25 August 2009

New York Times on Afghanistan

The 23 August New York Times provides further sobering assessments of the state of play in Afghanistan (see U.S. Military Says Its Force in Afghanistan Is Insufficient here). It reports:

American military commanders with the NATO mission in Afghanistan told President Obama’s chief envoy to the region [Richard Holbrooke] this weekend that they did not have enough troops to do their job, pushed past their limit by Taliban rebels who operate across borders.

The commanders emphasized problems in southern Afghanistan, where Taliban insurgents continue to bombard towns and villages with rockets despite a new influx of American troops, and in eastern Afghanistan, where the father-and-son-led Haqqani network of militants has become the main source of attacks against American troops and their Afghan allies.

The reference to the “Haqqani network of militants” in the same breath as “Taliban insurgents” is interesting in that it provides a good example of the confused understanding of who is allied to whom and what their real agenda are. Later in the New York Times piece we are told:

Eastern Afghanistan, in particular, has been a trouble spot. On Sunday, during Mr. Holbrooke’s stop at the Bagram military base, Maj. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of the United States and NATO forces in eastern Afghanistan, told him and visiting reporters that the Haqqani network was expanding its reach. “We’ve seen that expansion, and that’s part of what we’re fighting,” he said. American commanders believe that the network, whose leaders Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Sirajuddin have been linked to Al Qaeda, are using sanctuaries in Pakistan to launch attacks against American and Afghan forces.

This 17 June 2008 New York Times article (Old-Line Taliban Commander Is Face of Rising Afghan Threat) by Carlotta Gill has this to say about Jalaluddin Haqqani:

A quarter-century ago, Maulavi [Jalaluddin] Haqqani was a favorite of American and Pakistani intelligence agencies and of wealthy Arab benefactors because of his effectiveness in organizing mujahedeen fighters from Afghanistan, Arab nations and other Muslim regions to attack the Soviet forces that had occupied Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Today he has turned his expertise against American and NATO forces. From his base in northwestern Pakistan, the aging Maulavi Haqqani has maintained a decades-old association with Osama bin Laden and other Arabs. Together with his son, Sirajuddin Haqqani, 34, he and these allies now share a common mission to again drive foreign forces from Afghanistan.

In Pakistan’s tribal areas of North and South Waziristan, Maulavi Haqqani and his son run a network of madrasas and training bases and provide protection for foreign fighters and terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda.

They also provide logistics and intelligence for attacks in Afghanistan, according to a United States military public affairs officer, Sgt. Timothy Dinneen, who is based at Bagram air base in Afghanistan and wrote a paper on the Haqqanis last year.

Another United States military spokesman, Maj. Chris Belcher, accused the Haqqanis of bringing foreign fighters from Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Chechnya, Turkey and Middle Eastern countries into Afghanistan.

Maulavi Haqqani’s old ties keep his insurgent ranks flush with men and money, the American officials said, as do arms and smuggling rackets they control within their fief.

Meanwhile, Pakistani forces have been reluctant to move against the Haqqanis. According to European officials and one senior Pakistani official, Maulavi Haqqani has maintained his old links with Pakistani intelligence and still enjoys their protection.

Asked in 2006 why the Pakistani military did not move against Maulavi Haqqani, a senior Pakistani intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledged that it was because he was a Pakistani asset.

Maulavi Haqqani has by now become so powerful in his redoubt that a Western military official who has worked in both Pakistan and Afghanistan said the problem of going after him was that the Pakistani military was not capable of taking him on and feared failure if it tried.

Pakistani forces accompanied by Americans raided a mosque owned by Maulavi Haqqani while searching for him in North Waziristan in 2002, but since then he has been largely left alone.

One Western military official said there was an unspoken agreement between Pakistani and American officials that United States Predator drones would generally be used in the tribal areas against foreign Qaeda members, rather than Pakistani or Afghan targets, like the Haqqanis.

This feature piece in the online Long War Journal, dated 2 August 2008, reports that the Haqqani network was behind the attempted assassination of Afghan President Hamid Karzai on 27 April 2008, with the help of Afghan defence officials. It also states that telephone intercepts by American and Indian intelligence agencies show that Pakistani intelligence (Inter-Services Intelligence, ISI) had links to the insurgents who planned and executed the car bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul, and that their report accuses the Haqqani network of facilitating and providing the bomber for the attack.

This report The most deadly US foe in Afghanistan by Anand Gopal, writing in the Christian Science Monitor, 31 May 2009, says that the Haqqani network is independent of, but allied with, the Taliban. It describes the network as the most sophisticated of the insurgent groups, with (in the view of American intelligence officials) better connections to Pakistani intelligence and Arab jihadist groups than any other Afghan insurgent group.

Although he joined the Taliban government in the mid-1990s, Haqqani was never formally part of the Taliban movement. "The Taliban wanted to create an Islamic emirate, but Haqqani favored an Islamic republic," claims Maulavi Saadullah, who was a close friend at the time.

"During those years, [Haqqani's son] Siraj used to complain to me about how heavy-handed and dogmatic the Taliban were in their interpretation of Islam," recalls Waheed Muzjda, an Afghan-based policy analyst who knew the family.

Still, the Taliban saw Haqqani's usefulness as a commander and enlisted him in the fight against the Northern Alliance. On the eve of the American invasion in October 2001, Haqqani was named the head commander for all of the Taliban forces.

But for a few months after the US-led coalition invaded Afghanistan, Haqqani was on the fence as to whether to join the new Afghan government or fight against it, according to those who knew him at the time. A series of American bombing raids killed members of Haqqani's family, and he disappeared across the Pakistani border, telling friends that "the Americans won't let me live in peace," according to Mr. Saadullah. American officials, however, countered that he was abetting Al Qaeda fighters in their escape from Afghanistan into Pakistan and was not a neutral figure.

So Jalaluddin Haqqani was once the golden-haired boy of the Americans and the Pakistani ISI, he has turned against the Americans but ISI still assists him and he operates with impunity out of Pakistan, and the Pakistanis are not sure whether they can handle him in any case. He is allied with the Taliban but not of the Taliban, and has substantial financial backing from Arab and other non-Afghan jihadist groups.

If you watch the videos at Part Six of the suite to which links are provided at Rethinking Afghanistan, one clear message that you will take away from the ex-CIA operatives and others is that the Taliban and Al Qaeda have quite distinct objectives: the Taliban’s agenda is entirely a domestic Afghan one – they have no interest in felling tall buildings in the United States - whereas Al Qaeda has a clear world-wide jihadist objective.

My read of this confusing picture is that the Haqqani network is neither Taliban nor Al Qaeda. It is an insurgent group focused on getting the Americans and other foreigners out of its homeland, and will use anyone who will assist in that purpose, just as it used the Americans and Pakistanis when the Soviet Union was the occupying power. It suits the foreign jihadists (Al Qaeda if you prefer) to fund the Network because it is giving the Americans and the Karzai Government a hard time, but this is an alliance of convenience, and if the Americans were to depart, the Haqqanis would turn on the other foreigners as soon as they outlived their usefulness, just as they turned on their former American backers.

Enough to make one wonder what we are doing there.

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