U.S. Anti-Haqqani-Network Campaign

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by Missy Ryan & Phil Stewart

Reuters

February 26, 2014

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KABUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States has intensified its drive against the Taliban-linked Haqqani network in an attempt to deal a lasting blow to the militants in Afghanistan before foreign combat forces depart this year, according to multiple U.S. officials.

The effort is taking on added urgency as the clock ticks down on a NATO combat mission in Afghanistan set to end in December, and as questions persist about whether Pakistan will take action against a group some U.S. officials believe is quietly supported by Pakistani intelligence.

The Obama administration has created a special unit based in Kabul to coordinate efforts against the militant group, according to officials familiar with the matter. It was set up late last year, as part of a new strategy that involves multiple government agencies.

The unit, headed by a colonel and known in military parlance as a “fusion cell”, brings together special forces, conventional forces, intelligence personnel, and some civilians to improve targeting of Haqqani members and to heighten the focus on the group, the officials said.

“Things are coming together in terms of the more comprehensive approach (against the Haqqanis). So, there’s a lot of focus – there’s a lot of energy behind it right now,” said a U.S. defense official, who asked not to be identified.

It was not immediately clear whether the intensified focus on the Haqqanis has led to increased strikes on the group by the U.S. military or the CIA, which operates drones over Pakistan’s tribal areas.

And it remains to be seen, this late in the NATO combat mission, how much damage the United States can inflict on the Haqqani network, which has proven resilient and uses Pakistan’s tribal areas along the Afghan border, including the North Waziristan region, as a sanctuary.

AUDACIOUS ATTACKS

The White House announced on Tuesday that President Barack Obama had ordered the Pentagon to prepare for a possible complete withdrawal of troops following Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s refusal to sign a bilateral security pact.

The Haqqani network, which professes obedience to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, is believed to have been involved in some of the most audacious attacks of the Afghan war. These include assaults on hotels popular with foreigners, a bloody bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul, a 2011 attack on the U.S. embassy, and several massive truck bombing attempts.

The group is also believed to be holding Bowe Bergdahl, the only known U.S. soldier missing in the war in Afghanistan.

Some U.S. lawmakers have complained that the Obama administration has dragged its feet in cracking down on the group after designating it a “foreign terrorist organization” in September 2012.

For example, it is unclear what diplomatic pressure Washington is putting on Islamabad to arrest individuals connected to the group, the lawmakers say.

This month, the U.S. Treasury froze the U.S. assets of three suspected militants linked to the Haqqanis, the Obama administration’s first significant non-military move against the network since that 2012 designation.

The Pentagon has regarded the Haqqanis, seen as more skilled in attacks on foreign targets than other militants in Afghanistan, as an acute threat to its soldiers for years.

U.S. General Joe Dunford, who commands U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, told Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel of his concern about the state of the current U.S. effort against the group in a private letter last November, sources familiar with the matter said.

During a recent visit to Washington, Dunford told senior White House officials that the group was a top priority for him, the sources said.

‘PERVASIVE, VIRULENT ENTITY’

Retired General John Allen, who commanded U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan from 2011-2013, said he initiated the request to designate the Haqqanis as a terrorist group in spring 2012 because military efforts alone were insufficient.

“My reason for doing that was that it is simply such a pervasive, virulent entity,” Allen said in an interview.

“I was going to pressure them in every possible way inside the country, but I wanted them to feel it at a strategic level, to include attacking their finances, their assets – pressuring the entire nervous system of the Haqqanis.”

Some Afghan and U.S. officials remain skeptical that the United States can seriously weaken militant groups such as the Haqqanis unless Pakistan cracks down on them from within or better controls its borders.

“Until the Pakistanis do something about the safe havens, that’s going to be a problem. (Militants) can recruit and train and equip and prepare to launch in Pakistan,” said Major General Stephen Townsend, who commands U.S. and NATO forces in eastern Afghanistan.

Townsend was speaking about the array of militants who infiltrate the border with Pakistan, not just the Haqqanis.

On Tuesday, the Pakistani military launched new air strikes on militant hideouts in North Waziristan, killing at least 30 people. Pakistani fighter jets have been pounding targets in the area since efforts to engage the Pakistani Taliban in peace talks broke down this month.

The former top U.S. military officer, Mike Mullen, told U.S. lawmakers in 2011 the Haqqanis were a “veritable arm” of the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI, which some U.S. officials believe seeks to strengthen the Taliban and its allies as a means of ensuring that archenemy India does not wield influence in Afghanistan. Pakistan denies such charges.

Founded by mujahideen leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, the group fought the 1980s Soviet occupation of Afghanistan with varying levels of support from Pakistani, Saudi and U.S. policy-makers.

In November, six members of Congress sent Obama a letter calling efforts against the Haqqanis “woefully insufficient”, according to a copy of the letter obtained by Reuters.

“It is past time for the administration to comprehensively address the threat posed by the Haqqani network’s deadly attacks,” Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told Reuters in a statement.

(Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi in Kabul; Writing by Missy Ryan; Editing by Paul Tait, Warren Strobel & Ross Colvin)

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Afghan, US Forces Target Taliban Leader

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Written by Bill Roggio

The Long War Journal

January 17, 2014

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Coalition and Afghan special operations forces targeted a Haqqani Network-linked Taliban leader during a recent raid in the central Afghan province of Parwan. The Taliban commander, who serves as Parwan’s deputy shadow governor, “transports weapons, fighters and suicide bombers” into the province and Kabul. Afghanistan’s president accused the US of killing eight civilians during the raid.

Ten Taliban fighters, a US Special Forces soldier, and two civilians were killed after Afghan commandos and Coalition advisers launched a raid on Jan. 15 “to disrupt insurgent activities in the [Ghorband] district, including attacks on Bagram Airfield,” the International Security Assistance Force stated in a press release.

ISAF said that the combined special operations force “came under heavy fire from insurgents, resulting in the death of one ISAF service member.” The two civilians were killed after the Afghan and Coalition force launched airstrikes on nearby buildings that were occupied by Taliban fighters.

President Karzai claimed that a woman and seven children were killed during the fighting, and again called for an end to the controversial ‘night raids’ by Coalition forces.

“The Afghan government has been asking for a complete end to operations in Afghan villages for years, but American forces acting against all mutual agreements … have once again bombarded a residential area and killed civilians,” a statement from Karzai’s office said.  The statement neglected to note that Afghan commandos led the operation.

ISAF indicated that areas of Parwan province remain under the Taliban’s control or influence.

“The operation was conducted in a high threat area with Taliban activity, some linked to the Haqqani Network,” ISAF said. “The insurgents in this area enjoy freedom of movement allowing them to harass and threaten the local population as well as stage and facilitate attacks.”

The primary target of the operation was Qari Nazar Gul, the deputy shadow governor, who also is “a member of the senior Taliban Commission.”

“Gul has ties to the Haqqani Network and transports weapons, fighters and suicide bombers to Parwan and Kabul,” ISAF said. He also “has conducted attacks against ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] and Coalition forces including a complex attack at Bagram Airfield.” ISAF may be referring to the May 19, 2010 suicide assault on Bagram Airbase that was executed by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, al Qaeda, and the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban. The assault was led by Bekay Harrach, a dual-hatted IMU and al Qaeda leader from Germany.  Harrach is thought to have been killed during the attack.

Background on the Haqqani Network

The Haqqani Network is a powerful Taliban subgroup that operates primarily in the Afghan provinces of Khost, Paktia, and Paktika, but also has an extensive presence in Kabul, Parwan, Logar, Wardak, Ghazni, Zabul, Kandahar, Baghlan, Kunduz, and Takhar. In addition, the network has expanded its operations into the distant Afghan provinces of Badakhshan, Faryab, and Kunar, according to ISAF press releases that document raids against the network. In central Afghanistan, the Haqqani Network coordinates suicide operations and complex assaults with groups such as the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, al Qaeda, Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin, and Lashkar-e-Taiba, in what ISAF used to call the Kabul Attack Network.

The Haqqani Network has close links with al Qaeda, and its relationship with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISID) has allowed the network to survive and thrive in its fortress stronghold of North Waziristan. The terror group has also extended its presence into the Pakistani tribal agency of Kurram.

In North Waziristan, the Haqqanis control large swaths of the tribal area and run a parallel administration with courts, recruiting centers, tax offices, and security forces. In addition, the Haqqanis have established multiple training camps and safe houses that are used by al Qaeda leaders and operatives and by Taliban foot soldiers preparing to fight in Afghanistan.

The Haqqani Network has been implicated in some of the biggest terror attacks in the Afghan capital city of Kabul, including the January 2008 suicide assault on the Serena hotel, the February 2009 assault on Afghan ministries, and the July 2008 and October 2009 suicide attacks against the Indian embassy.

The terror group collaborated with elements of Pakistan’s military and intelligence service in at least one of these attacks. American intelligence agencies have confronted the Pakistani government with evidence, including communications intercepts, which proved the ISID’s direct involvement in the 2008 Indian Embassy bombing.

In the summer and fall of 2011, the US and the Afghan government linked the Haqqani Network and Pakistan’s intelligence service to the June 28, 2011 assault on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul and the Sept. 13, 2011 attack on the US Embassy and ISAF headquarters. Shortly after the September attack, Admiral Michael Mullen, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, accused the Haggani Network of being one of several “[e]xtremist organizations serving as proxies of the government of Pakistan.”

The US military has been hunting top Haqqani Network commanders in special operations raids in the Afghan east, while the CIA has targeted the network with a series of unmanned Predator airstrikes in Pakistan’s tribal agency of North Waziristan. In November, the CIA killed Maulvi Ahmed Jan, a top deputy to Sirajuddin Haqqani, the group’s operational commander, in a strike in the district of Hangu.

Despite the targeting of top Haqqani Network leaders, the group continues to expand in Afghanistan.

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http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/01/afghan_us_forces_tar_1.php

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The Killing of Nasiruddin Haqqani

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Written by Bill Roggio

November 12, 2013

The Long War Journal

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The Afghan Taliban condemned the killing of Nasiruddin Haqqani, a top official in the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network who was gunned down yesterday in Islamabad, Pakistan.

The statement announcing the “martyrdom” of Nasiruddin was released November 12th on the Afghan Taliban’s official website, Voice of Jihad. It was signed by “The Leadership Council of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” the official name of the Afghan Taliban.

Nasiruddin served as a key financier and facilitator for the group. He also served as an “emissary” to al Qaeda, and often traveled to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates between 2004-2009 to carry out fundraising for the Haqqani Network, al Qaeda, and the Taliban.

“It is with great regret that we have learned about the martyrdom of Nasiruddin Haqqani (may Allah accept him), the elder son of the famous Jihadi and scholarly personality and member of Leadership Council of Islamic the respected Mawlawi Jalaluddin Haqqani,” the Afghan Taliban said.

While the Taliban did not describe how Nariruddin was killed, they said he died “in a cowardly terrorist attack of the enemy ….” Nasiruddin was gunned down outside a bakery run by Afghans in the Bhara Kahu area of Islamabad. The unidentified shooters were riding motorcycles when they attacked him.

No group has claimed credit for killing Nasiruddin. The Afghan Taliban’s statement did not define the “enemy.” The Pakistani Taliban accused the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, Pakistan’s military intelligence service, which backs the Haqqani Network, of executing the attack. But given the Haqqani Network’s relationship with the ISID, Nasiruddin is more likely to have been killed in an Afghan or US intelligence operation, by rival jihadist groups (the Haqqani Network is rarely involved in jihadist infighting), or by criminals.

The killing of Nasiruddin in Islamabad puts a dent in the narrative of the Taliban as well as the Pakistani government, that the Haqqani Network is based in eastern Afghanistan and does not operate in Pakistan. The Afghan Taliban maintain this position in order to portray their jihad in Afghanistan as a nationalist fight and to protect their Pakistani backers. The Pakistani government and military maintain that the Haqqanis operate only in Afghanistan, in order to rebuff US and Western pressure to act against the group. The Haqqani Network is closely tied to al Qaeda and is one of the most effective jihadist groups operating in Afghanistan.

Haqqani Network is part of the Taliban

The Taliban’s statement is further confirmation that the Haqqani Network is a key part of the Afghan Taliban. In the past, Western officials have attempted to delink the Afghan Taliban from the Haqqani Network, as part of an effort to weaken the Taliban movement and divide the groups in order to negotiate a peace deal. While the Haqqani Network operates with a degree of autonomy in eastern Afghanistan, the group still falls under the command of the Afghan Taliban.

But the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network have publicly denied that the Haqqanis operate outside the aegis of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. In a statement released on Voice of Jihad in September 2012, the Afghan Taliban addressed this issue head on.

The Taliban claimed in that statement that there is “no separate entity or network in Afghanistan by the name of Haqqani,” and that their overall leader, Jalaluddin Haqqani, is a member of the Quetta Shura, the group’s top leadership council.

“The honorable Mawlawi Jalaluddin Haqqani is a member of the Leadership Council of Islamic Emirate and is a close, loyal and trusted associate of the esteemed Amir-ul-Mumineen [leader of the faithful, Mullah Omar] and those Mujahideen entrusted under the command of his sons are in fact the heroic Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate who like other Mujahideen strictly obey the esteemed Amir-ul-Mumineen and wage Jihad against the invaders throughout the country,” the Taliban statement said.

The Taliban also claimed that the Haqqani Network was created by the US as part of “its satanic plot” to divide the group.

“By employing its satanic plot, America is trying to create and black list a separate entity in the organized and unified rank of Islamic Emirate …,” the statement continued.

Haqqani Network leaders have also rebuffed claims that the two groups operate independently.  In a 2008 interview with Al Somood, the Taliban’s official magazine, Jalaluddin outlined his role in the Taliban and said he was a member of the Quetta Shura. He also denied that his followers constituted a separate entity from the Taliban.

The Haqqani Network frequently releases its propaganda tapes and statements through Voice of Jihad and its leaders are often interviewed in Al Somood. The Afghan Taliban also issue martyrdom statements for slain top Haqqani Network leaders, such as Nasiruddin or Badruddin Haqqani, who was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan in 2012.

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The Long War Journal

http://www.longwarjournal.org

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