The U.S. Treasury Department on Thursday announced sanctions on individuals it said were linked to militant groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but stopped short of declaring the Haqqani network, blamed for recent attacks on American targets, a terrorist group.
“These financiers and facilitators provide the fuel for the Taliban, Haqqani Network and al-Qaeda to realize their violent aspirations,” Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen said in a statement.
As a result of the action, U.S. companies and individuals are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with the targeted individuals and any assets they hold under U.S. jurisdiction are frozen, Treasury said.
Yet the move is unlikely to dispel the mounting pressure the Obama administration faces to place the Haqqani group, whose attacks threaten to become a major obstacle to U.S. hopes for withdrawing smoothly from Afghanistan, on the State Department's list of designated terrorist organizations.
That symbolic move would create further ripples at a moment when U.S.-Pakistani ties are severely strained following an accusation from the top U.S. military officer of Pakistani support for a militant attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul.
The Obama administration is seeking to smooth things over after the remarks from Admiral Mike Mullen triggered a war of words with the key ally even as it pushes Pakistan to crack down on militants fueling violence in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s intelligence chief on Thursday denied the U.S. accusations.
“There are other intelligence networks supporting groups who operate inside Afghanistan. We have never paid a penny or provided even a single bullet to the Haqqani network,” Lieutenant-General Ahmed Shuja Pasha told Reuters after meeting political leaders over heavily strained U.S.-Pakistani ties.
Pasha, one of the most powerful men in the South Asian nation, told the all-party gathering that U.S. military action against insurgents in Pakistan would be unacceptable and the army would be capable of responding, local media said.
But he later said the reports were “baseless.”
Pakistan has long faced U.S. demands to attack militants on its side of the border with Afghanistan. But the pressure has escalated since the top U.S. military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, accused Pasha’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate of the Sept. 13 attack on the U.S. mission in Kabul.
Mullen, speaking in an interview aired on Thursday, said the ISI was giving the Haqqani group, whose attacks threaten to become a major obstacle to U.S. hopes of withdrawing smoothly from Afghanistan, financial and logistical support and "sort of free passage in the (border) safe haven.
On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States was close to a decision on whether it would declare the Haqqani group a terrorist organization.
Lawmakers such as Democrat Dianne Feinstein, the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, have urged Clinton to put the Haqqani network on the terrorism blacklist, saying there was no question it met the standard for inclusion.
The group of individuals designated on Thursday includes Afghan-born Abdul Aziz Abbasin, described by the Treasury Department described as a “key commander” who the Haqqani leadership had appointed a leader in one volatile area of in Afghanistan.
“Abbasin commands a group of Taliban fighters and has assisted in running a training camp for foreign fighters in Paktika Province, and also has been involved in ambushing supply vehicles of Afghan government forces and the transport of weapons to Afghanistan,” Treasury said.
Also targeted was Afghan-born Haiji Faizullah Khan Noorzai, who Treasury said was a prominent Taliban financier, and his brother, Haiji Malik Noorzai, a Pakistan-based businessman.
The two have invested “millions of dollars in various businesses for the Taliban,” Treasury said.
It also named Abdur Rehman, a Pakistani who Treasury described as Taliban facilitator and fund-raiser, and Afghan Fazal Rahim, who Treasury said was a financial facilitator for al Qaeda and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.