that legitimate mining has a chance to provide a viable alternative
  • Give local communities an interest in legal mining through a direct share of revenues and, where appropriate, community ownership of mines
  • Prioritise security at mining areas as part of a broader strategy to protect resource-rich areas
  • Work with trade partners and consumer countries to put in place strong controls over supply chains from conflict affected areas; including a requirement for due diligence by importing companies
  • Put in place transparency and oversight in order to make abusive mining more difficult and create a space for legal extraction that benefits the country and local communities. 
While the Afghan government has made clear and welcome commitments to most of these reforms, they have yet to be implemented. Despite a ban on the talc trade in early 2015, it has been weakly enforced and ineffective at stopping extraction from insurgent-controlled areas. 

Upcoming amendments to the Afghan Mining Law will be a key test. We will continue to advocate for change so that legitimate mining has a chance to provide a viable, stable alternative for the people of Afghanistan. 

Download the full investigation: At any price we will take the mines: the Islamic State, the Taliban, and Afghanistan's white talc mountains (PDF, 3MB)

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