WASHINGTON  - The US branded senior Taliban official Mullah Naim Barich as a major drug trafficker Thursday, saying he is deeply involved in producing and exporting opium and heroin from the Afghan province of Helmand.The US Treasury said Barich, as the Taliban's "shadow governor" of Helmand, helps coordinate and protect local drug production and shipments to Pakistan and Iran. The Treasury said he also operates as a drug trader himself, owning opium and heroin for sale outside Afghanistan.It said that in early March 2012, Barich sent written orders to Taliban commanders in Helmand on how to combat efforts by the government and coalition forces to stamp out opium poppy farming. "Barich has said the funds from the poppy harvest will permit the Taliban to survive, and therefore, it must be protected at all costs," the Treasury said. Barich was designated a "kingpin" in the drugs trade under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, which brings sanctions that freeze any assets tied to him in the US and forbids Americans from doing business with him."Today's action exposes the direct involvement of senior Taliban leadership in the production, manufacturing, and trafficking of narcotics in Afghanistan and underlines the Taliban's reliance on the drug trade to finance their acts of terror and violence," said David Cohen, Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, in a statement.