Taliban wealthier than al Qaeda: US official

David Cohen, the department's assistant secretary for terrorist financing, said the extremist group extorts money from poppy farmers and heroin traffickers involved in Afghanistan's booming drug trade. The Taliban also demand protection payments from legitimate Afghan businesses, he said on Monday during a speech at a conference on money laundering enforcement.

President Barack Obama and his top advisers are discussing whether many more troops may be needed in the 8-year-old Afghanistan conflict. A critical part of the deliberations is whether the fight should be a more narrow one against al-Qaeda or a broader battle against the Taliban-led insurgency.

According to Cohen, al-Qaeda is a cash-strapped organisation that is losing its influence. That condition is the product, he said, of a long-running effort by the United States and its allies to cut off the terror group's sources of funding by targeting its deep-pocketed donors and interfering with its ability to move money.

In the first half of 2009, he said, al-Qaeda's leaders made four public appeals for money to bolster recruitment and training.

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