Nearly Half of the Taliban Government's Leaders Are Designated Terrorists

October 13, 2021

Nearly half of the Taliban government's leaders are on the United Nations' terrorist blacklist, a fact that hasn’t slowed U.S. efforts to engage in diplomacy with the anti-western regime.

At least 14 of the 33 ministers the Taliban announced as senior leaders in its newly formed government are designated as terrorists under the U.N. Security Council's 1988 Sanctions Committee. This designation includes Prime Minister Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund and his two top deputies, Mullah Baradar Akhund and Mawlavi Hanafi.

The Taliban's defense minister, foreign minister, and deputy foreign minister also are designated terrorists. And Sirajuddin Haqqani, the Taliban's interior minister, remains on the FBI's most wanted list, with a $10 million bounty for his role in a 2008 terrorist attack in Kabul that killed six people, including an American citizen.

Even with these outstanding terror designations on the Taliban and its top leaders, the Biden administration and other Western countries are holding direct negotiations with the group that are aimed at providing war-torn Afghanistan with aid dollars. The United States held a series of talks with "senior Taliban representatives" during the weekend, meetings that the State Department described as "candid and professional." These powwows indicate the United States' willingness to legitimize the Taliban's rule since the terrorist group retook the country amid a hurried American withdrawal, according to national security experts.

"If past is precedent, Biden's team is more likely to reclassify whom they consider terrorists in order to justify their policy going forward," said Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official who specialized in Middle Eastern affairs and terrorist organizations. "To recognize that they are empowering terrorism might force the hard sort of introspection in which no one from Biden on down is prepared to engage. It's the triumph of arrogance over rationality, and it's going to get Americans killed."

In addition to the Taliban senior leadership's designation as global terrorists, the organization also brought on four of the five individuals known as the "Taliban Five"—a group of former Guantanamo Bay prisoners who were freed as part of a prisoner swap orchestrated by the former Obama administration.

The Taliban's acting prime minister, Mullah Muhammad Hassan Akhund, is one of the terror organization's longest-serving operatives and began conducting terrorist operations in the 1980s, according to information compiled by the Middle East Media Research Institute, a nonprofit group that tracks jihadi groups and their operations.

Akhund's first deputy, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, served as a frontline commander for the terror group from 1996 to 2001, when the Taliban was plotting attacks on U.S. citizens and outposts in the region.

Acting Afghanistan army chief Qari Fasihuddin led the Taliban's forces as they took over the country and exterminated the U.S.-backed and -armed Afghan National Army.

A number of other senior Taliban leaders who participate in the government also have battlefield experience and were senior figures in the group's terrorism enterprise, according to Middle East Media Research Institute.

Rubin, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a D.C.-based think tank, said the Taliban's selection of these terror-designated individuals is intentional and signals that the group has not reformed in any significant way—contrary to claims by the Biden administration.

"The group has an ideology and has stuck with it," Rubin said. "Special Envoy [Zalmay] Khalilzad and Ambassador Ross Wilson repeatedly reported that the Taliban had changed, but never provided any evidence to support their assertions. Wishful thinking is oxygen for both the State Department and White House, however, and the Biden administration never wanted to ask."