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US targeting Taliban leaders with sanctions

Freezes assets, bans travel

By Lolita C. Baldor
Associated Press / July 23, 2010

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WASHINGTON — The United States targeted key leaders of Afghanistan’s Taliban with new financial sanctions yesterday in a move that could complicate relations with Pakistan and Afghan efforts to reconcile with insurgents.

The action by the Treasury Department will freeze the militants’ assets, ban travel, and trigger an arms embargo. It follows similar action by the United Nations earlier this week, and comes after calls from General David Petraeus, the top military commander in Afghanistan, and Senator Carl Levin, a Democrat and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, for sanctions against Afghan insurgent commanders operating in Pakistan.

Taken together, the US and UN sanctions prohibit any financial transactions of the terror leaders in UN member countries, putting additional pressure on Pakistan to take broader actions against the Taliban militants.

US officials have been urging Pakistan to crack down on the Al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network, saying Islamabad’s reluctance to move into the group’s base in North Waziristan is hampering the Afghan war effort.

Pakistan has been moving cautiously, but has been slow at times to take on militants that Islamabad does not believe pose a direct threat. Pakistan has had historic relations with some of the Afghan insurgents and analysts suggest that Islamabad perceives them as useful allies in Afghanistan when international forces withdraw.

The Afghan government, meanwhile, has been pushing to try and talk with some insurgent factions, hoping to turn them away from violence. US officials warn, however, that reconciliation is unlikely to succeed until the militants’ momentum on the battlefield is reversed.

Three financial kingpins were targeted with sanctions, including a key member of the Haqqani network, which directs operations against US and coalition forces in Afghanistan from safe havens in Pakistan.

Among those sanctioned yesterday was Nasiruddin Haqqani, an emissary for the Haqqani Network and brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani who leads the group with his father, Jalaluddin. Others sanctioned included Gul Agha Ishakzai, the head of the Taliban’s financial commission and Amir Abdullah, the former treasurer to captured Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Barader.

The sanctions placed on the three leaders as terrorists would deprive them of the assets they need to fund their terror operations, said Adam J. Szubin, director of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

“We will continue to aggressively work to expose and dismantle the financial networks of terrorist groups in support of the president’s goal of a stable Afghanistan,’’ he said.

According to officials, Ishakzai is the head of the Taliban’s financial commission, has collected money for suicide attacks in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and has been involved in the disbursement of funds for Taliban fighters. He has served as a main financial officer and close adviser to Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.

Abdullah has reportedly traveled to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Libya, and the United Arab Emirates to raise money for the Taliban and facilitate meetings and communications with key leaders.

Nasiruddin Haqqani has collected funds for the Haqqani group, including from Al Qaeda.

Last week, General David Petraeus, the top military commander in Afghanistan, urged officials to add commanders from the Haqqani network to the terrorist list.

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