By Ambreen Agha
On November 4, 2011, Pentagon officials declared that “relentless pursuit” of the Haqqani Network was the top priority for American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, as this terrorist formation continued to be a major threat to US and NATO Forces in Afghanistan. Navy Captain John Kirby, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for Media Operations, noted, “The Haqqani Network is lethal, deadly and continues to conduct operations inside Afghanistan and is a growing concern for our commanders out there.”
Operations against the Haqqani Network have been intensified and, according to the New American Foundation, at least 47 drone strikes have already been executed in the North Waziristan Agency (NWA) of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in 2011 (data till October 31, 2011). 103 such attacks were executed in 2010, 23 in 2009, 19 in 2008, 3 in 2007, one in 2006 and two in 2005. The database further indicates that 28 of the 198 drone attacks since 2005 specifically targeted the Haqqani Network – one in 2006, two in 2008, four in 2009, 16 in 2010 and five in 2011. In the first recorded offensive against the Haqqani Network on November 2, 2007, a US strike on a housing compound in Danda Darpakhel, near the Miranshah town of NWA, killed at least five alleged militants and wounded up to a dozen. On September 8, 2008, a major strike killed 23 persons, again in the Danda Darpakhel, including nine militants and 14 civilians. Among the dead were many family members of the group’s leader, Jalaluddin Haqqani, including eight of his grandchildren, two wives, his elder sister, his sister-in-law and other relatives. The New York Times wrote about the incident, “The strike hit the compound run by Sirajuddin Haqqani, who used the compound as a guest house for militants arriving in the North Waziristan to join the jihad forces of the Haqqani family… The family runs training camps and facilities in the tribal region and also has places to hide.” Sirajuddin Haqqani is Jalaluddin’s son, and the present leader of the Network.
In a more aggressive posture, the US, on October 17, 2011, moved hundreds of new troops to the Afghan areas bordering NWA. The US forces sealed the main road connecting the Agency’s border town of Ghulam Khan and the Khost Province in Afghanistan, since the overwhelming proportion of support for the Network comes from Districts in the South-eastern Province of Khost.
Before this, US drones killed a senior ‘commander’ of the outfit, Janbaz Zadran, along with two other militants on October 13, 2011, in NWA. On November 1, 2011, the US blacklisted a Haqqani Network ‘commander’ Mali Khan, jailed in Afghanistan, in a bid to block funds to suspected terrorists belonging to the Network. “All property subject to US jurisdiction in which Mali Khan has any interest is blocked and US persons are prohibited from engaging in any transactions with him,” the US State Department said.
The US has, however, avoided designating the Haqqani Network as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO), since it is currently engaged in efforts to bing the Haqqani Network into peace talks, along with the Quetta Shura Taliban. The US believes that designating the Haqqani Network as an FTO would close the doors for any possible dialogue.
The Haqqani Network which primarily uses suicide bombings as a tactic in Afghanistan, and constitutes a quintessential element of the Kabul Attack Network (KAN), a group that carries out operations in and around Kabul, the national capital. KAN also includes militants belonging to the Quetta Shura Taliban, run by Mullah Omar, and Hizb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HI-G) led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and co-operates with other terrorist outfits including al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). Led by senior Haqqani leaders, Dawood and Taj Mir Jawad, KAN has executed several attacks in Kabul. The major KAN successes owe mainly to the Haqqani Network. Jeffrey A. Dressler of the Institute for the Study of War notes, “[a]s early as 2007, there were reports that insurgents were establishing bases of operations in districts and provinces in and around Kabul. These bases were established in Kabul and Logar and resourced by suicide bombers who could be assigned to strike targets in the nation’s capital”. Dressler’s report goes on to note that KAN, with the Haqqani Network playing a major role, divided the city of Kabul into 15 zones, each of which was under the command of a separate leader tasked with providing resources for and coordinating attacks. The identity of each of the 15 zone commanders is kept secret even from the others, and only a few high-ranking insurgent leaders in Pakistan have comprehensive information relating to the KAN leadership.
The Haqqani Network has emerged as the most prominent among the three main terrorist groups in Afghanistan working under common strategic goals, and different strategic plans. Founded by Jalaluddin Haqqani, an ethnic Pashtun belonging to the Zadran tribe in the 1970’s, the Network is now led by Jalaluddin’s son Sirajuddin. In his initial years as a mujahid (holy warrior), Jalaluddin allied with Hizb-e-Islami, then led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and which had Younis Khalis and Burhanuddin Rabbani as its members. In 1979, a split in Hizb-e-Islami took Jalaluddin into the Hizb-e-Islami-Khalis (HI-K) group, while Hekmatyar came to control the Hizb-e-Islami (Gulbuddin, HI-G). The same year, Jalaluddin became the key HI-K ‘commander’ in the south eastern region of Afghanistan. In 1986, Jalaluddin walked out of the HI-K, to form his own group.
Jalaluddin Haqqani and then al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden forged a relationship with an explicit understanding against the anti-Soviet resistance. Receiving weapons and funds from the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Saudi Arabia, and training from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the Network fought against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan.
In addition to the al Qaeda nexus, the Haqqani Network allied with the Taliban just before the Taliban consolidated power in Kabul. Jalaluddin served both as a military commander and a Minister of Border and Tribal Affairs in Mullah Omar’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Praveen Swami notes, further, “Bin Laden’s declaration of jihad against the West — his most sweeping manifesto and ideological keystone of the 9/11 attacks – was critically issued from a Haqqani camp in the Zhawara valley.” In 1986, bin Laden constructed an elaborate cave, the ‘Lion’s Den’ in the Haqqani-controlled territory of Jaji in Paktia Province, to train Arab volunteers to fight in Afghanistan.
Some of the most prominent among recent attacks carried out by the Haqqani Network include:
November 3, 2011: A suicide attack conducted by five suicide bombers on a security contractor’s compound in Guzra District of Herat Province killed two Afghan guards working for NATO-led troops, and wounded five people, including one foreign civilian.
October 29, 2011: A suicide bomber killed 13 foreigners, most of them Americans, and at least four Afghans in Kabul. Though the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, Afghan and American officials suspect involvement of Haqqani Network.
September 13, 2011: A 20 hour siege co-ordinated with three suicide attacks in Kabul killed 14 Afghan civilians and Police and injured 28 others.
September 11, 2011: Two Afghan civilians were killed and 80 US troops injured by a suicide truck bomber on the US military base in Bagram city of Wardak Province.
June 28, 2011: Eight militants attacked the Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul, killing 11 Afghan civilians and two Policemen and injuring 13 others. After hours of retaliatory firing by Afghan and NATO forces, four bombers blew themselves up bringing an end to the cross fire.
December 19, 2010: Four suicide bombers dressed in Afghan Army uniforms killed five Afghan soldiers and three Policemen, and wounded 20 others at an Army recruitment centre in Kunduz Province.
December 19, 2010: Two armed KAN members opened fire on a bus carrying recruits near the main training facility outside Kabul. One suicide bomber detonated his bomb killing five Afghan soldiers.
July 18, 2010: The Haqqani led KAN conducted a suicide attack near a medical clinic in Kabul, killing four Afghan civilians.
May 18, 2010: A suicide attack in Kabul killed 18 people, including a US colonel, a Canadian colonel, two lieutenant colonels, two US soldiers, and 12 Afghan civilians.
February 11, 2009: At least 21 persons were killed and 57 injured as militants carried a series of strikes against Afghan Government targets in Kabul.
July 7, 2008: A suicide attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul killed 41 persons and injured over 140. The dead included two senior diplomats, Political Counsellor V. Venkateswara Rao and Defence Adviser Brigadier Ravi Datt Mehta.
March 3, 2008: Sirajuddin Haqqani, the commander of the Haqqani Network, claimed responsibility for the Sabari District Centre suicide bombing which killed two International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) service members and wounded dozens of Afghan civilians, and promised more suicide bombings in the Khost Province.
Currently working under the leadership and command of Sirajuddin Haqqani, the most wanted man in Afghanistan, with a USD 5 million bounty on his head, the outfit maintains a strong power base in Pakistan’s NWA.
Presently comprising a group of around 15,000 fighters, the Haqqani Network, has expanded its base and leadership. Maintaining a strong power base in NWA, the Network operates in Afghanistan, mainly in the Loya Paktia region, which includes Paktia, Paktika and Khost; Ghazni, Wardack and Kabul Provinces. This dominance goes back to the period of the anti-Soviet resistance when Jalaluddin Haqqani, along with al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, had solidified his position across the Loya Paktia tribal complex, well beyond the traditional Zadran tribal hold.
The Haqqani’s enjoy immunity from Pakistan’s Forces. Though periodic military campaigns have been launched in almost all the tribal areas of Pakistan, there have been no such operations in NWA thus far, despite repeated US demands. Pakistan has virtually declared the Haqqani Network as its “strategic asset”. In May 2008, a transcript given to Mike McConnell, the Director of US National Intelligence, stated that Islamabad’s Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, referred to Haqqani as a “strategic asset”. Further, stressing Islamabad’s laxity in dealing with the terror nodes of the Haqqani Network within Pakistan, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, on September 21, 2011, accused Pakistan of exporting violent extremism in Afghanistan through proxies, and described the Haqqani Network as a “veritable arm” of the ISI. Reconfirming such linkages, on October 31, 2011, the US urged Islamabad to ensure that “Intelligence information does not go to the Haqqani Network”.
Meanwhile, striking back at the US for accusing the ISI of supporting the Haqqani Network, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, on September 27, 2011, observed, “The deadly Haqqani Network was CIA’s blue-eyed boy for many years. If we talk about links, I am sure the CIA also has links with many terrorist organisations around the world, by which we mean intelligence links.”
As the US pushes for a premature withdrawal from Afghanistan, it is under tremendous pressure to neutralise the terrorist groupings operating in Afghanistan lest the ‘drawdown’ leaves Kabul exposed to a Taliban takeover. Pakistan’s continuing duplicity has forced the US to declare a new and aggressive approach against the Haqqani Network. The current US strategy, however and at best, takes on the contours of a desperate rearguard action to force a reluctant adversary to the negotiating table, even as it provides incentives – through announcement of a timetable of withdrawal – for him to persist in his violence. On September 23, 2011, Sirajuddin Haqqani warned Washington against any military adventure in the NWA, declaring, “The US would suffer more losses in the North Waziristan Agency than they did in Afghanistan.”
Meanwhile, an ISAF spokesman, Brigadier General Carsten Jacobson, on October 10, 2011, stated that Afghan Army and the NATO-led ISAF were keeping up pressure on the insurgents, “We chase Haqqani in the field, killing and capturing more than 100 last week alone, and more than 1,400 were captured this year. We also have to break their financial trends.”
Nevertheless, with continuing support from, and safe havens in, Pakistan, with the top leadership of the group intact, with a continuing expansions of both its operational and recruitment base, and with a visible wasting away of the Western will to continue with present levels of military involvement in Afghanistan, there is little possibility of neutralizing the continuing and widening rampage of the Haqqani group, even with continued successes of ongoing US drone operations.
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management