U.S. Vows Campaign Against Taliban

By Barry Schweid, AP, Wednesday 13 December 2000, 11:50 AM ET

WASHINGTON (AP)—Declaring Afghanistan is a haven of lawlessness, the State Department's counterterrorism chief vowed Wednesday an all-out diplomatic, political and economic pressure campaign to isolate the ruling Taliban militia from the world community.

In prepared testimony to the House Judiciary Committee's crime subcommittee, the official, Michael A. Sheehan, ticked off a list of 11 suspected terrorists who have been harbored in Afghanistan, train their forces there or been financed from the South Asian country.

And the list, headed by Saudi expatriate Osama bin Laden, wanted for prosecution in the bombing of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998, gets longer all the time, Sheehan said.

Sheehan said Afghanistan has been at the heart of U.S. measures to counter terrorism.

The Taliban's control over most of Afghanistan has resulted in a haven of lawlessness, in which terrorists, drug traffickers and other criminals live with impunity, he said.

Central to the U.S. campaign are sanctions the United States and Russia are seeking to have the U.N. Security Council impose on the ruling Taliban militia. These include an embargo on arms sales to Afghanistan and export of chemicals used to manufacture heroin.

Sheehan said Afghanistan's opium crop accounts for 72 percent of the world's illicit opium and cultivation of the crop has continued to increase.

In the terrorism field, Sheehan said numerous people immediately left Yemen for Afghanistan after the USS Cole was bombed two months ago in Aden harbor, killing 17 American sailors.

There, Sheehan said, they could hide out with little fear of Taliban intervention.

The proposed arms embargo and other sanctions are intended to compel the Taliban to hand over bin Laden for trial in the bombings. He is the alleged mastermind of the attacks.

On other fronts, Sheehan said the United States was trying to rally support for Afghanistan's neighbors in fighting terrorism and the drug trade and is considering adding to the 19 foreign organizations designated as terrorist groups.

Also, Sheehan said, President Clinton (news—web sites) has asked the Senate to approve an international agreement designed to make it more difficult for terrorism groups to raise or transfer money.

And, he said, the State, Justice and Treasury Departments, and the FBI (news—web sites), are developing training courses for foreign officials to help them detect and curb terrorist fund-raising. The courses will begin early next year, Sheehan said.

We will continue to put political, diplomatic and economic pressure on the Taliban to make them realize that they will not be an accepted member of the international community until they comply with internationally accepted norms on terrorism, Sheehan said.

A year ago, the U.N. Security Council froze Afghanistan assets and imposed an embargo on the Ariana Afghan Airlines, which is controlled by Taliban.

Sheehan said the new sanctions would hit the regime—not the people—where it hurts.

Some humanitarian groups say the sanctions would make life more difficult for the poor Afghan people. The United Nations (news—web sites) also is concerned about a potential backlash against aid workers in the country.

Afghans are suffering from the impact of 20 years of civil war and the worst drought in decades.

Sheehan said, however, an explosion of poppy cultivation under the Taliban has reduced agricultural land available for food crops.

The Clinton administration decided to seek new sanctions after it made no headway toward persuading Taliban to hand over bin Laden. Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering; William Milam, U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, and other U.S. officials have held a series of meetings with Taliban representatives.