Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the US will continue to “use all relevant tools to uphold our commitment to see to it that international terrorists are not able to operate with impunity in Afghanistan”.
The United States has expanded its list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists by including four key members associated with Al Qaeda and Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
(TTP is a separate entity and must not be confused with the Afghan Taliban)
Washington’s move on Thursday signals that it continues to deploy counterterrorism tools at its disposal to threats emanating from South Asia, particularly from Afghanistan.
This was reflected in what US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had to say about the new measure. “The US stands committed to counter the threat posed by terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan,” he said.
Who’s on the list?
Osama Mahmood — the self-styled chief of Al Qaeda’s regional Indian subcontinent wing.
Mahmood may have recently caught the US’s attention, but he has been on the radar of the Council of European Union since at least February this year, when his name was included in the EU sanctions list over terrorism, alongside the Daesh Khorasan (Daesh-K) spokesperson, Aziz Azam.
The European Council designated the individuals for their involvement in the planning and execution of terrorist attacks in Afghanistan and its neighbouring countries, further saying they posed a “serious and continued threat to regional and international stability”.
The terrorist designation of Mahmood by Washington potentially complicate the situation for Afghan Taliban, which took control of Kabul last year after a deal with the US. Under the terms of agreement, Taliban had promised not to allow Afghan soil for terrorist activities in other countries.
Atif Yahya Ghouri — a trusted deputy of Mahmood.
Ghouri’s name first came to the fore earlier this year when a team of UN monitors sent a report to the Security Council, highlighting that the terrorist leader continued to hold sway in Afghanistan’s Ghazni, Helmand, Kandahar, Nimruz, Paktika and Zabul provinces.
Mohammad Maruf — the Al Qaeda in-charge of recruiting more terrorists.
Qari Amjad — the deputy chief of the TTP.
The US Department of State describes Amjad as responsible for overseeing operations and militants in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
In a 2021 report by the UN Security Council, Amjad was identified as a crucial member of the Pakistani Taliban, serving as the group’s deputy since at least 2018, working towards “distinctive anti-Pakistan objectives”.
What happens now?
Now that the US’s December 1 decision to designate Al Qaeda’s Mahmood, Ghouri and Maruf, alongside TTP’s Amjad, comes into effect, it allows Washington to take direct action against the individuals.
“As a result of these actions, all property and interests in property of those designated yesterday that are subject to US jurisdiction are blocked, and all US persons are generally prohibited from engaging in any transactions with them,” Blinken said in a statement.
Blinken further said it demonstrates that the US will continue to “use all relevant tools to uphold our commitment to see to it that international terrorists are not able to operate with impunity in Afghanistan”.
The development comes after the TTP abandoned a ceasefire with the Pakistan government on November 28 and announced resume attacks.
A day later, a police vehicle on duty protecting polio vaccinators came under attack in the suburbs of Quetta city in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, killing at least four people and leaving dozens injured.
Reacting to the TTP’s call to abandon the ceasefire, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said it should be a matter of concern for the Afghan Taliban.
“TTP is enjoying all sorts of facilities in Afghanistan,” he said at a press conference in Islamabad, adding the Afghan Taliban had made a promise to the world that they would not let Afghanistan become a launchpad for terrorism.
The US’s designation also coincides with Pakistan’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Hina Rabbani Khar’s Tuesday visit to Kabul, where she met with the senior Afghan Taliban leadership, and which took place in the immediate aftermath of the end of the ceasefire between the Pakistan government and the TTP.