The Haqqani Network
by Charles Lemos, Fri Jan 23, 2009 at 05:48:30 PM EST
It is of grave concern that President Obama is choosing to continue the aerial war in Afghanistan which the Bush Administration in August 2008 extended into Pakistan's tribal areas. From the Washington Post:
At least 20 people were killed in northwest Pakistan near the border of Afghanistan on Friday in two suspected U.S. missile strikes, marking the first such attack in Pakistan's tribal areas since President Obama's inauguration.
A U.S. Predator drone fired three missiles at a compound about two miles from the town of Mirali in the tribal area of North Waziristan about 5:15 p.m., according to a Pakistani security official and local residents. The precision strike leveled a compound, which was owned by local tribal elder Khalil Malik, killing at least 10 suspected militants, including five foreign nationals, according to the Pakistani security official. The site of the attack is about 30 miles east of the Afghan border.
At least 132 people have been killed in 38 suspected US predator drone missile strikes inside Pakistan since August 2008 as the Bush Administration decided to pursue more aggressively Taliban and al-Qaeda insurgents inside Pakistan's tribal areas. The use of the specially equipped drones represented a fundamental shift in US strategy. After years of deferring to Pakistani authorities and waiting for them to act, the Bush Administration turned toward unilateral American military operations in the hopes that the increased pressure on Islamic militants would yield quick results but the strategy risks alienating both the populace and government of a country that has been a key if sometimes reluctant counter-terrorism ally. The government of Pakistan, beyond its own incompetence, finds itself caught between Washington's demands for action and the unpopularity of the US aerial campaign. With this attack, it is clear that when it comes to Pakistan nothing has really changed despite a new Administration. An aerial drone war on Pakistan, no matter how well targeted and pinpointed, is bound to fail because the number of civilians killed is disproportionately high. In these attacks, it appears three children were killed. And that will lead to protests on streets of Pakistan and a further hardening of resentment against the US and the West.
Back in September 2008, Julian Barnes and Greg Miller writing in the Los Angeles Times noted that:
The new Predator capabilities are a key ingredient in an emerging U.S. military offensive against Taliban strongholds and Al Qaeda havens in Pakistan.
Previously, the United States' main focus in Pakistan's tribal territory was gathering intelligence that could be used to direct raids by the Pakistani military, or occasional missile strikes from CIA-operated Predator planes.
Intelligence activities will increasingly be geared now toward enabling U.S. Special Forces units - backed by AC-130 gunships and other aircraft - to carry out operations against Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives, officials said.
The change in strategy reflects frustration within the Bush administration over Pakistan's failure to root out insurgent groups or disrupt the flow of militants who launch attacks in Afghanistan and then retreat to Pakistan.
After years of building alliances with local tribes, Al Qaeda and Taliban groups now have a "mature" haven in Pakistan from which to operate, said a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The target of today's attack was on the Haqqani Network in its Pakistani safe-haven. If you haven't heard of this Islamist tribal Afghani group, you will. The most complete description of the group is from Matt Dupee of The Long War Journal:
Over the last six months, three out of the four most spectacular terrorist attacks occurring in Afghanistan have been carried out by the Haqqani Network, a mysterious yet highly dangerous terrorist gang bound together by tribal and clan relationships. Despite nearly a year worth of rumors purporting the death of its grand master and ailing leader, Jalaluddin Haqqani, the elder Haqqani recently appeared in a Taliban produced propaganda video proving he is very much alive and in control of planning and executing massive terrorist operations.
Once a key recipient of US funding and arms during the Soviet-Afghan war of the 1980's, Haqqani has maintained his status as a prominent mujahideen commander who holds sway over several eastern provinces. His rise in power and prestige may have surpassed that of the Taliban's elusive supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar but it is Jalauddin's oldest son, Siraj, a lurid 30-year old terror mastermind, who may have gained the most prominence.
Siraj, also known as Khalifa, has been described by US military officials as "one of the most influential insurgent commanders in eastern Afghanistan" who has "eclipsed his father in power and influence and is said to rival Mullah Omar for the Taliban leadership."
The network is based out of a Taliban bastion in neighboring Pakistan; using the village of Dande Darpa Khel near Miramshah (North Waziristan) as its main headquarters, while Zambar village in the northern Sabari district in Khost province, serves as the group's major operations hub. The Haqqani family owned and operated an extremist maddrassah in the Dande Darpa Khel village before the Pakistani military launched a raid and shut it down in September 2005. A massive weapons and ammunition cache was discovered and confiscated following the assault on the compound.
The Haqqanis belong to the eastern Zadran tribe, as does the commander of the Taliban's "eastern zone," Maulvi Abdul Kabir, a veteran Taliban official and military commander closely associated with Mullah Omar. The Haqqanis hold major clout on both sides of the border; and through Siraj's leadership, the group provides a "critical bridge" to Pakistani Taliban groups and al Qaeda linked foreign fighters.
The elder Haqqani's past relationship with the Pakistani intelligence apparatus, the Inter-Service Intelligence or ISI, has virtually guaranteed Jalaluddin's freedom of movement on the Pakistan side of the border as several "failed" operations against him have proven. Recent telephonic intercepts by US and Indian intelligence agencies reportedly confirm a link between ISI officers and Haqqani operatives who are said to have jointly planned and executed the deadly suicide car bomb attack against India's embassy in Kabul on July 7.
This complex dynamic is largely why the Haqqani Network is the most dangerous, capable and difficult to rout insurgent group operating in Afghanistan.
We face hard choices in Pakistan and Afghanistan. I am not sure of the right answer but an aerial war from afar that leads to indiscriminate killing of civilian non-combatants seems a likely recipe for disaster.