Commentary Type

Case 99-1


US and UN v. Afghanistan (Taliban)
(1999–2002: extradition of Osama Bin Laden)


Chronology of Key Events

22 May 1997

Clinton administration lists Afghanistan as not cooperating fully with US terrorism efforts. This designation, created by the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1996, triggers a ban on arms sales to that country. The administration never designated Afghanistan as a state sponsor of terrorism because that could constitute de facto recognition of the Taliban as legitimate government of Afghanistan. (Washington Post, 5 November 2001, A15)
7 August 1998 US embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, are bombed by terrorists. Over 200 people including 12 Americans are killed. Osama bin Laden, a Saudi Arabian dissident reportedly now in Afghanistan, is believed to have orchestrated the attacks. (USIS, 9 August 1998; Financial Times, 25 August 1998, 12; Washington Post, 7 July 1999, A15)
20 August 1998 In response to the embassy bombings, US bombs three training bases in Afghanistan used by bin Laden’s terrorist network, as well as a Sudanese chemical factory thought to be linked to bin Laden. In addition, President Clinton freezes US-held assets of bin Laden and prohibits financial transactions between bin Laden and US companies or citizens. (USIS Washington File, 25 August 1998; Financial Times, 25 August 1998, 12)
4 November 1998 A federal grand jury in New York indicts bin Laden and his chief military commander, Muhammad Atef, on charges of conspiracy and murder for the bombings. The US Department of State offers a reward of $5 million each for information leading to the arrest or conviction of bin Laden and Atef. (New York Times, 5 November 1998, 1; USIS, 6 October 1999; Washington Post, 24 November 1999, A20)
4 July 1999 In an effort to put pressure on the Taliban leadership in Afghanistan to surrender bin Laden, President Clinton issues an executive order freezing all Taliban assets in the United States. The order also bars imports of products from Taliban-controlled territory in Afghanistan, and prohibits exports of goods and services to the Taliban with the exemption of food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies. Almost 90 percent of the territory of Afghanistan is controlled by the Taliban. State Department officials emphasize that sanctions are “not aimed at the people of Afghanistan.” (Washington Post, 7 July 1999, A18; Financial Times, 7 July 1999, 7)
9 July 1999 After months of denial, Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil acknowledges that bin Laden is living in Afghanistan. (Washington Post, 9 July 1999, A25)
10 August 1999 US designates Ariana Afghan Airlines as an agent of Taliban and blocks Ariana assets within US jurisdiction, valued at roughly $500,000. (USIS, 10 August 1999; Washington Post, 11 August 1999, A13)
15 October 1999 UNSC unanimously adopts US, Russian-proposed resolution 1267 that threatens sanctions unless Taliban surrenders bin Laden to “appropriate authorities in a country where he will be arrested and effectively brought to justice”. If UNSC demands are not met by 14 November 1999 an air embargo on Taliban-owned aircraft and freeze of overseas assets comes into effect. Flights for humanitarian and religious purposes are exempted. (USIS, 15 October 1999; New York Times, 19 October 1999, A6)
9 November 1999 Foreign Minister Muttawakil states that the Taliban is willing to negotiate with US but refuses to expel bin Laden. Taliban also states that bin Laden will be handed over only if US provides proof of his involvement in terrorism. US rejects proposal by bin Laden to leave for a secret destination and to establish a panel of international Islamic clerics to decide his fate. (Associated Press, 2 November 1999; Washington Post, 4 November 1999, A26; 11 November 1999, A36; 7 October 1999, A25)
14 November 1999 UN sanctions take effect. Demonstrators protest sanctions and raid UN offices in several Afghan cities including Kabul, the capital. Foreign Minister Muttawakil appeals for a delay of sanctions and renewal of talks but reiterates that his government will not hand over bin Laden. (Washington Post, 15 November 1999, A17; New York Times, 16 November 1999, A6)
21 November 1999 Iran reopens its border with Afghanistan, which had been closed for over a year due to political tensions. Afghan business people expect the resumption of trade with Iran to ease the impact of UN sanctions. (Washington Post, 22 December 1999, A25, A27; Associated Press, 21 November 1999)
1–2 August 2000 US-Russian working group on Afghanistan meets for the first time in Washington. US and Russian officials agree to work together for expanded sanctions against the Taliban in view of their refusal to implement UNSC Resolution 1267. A week later, White House announces that it is discussing the possibility of an arms embargo with members of the UNSC. (New York Times, 4 August 2000, A5; Wall Street Journal, 8 August 2000, A1)
17 August 2000 Study released by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that economic sanctions have limited but “tangible negative effects” on the Afghan population. Study also shows widespread support for an arms embargo amongst the Afghan population. (International Herald Tribune, 30 August 2000, 5)
19 December 2000 UN Security Council passes US and Russian-backed resolution demanding that the Taliban comply with resolution 1267, turn over Osama bin Laden, and close all terrorist camps within 30 days. Resolution 1333 imposes an arms embargo against the Taliban that also includes military training and advice. Arms embargo does not apply to other factions in Afghan civil war. In addition resolution demands all Taliban and Ariana Afghan Airline offices be closed immediately, imposes assets freeze on bin Laden, individuals and entities associated with him, bans all non-humanitarian flights into and out of Afghanistan, and restricts travel of top Taliban officials except for the purposes of participating in peace negotiations. In addition, UNSC bans the export of a chemical, acetic anhydride, that is used for heroin manufacture in Afghanistan. Measures are to come into effect in one month and, at the insistence of France, will be reviewed in one year. (New York Times, 8 December 2000, A3; UNSC Resolution 1333, 19 December 2000; USIS, 11 December 2000)
19 January 2001 UN sanctions come into effect. (UN Press Release, UNSC 6994, 19 January 2001)
15 February 2001 In response to US demands that Taliban office in New York be closed in accordance with UN sanctions, Taliban orders UN Special mission in Afghanistan to close its office. (USIS, 14 February 2001; New York Times, 15 February 2001, A6)
19 March 2001 Taliban government delivers letter to President Bush calling for improved relations but does not make specific proposal addressing US concerns over terrorism and Osama bin Laden. (New York Times, 19 March 2001, A9; Financial Times, 20 March 2001, 6)
26 March 2001 Report by UN Secretary-General indicates that new sanctions imposed under resolution 1333 are carefully targeted on the Taliban and avoid undue humanitarian impact. The report shows that the prices of food and basic commodities have remained stable, humanitarian exemption procedures are operating smoothly, and humanitarian agencies have been able to continue their work largely unhindered. (USIS, 26 March 2001; United Nations 1)
26 May 2001 UN Expert Panel on international sanctions in Afghanistan recommends assisting neighboring countries in strengthening border controls. Panel further recommends better monitoring of air traffic to reduce the flow of arms and munitions to Afghanistan via Pakistan and monitoring of fuel for aircrafts and tanks. (New York Times, 26 May 2001, A6; UN Security Council S/2001/511, 22 May 2001)
30 May 2001 After three-month trial, federal jury in New York convicts four alleged members of al Qaeda network to life in prison for plotting the bombing attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. Eighteen others, including bin Laden, have been indicted in the conspiracy. (Washington Post, 30 May 2001, A1; Washington Post, 19 October 2001, A1)
2 July 2001 President Bush sign executive order maintaining economic sanctions against Afghanistan and its ruling Taliban movement. (New York Times, 3 July 2001, A7)
30 July 2001 UNSC passes resolution setting up monitoring groups and sanctions enforcement support teams along the border with Pakistan to ensure that no arms or military support is provided to the Taliban. (UN Security Council Resolution 1363, 30 July 2001; CRS 18)
11 September 2001 Four hijacked planes on suicide missions crash into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Washington DC and a field in southwestern Pennsylvania. Part of the Pentagon and the two World Trade Center towers collapse; more than 3,000 people die in the attack. In his address to the nation President Bush states that US “will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.” US officials and investigators quickly identify Osama bin Laden as mastermind behind the attacks. Bin Laden denies that he is responsible. (Financial Times, 13 September 2001, 1; Washington Post, 14 September 2001, A9; New York Times, 21 September 2001, A1, B3)
13 September 2001 In an unprecedented move, NATO invokes the collective defense arrangements under article 5 and states that terror attacks on the US constitute an attack against all NATO members. (Washington Post, 13 September 2001, A25)
17 September 2001 Pakistani delegation warns Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers to hand over bin Laden or be hit by a retaliatory strike from a US-led international anti-terror coalition. Taliban announces that grand Islamic Council is to decide on the fate of Osama bin Laden. (Financial Times, 18 September 2001, 5)
20 September 2001 Afghan council of clerics recommend that Taliban persuade bin Ladin to leave the country “in the proper time and of his own free will.” US rejects recommendation as insufficient. (Washington Post, 221 September 2002, A1; USIS, 20 September 2002)
24 September 2001 President Bush issues Executive Order freezing assets of several designated terrorists and terrorist organizations and prohibiting any transactions with these entities including donations. In the coming months additional entities and individuals are added to the list of designated terrorists and terrorist organizations. (Financial Times, 25 September 2001, 1, New York Times, 25 September 2001, A1)
27 September 2001 Taliban announces that they have asked Osama bin Laden to leave the country. Announcement is seen as a last minute effort to avoid military strikes. (New York Times, 28 September 2002, A1; Washington Post, 28 September 2002, A23)
28 September 2001 UN Security Council calls on states to freeze all funds and financial assets of terrorists as well as persons and entities associated with them. Council also calls on states to prohibit their citizens from making funds and economic resources available to terrorists. (UNSC 1373, 28 September 2001)
7 October 2001 US and UK launch first in a series of air strikes against several defense facilities and airfields around Afghan capital Kabul and the Taliban stronghold Kandahar. (Financial Times, 8 October 2001, 1; 9 October 2001, 3)
13 November 2001 Taliban forces pull out of capital Kabul. Northern Alliance troops seize control over the city and set up an interim administration. (Washington Post, 13 September 2001, A15; 14 November 2001, A1, A21)
5 December 2001 After seven days of UN sponsored talks, delegates of various Afghan factions sign peace agreement in Bonn, Germany. New interim government lead by Pashtun tribal leader Hamid Karzai is expected to take over Kabul on December 22. The 30-member interim government will govern until a loya jirga, Afghan tribal council, establishes a two-year transitional government to pave the way for a new constitution and democratic elections. (Financial Times, 6 December 2001, 2; Washington Post, 7 December 2001, A32; CRS 8)
20 December 2001 UN Security Council authorizes multinational peacekeeping force for Kabul. UN mandate allows peacekeeping force to “use all available means” to ensure a smooth transition for the interim government. (Financial Times, 21 December 2001, 3)
11 January 2002 UN Security Council excludes the Afghan Central Bank from the list of entities subject to financial sanctions, thus clearing the way for release of frozen funds. (UN Security Council Press Release SC/7263, 11 January 2002; New York Times, 15 January 2002)
15 January 2002 UN Security Council lifts flight ban and financial sanctions imposed against Ariana Afghan airline in October 1999. Council states that Afghanistan’s national airline is no longer “owned, leased, or operated by or on behalf of the Taliban.” (USIS, 15 January 2002; UN Security Council Resolution 1388, 15 January 2002)
16 January 2002 UN Security Council revises sanctions imposed in 2000 due to expire this week. Arms embargo, travel ban and asset freeze imposed against Afghanistan are lifted; freeze on financial assets of Osama bin Laden, people and groups associated with him remain in place. In addition UN imposes arms embargo and travel ban against bin Laden, Al-Qaeda members and remnants of the Taliban leadership who remain at large. Measures will to be reviewed after 1 year. (Associated Press, 17 January 2002; Financial Times, 17 January 2002, 5; UN Security Council Resolution, 16 January 2002)
21–22 January 2002 At international donor conference in Tokyo, donors and international aid agencies pledge $4.5 billion in reconstruction aid to Afghanistan over the next several years. The US pledges $297 million in aid for 2002. (Washington Post, 22 January 2002, A8; New York Times, 22 January 2002, A1)
24 January 2002 US is releasing $193 million in gold reserves and $24 million in cash held at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to the Afghan Central Bank. In addition, US makes another $25 million in frozen Afghan Central Bank accounts, $23 million in overflight fees held in an escrow account and $1.3 million belonging to Ariana Afghan airline available to government of Afghanistan. (USIS, 24 January 2002)
28 January 2002 Embassy of Afghanistan is reopened in Washington, DC. (USIS, 28 January 2002)
3 May 2002 President Bush issues proclamation restoring normal trade relations with Afghanistan suspended since 1986. Bush states that restoring nondiscriminatory trade “will support US efforts to normalize relations with Afghanistan and facilitate increased trade with the United States.” (USIS, 3 May 2002)

Goals of Sender Country

United States

United States President Bill Clinton
“The measures taken…will immediately demonstrate to the Taliban the seriousness of our concern over its support for terrorists and terrorist networks, and increase the international isolation of the Taliban. The blocking of the Taliban’s property and the other prohibitions imposed…will further limit the Taliban’s ability to facilitate and support terrorists and terrorist networks.” (USIS, 6 July 1999)

John Bennett, US Consul General to Pakistan
“As long as the Taliban harbour Osama bin Laden and prevent him from being delivered up to a court of justice, Afghanistan will continue to be an isolated embargoed state.” (Financial Times, 5 July 2000, 4)

United States President George W. Bush
In speech before joint session of Congress on 20 September 2001, President Bush demands that Afghanistan immediately hand over Osama bin Laden, all leaders of his network, close down every terrorist camp in the country, and give US full access to terrorist training camps or face US military action. Bush states that these demands “are not open to negotiation or discussion.” (New York Times, 21 September 2001, A1; Wall Street Journal, 21 September 2001, A16)

United Nations

UN Security Council Resolution 1267
”Demands that the Taliban turn over Usama bin Laden without further delay to appropriate authorities….”

UN Security Council Resolution 1333
“Demands that the Taliban comply with resolution 1267 (1999) and …cease the provision of sanctuary and training for international terrorists and their organizations….
“Demands also…the Taliban to turn over Usama bin Laden to appropriate authorities….
“Demands further that the Taliban act swiftly to close all camps where terrorists are trained…and calls for the confirmation of such closures by the United Nations.”

Response of Target Country

Mullah Mohammad Omar, Taliban leader
“American sanctions will not force us to give over Osama…. If Osama finds some place in another country and leaves Afghanistan of his own free will, we will help him and welcome his decision. But our dignity does not allow us to give him up to anybody or throw him out of Afghanistan.” (Reuters, 11 August 1999)

Sayed Rahmatullah Hashimi, Taliban Foreign Ministry
“They [US, UN] want to change our policies through economic sanctions…. That does not work. For us, our ideology is first, then the economy. To try to change our ideology with economic sanctions is ridiculous.” (New York Times, 19 March 2001, A9)

Attitude of Other Countries

Russia blames Osama bin Laden for provoking terrorism and secession in the breakaway Chechnya republic and supports the US in pushing the UN Security Council to impose sanctions against Taliban. (Financial Times, 19 October 1999, 4)

Pakistan, one of the only three countries (along with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) that recognize the Taliban, states that they “feel victimized by the Clinton administration’s determination to dislodge bin Laden from the Taliban’s protection. They said they fear sanctions may unleash a new wave of refugees into Pakistan, which absorbed more than 1 million Afghans who fled the civil war against Soviet troops in the 1980s.” (Washington Post, 17 November 1999, A23)

Shamshad Ahmad, Pakistan United Nations Representative
“‘We believe that any new sanctions will further isolate and insulate the Taliban, with whom the world has been seeking to engage constructively, so that their policies can be influenced and moderated….’He said the measures would ‘only aggravate the situation, in terms of disrupting all channels of communication between the international community and the Taliban.’” (New York Times, 8 December 2000, A3)

Central Asian Republics
Concerned about a spillover of Islamic fundamentalism from Afghanistan into their larger region, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, call for a strict implementation of UN sanctions against Afghanistan. (Washington Post, 4 June 2000, A23)

Legal Notes

UN Security Council Resolution 1267
“Decides that on 14 November 1999 all States shall imposes measures set out in paragraph 4 below unless the Council has previously decided…that the Taliban has fully complied with the obligations…. Decides further that, all States shall:
(a)Deny permission for any aircraft to take off from or land in their territory if owned, leased or operated by or on behalf of the Taliban….
(b) Freeze funds and other financial resources, including funds derived or generated from property owned or controlled directly or indirectly by the Taliban, or by any undertaking owned or controlled by the Taliban,…..” (UN Security Council Resolution 1267, 15 October 1999)

UN Security Council Resolution 1333
“Decides that all states shall: (a) prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer…of arms and related materiel of all types…; (b) prevent the direct or indirect sale, supply and transfers…of technical advice, assistance, or training related to the military activities…; Decides that all States shall take further measures: (a) to close immediately and completely all Taliban offices in their territories; (b) to close immediately all offices of Ariana Afghan Airlines in their territories; (c) to freeze without delay funds and other financial assets of Usama bin Laden and individuals and entities associated with him…; Decides that all States shall prevent the sale, supply or transfer…of the chemical acetic anhydride…; Decides also that all States are required to deny any aircraft permission to take off from, land in or over-fly their territories id that aircraft has taken off from, or is destined to land at, a place in the territory of Afghanistan…under Taliban control….” (UN Security Council Resolution 1333, 19 December 2000)

Economic Impact

Observed Economic Statistics

“[T]he sanctions struck just as new Pakistani border controls aimed at rooting out smuggling have already doubled the price of wheat and other basic foods.” (Washington Post, 17 November 1999, A23)

“Although the sanctions do not prohibit food imports, medical relief or trade between Afghanistan and its customary partners in nearby Muslim countries, the sanctions have come at a bad time of multiple new hardships here. A drought caused a poor wheat harvest this fall, Pakistan’s new military government has cracked down on unregulated trade and winter has struck this war-scarred, largely heatless capital with unexpected ferocity. In addition, the new sanctions made it more complicated for Afghans to receive cash by mail from relatives abroad, a major source of income in a country where most people do not have a job….” (Washington Post, 28 November 1999, A 30)

“The value of trade between the US and the Taliban part of Afghanistan, which accounts for most of the country, was worth about $24m in 1998.” (Financial Times, 7 July 1999, 7)

Afghan trade with the United States, 1992–99 (millions of US dollars)

Source: US International Trade Commission, ITC Trade DataWeb.

“Independent analysts said the sanctions against Ariana [Afghanistan national airline] struck one of the very few functioning businesses in Afghanistan and one that appeared to be going through a revival.” (Reuters, 11 August 1999)

“As the sanctions intended…, the national airline is definitely suffering, with many of its 1,600 employees and dozens of planes grounded. Ariana maintenance used to be performed in the United Arab Emirates; now the airline technicians say they must scavenge parts from planes stranded at domestic airports.” (Washington Post, 6 December 1999, A23)

“No reliable economic statistics are available about Afghanistan for years, but in 1991, according to U.S. estimates, the gross national product per person was $155, one of the lowest in the world. The country is a major producer of opium, which brought in an estimated $183 million last year, but Afghanistan has few valuable legal exports and little to show for its drug income.” (Washington Post, 19 December 1999, A49)

According to analysts some 80 per cent of Afghanistan’s economy is dependent on income from drug trade. (Financial Times, 31 January 2000, 2)

After news of the Iranian border opening spread, food and fuel prices, which had doubled in some Afghan cities after sanctions were imposed on November 14, dropped dramatically. The Afghan currency also strengthened. (Associated Press, 21 November 1999; Washington Post, 22 December 1999, A25)

A survey by the UN Office for the coordination of Humanitarian Affairs finds that sanctions imposed in 1999 stifled what little trade the country had. The economic sanctions “had fallen hardest on Ariana, a small airline that operated monthly cargo flights to Dubai and India. Afghans exported fresh fruits and imported medicine, medical equipment and electronics goods. The loss of the air link to India has brought to an end the import of medicines that were valued for their low cost and good quality. …The loss of export earnings for Afghan fruits has forced growers to sell on the low-priced domestic market.” (International Herald Tribune, 30 August 2000, 5)

As of January 2001, $254 million in funds and assets of the Taliban are blocked under Executive Order 13129. (Office of Foreign Assets Control, Terrorist Assets Report, January 2001, 13)

“United States humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people, both inside and outside Afghanistan, totals over $113.2 million for the year 2000. The United States is the largest single donor of assistance to Afghans, and has a long record of providing such assistance.” (USIS, 7 December 2000)

Calculated Economic Impact (annual cost to target country)
Reduction in US-Afghan bilateral trade; welfare loss estimated at 30 percent of average annual trade flows in 1996–98
$8 million
Freezing of assets; welfare loss estimated at 10 percent of face value of assets frozen
25.4 million
Embargo on landing and take-off rights for Ariana Afghan Airlines
$33.4 million
Relative Magnitudes
Gross indicators of Afghan economy
  GNP (1991)a
$3 billion
  Population (1991)
20 million
Annual effect on sanctions related to gross indicators  
  Percentage of GNP
  Per capita
Trade with UN as percentage of total trade  
  Exports (1997)
  Imports (1997)
Ratio of UN GNPb (1991: $17,818 billion) to Afghan GNP

a estimate of the UN Development Programme, US Department of State.
b The figure used to estimate the sender countries’ GNP is the sum of the GDPs of all OECD countries.
Source: World Bank, World Development Indicators, 1999; OECD, Main Economic Indicators.


David Cortright and George A. Lopez
“In Afghanistan, UN sanctions imposed in 1999 and 2000 had little discernible effect upon the policies of the Taliban regime.” (Cortright and Lopez 2002, 7)

Richard W. Conroy
“Sanctions did not convince the Taliban to extradite bin Laden. The initial threat of sanctions led the Taliban to propose some compromise solutions, but those proved to be insufficient.… Washington rejected all of these proposals, which Taliban officials characterized as refusing to negotiate. In the end, sanctions had little or no effect in persuading the Taliban to comply with UN demands.” (Conroy 2002, 159)

Author's Summary

Overall assessment
Policy result, scaled from 1 (failed) to 4 (success)
Sanctions contribution, scaled from 1 (negative) to 4 (significant)
Success score (policy result times sanctions contribution) scaled from 1 (outright failure) to 16 (significant success)
Political and economic variables  
Companion policies: J (covert), Q (quasi-military), R (regular military)
International cooperation with sender, scaled from 1(none) to 4 (significant)
International assistance to target: A (if present)
Cooperating international organizations
Sanction period (years)
Economic health and political stability of target, scaled from 1 (distressed) to 3 (strong)
Presanction relations between sender and target, scaled from 1 (antagonistic) to 3 (cordial)
Regime type of target, scaled from 1 (authoritarian) to 3 (democratic)
Type of sanction: X (export), M (import), F (financial)
Cost to sender, scaled from 1 (net gain) to 4 (major loss)


CRS (Congressional Research Service). 2001. Afghanistan: Current Issues and U.S. Policy Concerns. By Kenneth Katzman. Washington: Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service.

Conroy, Richard W. 2002. The UN Experience with Travel Sanctions. In Smart Sanctions: Targeting Economic Statecraft, ed. David Cortright and George A. Lopez. Lanham: Rowan & Littlefield.

Cortright, David, and George A. Lopez. 2002. Introduction: Assessing Smart Sanctions: Lessons from the 1990s. In Smart Sanctions: Targeting Economic Statecraft, ed. David Cortright and George A. Lopez. Lanham: Rowan & Littlefield.

Office of Foreign Assets Control, US Department of State. 2001. Terrorist Assets Report: Calendar Year 2000 Annual Report to the Congress on Assets in the United States Belonging to Terrorist Countries or International Terrorist Organizations. Washington (January).

United Nations Security Council. 2001. Report of the Secretary-General on the humanitarian implications of the measures imposed by Security Council resolutions 1267 (1999) and 1333 (2000) on Afghanistan. S/2001/241 (March 20).

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