A Time magazine national security correspondent says it may be time for the US to send the Taliban a new message: Make money, not war.
Mark Thompson told CNN's John Roberts that some 70 percent of Taliban fighters are "economic Taliban" who are fighting US forces for the $10-a-day paycheck. They may be willing to lay down their arms in exchange for $20 a day -- a relative bargain compared to the cost of fighting the insurgent group.
"US intelligence says the following: They say five percent of the Taliban is hardcore, religiously driven. They will not be pushed off by any promise of money or anything of that nature. Seven out of 10 are 'economic Taliban,' and it's that middle 25 percent that could go one way or the other. What they're basically saying is two out of three can be bought off, or to put it another way, gainfully employed doing something else other than fighting Americans," Thompson said on CNN's American Morning.
Thompson pointed out that although Vice President Joe Biden had mentioned this idea earlier this year, he was not sure "how seriously the idea is being taken inside the councils of the US government."
On Sunday, the Times of London reported that "the Obama administration is considering outbidding the Taliban to persuade Afghan villagers to lay down arms as it struggles to find a new approach to a war that is fast losing public and congressional support."
The paper stated:
Paying Taliban foot-soldiers to switch sides could spare US lives and save money, say its advocates. A recent report by the Senate foreign relations committee estimated the Taliban fighting strength at 15,000, of whom only 5 percent are committed ideologues while 70 percent fight for money — the so-called $10-a-day Taliban. Doubling this to win them over would cost just $300,000 a day, compared with the $165m a day the United States is spending fighting the war.
The tactic was used to good effect in Iraq where the US government put 100,000 Sunni gunmen on its payroll for about $300 a month each.
Thompson acknowledged that convincing the American public that paying -- rather than fighting -- a group linked to the 9/11 attacks could be politically difficult.
"I think what you have to do is you have to sell the American people on the notion of bringing some sort of stability and development to one of the poorest nations in the world," Thompson said. "If you're able to do that, I think Americans are going to sign up in a heartbeat, simply because they acknowledge that the bulk of the people we are fighting in Afghanistan are just driven by economics. If we can pay them $20 a day not to plant explosives, and to engage with us in developing the country, I think that's a pretty good deal for both sides."
This video is from CNN's American Morning, broadcast Oct. 12, 2009.