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U.S. targets Afghan Taliban leaders with sanctions

WASHINGTON - The Obama administration targeted key leaders of Afghanistan's Taliban with new financial sanctions Thursday in a move that could complicate relations with Pakistan and Afghan efforts to reconcile with insurgents.

The action by the Treasury Department will freeze the militants' assets, ban travel and trigger an arms embargo. It follows similar action by the United Nations earlier this week, and comes after calls from Gen. David Petraeus, the top military commander in Afghanistan, and Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, for sanctions against Afghan insurgent commanders operating in Pakistan.

Taken together, the U.S. and UN sanctions prohibit any financial transactions by the terror leaders in UN member countries, putting additional pressure on Pakistan to take broader actions against the Taliban militants.

U.S. officials have been urging Pakistan to crack down on the al-Qaida-linked Haqqani network, saying Islamabad's reluctance to move into the group's base in North Waziristan, bordering Afghanistan, is hampering the Afghan war effort.

Pakistan has been moving cautiously, and has been slow at times to take on militants that it does not believe pose a direct threat. Pakistan historically has had relations with some of the Afghan insurgents and analysts suggest it perceives them as useful allies in Afghanistan when international forces withdraw.

The Afghan government, meanwhile, has been pushing to try to talk with some insurgent factions, hoping to turn them away from violence. U.S. officials warn, however, that reconciliation is unlikely to succeed until the militants' momentum on the battlefield is reversed.

Three financial kingpins were targeted with sanctions, including a key member of the Haqqani network, which directs operations against U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan from safe havens in Pakistan.

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