By Jamie Crawford
The U.S. government sanctioned a senior Taliban official on Thursday for his alleged role in the narcotics trade in Afghanistan and across the region, saying illicit drugs are used to finance violence.
Mullah Naim Barich, who operates as the "shadow governor" of the Taliban movement in Helmand Province, was singled out by the Treasury Department for his alleged role in the production and trafficking of heroin and opium.
The action freezes any of Barich's assets held under U.S. jurisdiction and bars anyone in the United States from conducting any financial or commercial transactions with him.
"Today's action exposes the direct involvement of senior Taliban leadership in the production, manufacturing, and trafficking of narcotics in Afghanistan and underlines the Taliban's reliance on the drug trade to finance their acts of terror and violence," David Cohen, Treasury under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement.
According to Treasury, Barich issued a decree in early January to his Taliban confederates to do what they could to subvert an Afghan government-led plan for the eradication of poppy in Helmand.
The decree called for steps that included planting improvised explosive devices, engaging in combat with NATO forces, and bribing Afghan officials as a way to safeguard the poppy harvest.
Poppy is the raw material used in the production of opium and heroin. About 90 percent of the world's opium comes from Afghanistan, according to the United Nations.
Barich's operations "go beyond just generating profit from taxation of the narcotics trade," a senior Treasury official told reporters on a conference call.
"He is directly involved in multiple levels of the heroin and opium trade, coordinating with other drug traffickers, controlling opium production, and controlling local drug shipments. This illustrates powerfully the crime-terror nexus of the Taliban," the official said.
The flurry of Barich's involvement in the narcotics trade, the Treasury Department said, includes convening a meeting in Pakistan with narcotics producers and smugglers to establish mechanisms for the delivery of narcotics into Pakistan and Iran. His network has also distributed heroin to the Turkish border for further distribution, the Treasury said.
The sanction follows earlier action by the United States to cripple various Taliban financing mechanisms the group uses to move its proceeds.
In June, Treasury targeted two money exchange houses that operated in Afghanistan and Pakistan through which the Taliban had moved money that officials say included profits from illicit activities including the narcotics trade.
Thursday's action freezes any of Barich's assets held under U.S. jurisdiction, and bars any U.S. persons from conducting any financial or commercial transactions with him.