The US must do more to hold the Taliban accountable

While the Taliban reap the benefits of their grand corruption, Afghanistan appears to be reverting to pre-9/11 conditions as it once again becomes a hotbed for terrorism.

The Taliban maintain strong relationships with al-Qaida, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, and the Tehrik-e-Jihad Pakistan. By offering such terrorist groups financial and logistical support — all within Afghanistan’s borders — the Taliban have reemerged as a vital threat to U.S. and international security.

The Taliban continue to use a totalitarian system that prioritizes repression and self-benefit above all else, resorting to brutality and fear to maintain control over Afghanistan, a recent report from the George W. Bush Institute shows. The Taliban’s strategy involves stripping the country of its resources and increase their access to finances to strengthen their hold on power. This rampant corruption is occurring hand in hand with the Taliban’s insistent marginalization of women and girls.

As a global leader, the United States has a responsibility to confront the threat to international security and democracy posed by the Taliban’s transnational corruption. In partnership with global allies, the United States must hold the Taliban accountable for their tyranny and kleptocracy. Afghanistan has been captured by a self-serving radical extremist group and, without action, more catastrophic consequences are sure to come.

The Taliban have found several ways to access the income they desperately seek. While Afghans struggle to live on less than one dollar a day, the Taliban have made over $2 billion by siphoning humanitarian assistance, trafficking weapons and drugs, and employing new means of extortion on the struggling population.

The Taliban are also actively attempting to establish partnerships with foreign governments that they hope will bolster their international presence and claims of legitimacy. With their newfound access to approximately $1 trillion of natural resources, the Taliban’s ability to partner with foreign actors has only strengthened.

What happens in Afghanistan matters to us here at home. That includes the nefarious actions of the Taliban, who eagerly exploit populations and resources for the expansion of their abusive power and personal wealth.

President Joe Biden has been adamant that his administration will hold unscrupulous governments liable for their offenses, as displayed in the first-ever U.S. Strategy on Countering Corruption released shortly after his inauguration.

The United States has taken small steps to counter the Taliban’s corruption. In December 2023, the Treasury sanctioned two Taliban officials for the “repression of rights for women and girls.” Yet, the rest of the organization continues to remain largely unaccounted for on sanctions lists despite being recognized as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist group and constant reporting of their human rights abuses, corruption, and systematic discrimination against women and girls.

The U.S. Treasury has a “commitment to holding accountable those who seek to exploit their privileged positions for personal benefit,” Brian Nelson, the Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, has said, and the Treasury must do more to fulfill its obligation and stop the Taliban.

Tools already exist that can make a difference.

With cooperation from the State Department, Treasury should expand anti-corruption sanctions and designate Afghanistan as a Primary Money Laundering Concern to increase scrutiny from the financial sector. This will allow the U.S. to invoke Section 311 of the USA Patriot Act and block the Taliban’s illegal financial activity.

However, an isolated solution is not enough when foreign actors are actively endorsing or willfully ignoring the Taliban’s activity.

Therefore, the United States should designate the Taliban as a foreign terrorist organization and utilize the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program with the European Union to process and share financial messaging data on cases that likely involve the Taliban and their associates.

The United States should also lead initiatives that encourage international cooperation from ally and regional countries, institutions, and organizations, including support for independent media active in Afghanistan to fill current information vacuums.

Taking these measures will put the Taliban on the defensive and challenge their ability to continue looting the country. Failing to address the severity of the situation in Afghanistan would be a critical misstep.

U.S. leadership is incumbent. However, we must act with others. It’s vital that the international community remain in lockstep to promise a better future for the people of Afghanistan.

Albert Torres is Program Manager of Global Policy at the George W. Bush Institute.

The US must do more to hold the Taliban accountable