Intel: How the latest sanctions on the Taliban target Iran

al-monitor Taliban walk as they celebrate a cease-fire in the Ghanikhel district in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, June 16, 2018. Photo by REUTERS/Parwiz.

Oct 23, 2018

As part of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s visit to Saudi Arabia, the United States and its Gulf allies announced new sanctions implicating Iran today. The latest round of sanctions target seven members of the Afghan Taliban as well as two of their alleged accomplices inside Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

“Iran’s provision of military training, financing and weapons to the Taliban is yet another example of Tehran’s blatant regional meddling and support for terrorism,” Mnuchin said in a statement. “The United States and our partners will not tolerate the Iranian regime exploiting Afghanistan to further their destabilizing behavior.”

IRGC officer Mohammad Ebrahim Owhadi stands accused of providing weapons to Afghan government opponents. His colleague Esmail Razavi allegedly oversaw a base in Iran tasked with providing training, intelligence and arms to Taliban forces.

Why it matters: This is the third batch of sanctions implemented by the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center, a joint US-Gulf venture established last year as part of President Donald Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia. Although Mnuchin pulled out of today’s high-profile Saudi investment conference following the international uproar over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the Treasury secretary did attend an anti-terrorism financing summit in Riyadh. The Trump administration relies on Riyadh to pursue its hard-line Iran strategy and other Middle East policies.

Allies of convenience: Ahmad Majidyar, a fellow at the Middle East Institute, writes that Tehran supports the Taliban to hinder the construction of Afghan dams, which Iran fears could exacerbate its water shortages. Iran also seeks to undermine the US military presence in Afghanistan.

What’s next: Following Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, the United States is set to impose its most sweeping round of sanctions on Tehran early next month. The sanctions will force foreign companies to reduce their Iranian oil imports or risk banishment from the US financial system.

Know more: Congressional correspondent Bryant Harris has the low-down on how Mnuchin’s trip to Saudi Arabia allows Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to save face. And Al-Monitor contributor Barbara Slavin has a good read on how Khashoggi’s death undercuts Trump’s broader Iran strategy.

-Bryant Harris