- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 14, 2000

Hinting that suspects in the bombing of the USS Cole are hiding out in Afghanistan, the State Department's counterterrorism chief yesterday vowed an all-out diplomatic, political and economic pressure campaign to isolate the ruling Taleban militia from the world community.

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

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

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

"The Taleban'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.

Mr. 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, Mr. Sheehan said, "they could hide out with little fear of Taleban intervention."

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 Taleban militia. These include an embargo on arms sales to Afghanistan and export of chemicals used to manufacture heroin.

Mr. 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.

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

On other fronts, Mr. Sheehan said the United States is trying to rally support for Afghanistan's neighbors in fighting terrorism and the drug trade and is considering adding to the 29 foreign organizations designated as terrorist groups.

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

The State, Justice and Treasury departments, plus the FBI, are developing training courses for foreign officials to help them detect and curb terrorist fund-raising, Mr. Sheehan said. The courses will begin early next year.

"We will continue to put political, diplomatic and economic pressure on the Taleban 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," Mr. 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 the Taleban regime.

Mr. Sheehan said the new sanctions would hit the government not the people where it hurts.

Some humanitarian groups say the sanctions will make life more difficult for the already suffering Afghan people. The United Nations 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. But the explosion of poppy cultivation under the Taleban regime has reduced agricultural land available for food crops, Mr. Sheehan said.

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