Counter-Terrorism: Hard Times For Haqqani

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November 10, 2013: Several years of attacks by American and Afghan Special Forces, along with growing use of UAVs, have hurt the Haqqani Network in eastern Afghanistan. It’s reached the point where one of the most powerful tribes in the area (the Zadran, which the Haqqani family belongs to) has openly cut its ties with the Islamic terrorist group. There are very practical reasons for the split. For one thing, the Haqqani Network has become more bandit than Islamic radical defenders of Islam. That’s because the Haqqani Network is a large organization and there are bills to pay. The years of American pressure have cut income drastically and forced the organization to pay more attention to financial matters at the expense of everything else. So the Haqqani have become more gangster threat to the tribes who long supported them than a defender of the tribes from outside interference. This change was a long time coming, for it had been no secret that the Haqqani Network survived for decades because of Pakistani support and bases in Pakistan that were never attacked by the Pakistanis (the American UAVs were another matter). The Zadran switch was not a surprise in eastern Afghanistan, as many Zadrani already believed (and kept silent about) that the Haqqani Network had turned into gangsters. Many other tribes in eastern Afghanistan had already gone on record with that belief.

The American attacks on the Haqqani Network were part of a larger campaign to shut down al Qaeda. The Haqqani Network is largely Afghan and is not known to carry out attacks outside of Afghanistan, while al Qaeda has international ambitions. But the U.S. now believes that al Qaeda has just about disappeared in Pakistan and Afghanistan, especially since the death of leader Osama bin Laden in 2011. A long-time ally of al Qaeda in Pakistan, the Haqqani Network is now seen as a larger threat, especially in Afghanistan. So for the last two years the pressure has been on the Haqqani Network. An August 2012 airstrike in eastern Afghanistan killed Badruddin Haqqani, son of Jalaluddin Haqqani, the founder of the Haqqani Network. This was a big deal because in 2011, Badruddin was added to the list of sanctioned individuals identified as international terrorists. Men on this list find it harder to travel internationally or conduct financial transactions via banks or other financial organizations. Badruddin had taken over day-to-day control of the network, something his 62 year old father was getting too old for.

The Haqqanis have run a terrorist group since the 1980s. In 2008, the Taliban patched up differences with Jalaluddin Haqqani, who had not been heard from for several years, since his dispute with Taliban leader Mullah Omar first surfaced. The Haqqani Network is basically a group of Islamic terrorists operating in the Pushtun tribal areas along the Afghan-Pakistan border. Founder Jalaluddin Haqqani was a major player during the 1980s battle with the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. He joined the Taliban in 1995, and became a senior official. But after 2001, he gradually grew apart from Taliban leader Mullah Omar. For a while Haqqani negotiated with the Afghan and Pakistani government, but these peace efforts failed and the Haqqani Network is now once more an ally of the Taliban. But, as the past has shown, the Haqqani will quickly change their allegiance when it suits their needs. In the last five years the Taliban apparently followed the advice of Jalaluddin Haqqani and concentrated more on terror attacks than in trying to control territory. This was a step back for the Taliban. But after several years of disastrous losses, the Taliban needed to come up with some new tactics, or face even more embarrassing defeats.

Jalaluddin Haqqani runs a tight ship. He carries out terror attacks mainly in eastern Afghanistan often on the orders or encouragement of Pakistani intelligence (the ISI). Haqqani has as many as 5,000 men under arms (but many are part-time fighters) and several hundred suicide bombers in training or ready to go. Until the Zadran abandoned him, Haqqani could call on over 20,000 armed tribesmen in North Waziristan and adjacent areas. Again, these are largely part-timers and have to be convinced to gather and fight. Despite the recent tribal defections, Haqqani can still call on several thousand armed tribesmen on both sides of the border, especially if he promises “rewards” (cash or looting opportunities). One reason the Pakistani Army has not moved to shut down Haqqani in North Waziristan is because of the Haqqani threat to call up their tribal allies. The main Pakistani forces in North Waziristan are the Frontier Constabulary, a border guard recruited from the local tribes. These guys guard the Afghan border in North Waziristan but have an understanding with Haqqani men sneaking into or out of Afghanistan; they leave them alone. The Haqqani gunmen return the favor.

Despite protests from the Pakistanis, the U.S. has increased its use of missile armed UAVs to hunt down and kill terrorist leaders in Pakistan. These missile (mainly Hellfire) attacks have already killed or wounded a growing number of people belonging to the Haqqani clan, and the U.S. has made it clear this will not stop. The Pakistanis want only al Qaeda and Taliban leaders attacked because these two groups have been launching a growing number of terror attacks in Pakistan. But Haqqani has behaved itself, and Pakistan (at least the army and ISI) wants to keep it that way. But Haqqani also allows al Qaeda to use Haqqani facilities (camps, safe houses, and so on). The U.S. and Afghanistan are not happy with all the terrorism Haqqani sponsors and carries out in Afghanistan. So Haqqani leaders have been seeing more Hellfire missiles up close and personal. In the last two years the U.S. has been using the missile armed UAVs more frequently on the Afghan side of the border.

The terrorist losses from these attacks have been severe and include heads of operations, finance, and intelligence. Many of the mid-level commanders were bomb making and terror attack experts. These losses caused additional casualties as less skilled bomb makers died when their imperfect devices blew up while under construction. New bomb makers have been less successful because of poor instruction. The loss of operations commanders meant operatives were less effectively deployed and more easily caught or killed. The damage to their intelligence operations meant there was less success in general, especially against the growing American informant network on the ground. The financial leadership losses has meant less income and more reliance on stealing from locals, which makes the terror groups even more unpopular.

Most of the attacks have taken place in the last five years and concentrated on al Qaeda, with Haqqani and Taliban personnel as secondary targets. While there are more attacks, fewer civilians have been killed. It's difficult to tell who is an innocent civilian in these circumstances, but since the terrorists have rarely claimed and identified civilian deaths from these attacks, there are apparently very few civilians killed. There are several reasons for this. One is better intel, as well as new types of missiles. UAVs can carry more of the new, smaller missiles, typically two of them in place of one Hellfire. While this allows more targets to be hit per sortie, the crucial factor is intelligence. In the past, the most effort was made, and the highest prices paid, for information on al Qaeda leaders. Now Haqqani people are at the top of the list.

NATO operations in the three years have greatly reduced the fighting strength of the Taliban and the drug gangs in eastern Afghanistan, leaving the Pakistan-based Haqqani Network as the most powerful Islamic terror group in the region. Haqqani is basically a family business, and most of the business is criminal. Kidnapping, extortion, smuggling, and whatever else is available has kept the organization going. During the 1980s war with the Russians, Haqqani adopted the "Islamic warrior" tag and never abandoned it. Like most anti-Russian Afghan groups, Haqqani received money, instructions, and protection from Pakistan (largely from ISI, the Pakistani version of the CIA). When the ISI needed a terror attack, kidnapping, or assassination carried out Haqqani was often used. Haqqani was reliable and effective, and that was important for the people running ISI.

Starting in 2011, Haqqani came under unprecedented attack by NATO forces. That meant over 1,600 suspected Haqqani men (including 300 local leaders) were arrested during over 500 raids in that year alone. These operations killed or captured dozens of known Haqqani officials, often key people who were difficult to replace. Haqqani is being forced to risk its lucrative operations (and personnel) in eastern Afghanistan in order to carry out Pakistan ordered terror attacks in Kabul and elsewhere. While Haqqani has a sanctuary in Pakistan (North Waziristan), that area is subject to constant patrols by CIA UAVs and missile attacks on terrorist leaders and other key personnel. The area is monitored by electronic surveillance and a network of informers. In eastern Afghanistan, the growing number of NATO raids have cost Haqqani a lot of money and made it more expensive to carry out terrorist attacks. As bad as it was for Haqqani in 2011, it got worse in the next two years.

The senior Haqqani people have cash stashed in foreign accounts (the oil-rich and money friendly Arab Gulf states are a favorite) and some Haqqani wives and children have been sent to live there at least part of the time. But power is addictive and the Haqqani clan is large. For all practices, just cutting and running is a last resort, to be done only when all is lost. Many Haqqani would rather fight to the death than run, but there is hope that the Haqqani will destroy itself when the runners and diehards turn on each other.

 

 


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