Influential Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who chairs the Armed Services Committee, wants CIA piloted drones to add the Haqqani network operating in Afghanistan but based in Pakistan to their target list. U.S. officials, including Afghan commander Gen. David Petraeus, have long said the Haqqani network is their most lethal enemy in Afghanistan. Defense Tech friend and Politico scribe Gordon Lubold writes that yesterday, Levin told reporters:
"We know where they are, we know where their headquarters is, and the same thing with the Quetta Shura. I don't think they should be off-limits to those strikes — they directly threaten the Afghan mission."The insurgent network is commanded by Jalaluddin Haqqani’s son Serajuddin. It operates in eastern and northern Afghanistan and enjoys a sanctuary across the border in the lawless Pakistani tribal regions along the border.
The Haqqanis have extensive links to the Arabian peninsula where they receive most of their financing. Afghan analyst Thomas Ruttig says the Haqqanis were one of the first Afghan mujahedin groups to welcome Arab jihadi volunteers into their ranks. Most of the 500 or so hard core al Qaeda fighters operating in Pakistan’s tribal areas are closely linked to the Haqqani network.
Since 2008, the network has been reinforced by large numbers of Pakistani Taliban, Ruttig writes, perhaps as many as 4,000. The Haqqanis have also trained Kashmiri and Punjabi jihadis in their camps.
Many of the more spectacular attacks in Kabul and the recent attack on Bagram air base are the work of the Haqqanis; the insurgents are able to slip back across the border in Pakistan to safety after carrying out attacks. Ruttig, whose chapter on the Haqqanis in Antonio Giustozzi’s Decoding the New Taliban, provides a very good analysis, says there are plenty of “fault-lines” between the Haqqanis and the mainstream Taliban.
Yet, whatever opportunity those differences might offer is overshadowed by the Haqqani’s close ties to Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which view the Haqqanis as a valuable ally in a larger regional contest. Ruttig writes that Serajuddin feels “invulnerable” in Pakistan, and is able to move about relatively freely. The ISI has on occasion used Seajuddin to negotiate peace deals with Pakistani Taliban in the tribal areas.
All of which is to say that the Pakistani powerful are unlikely to approve adding the Haqqanis to the target list.
-- Greg Grant