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.
Series of attacks
The devastating March 3 suicide truck bombing against the Sabri district headquarters in Khost, which destroyed the building and killed two US soldier in a guard tower, was planned and carried out by the Haqqani Network. Siraj took credit for the attack shortly afterward and Jalaluddin appeared in a propaganda video two weeks later which included footage of the attack. The video, which ran 45-minutes, also included a video will of the 28-year-old German-born Turkish citizen, Cuneyt Ciftci.
An earlier assault against the five-star Serena hotel in downtown Kabul, which left seven people dead, was credited to the Haqqani Network and later confirmed by Siraj himself. The failed but brazen assassination attempt against Afghan president Hamid Karzai in April was also credited to the Haqqani Network, although logistical help was provided by Hezb-i-Islami operatives and senior Afghan defense officials, an alarming merger that could provide fatal consequences for the ailing state of Afghan national security.
Siraj Haqqani recently gave an unprecedented interview to an American media network from his hideout in eastern Khost province and boasted about carrying out both attacks. “Yes, I organized those attacks,” Haqqani told NBC, “but I had help from a serving Afghan military general. There are some people with government portfolios who are supporting us because they are worried about their own security. They inform us of the movements of U.S. and NATO troops. There have even been some instances where they have assisted us in carrying out attacks,” he added.
Although Afghan officials have dismissed Siraj’s comments as “propaganda of the enemy,” eight Afghan officials were sacked in May for their alleged participation or negligence pertaining to the failed assassination attempt. Among those relieved of their command and questioned were Muhammad Salem Ehsas, Kabul’s police chief; Abdul Khaliq, the chief of the defense ministry’s intelligence and detection wing; Abdul Manan Farahi, the chief for counterterrorism in the interior ministry; and Nazar Shah, the head of the intelligence department for Kabul.
Below is a timeline of important events regarding the rise in power of Afghanistan’s most notorious and powerful insurgent network.
October 20, 2007- The Coalition describes the Haqqani Network as the most dangerous threat to Afghan security. The Coalition launch a “most wanted program” in eastern Afghanistan which offers bounties as high as $200,000 for information leading to the capture of Siraj Haqqani and several of his top commanders.
November 1, 2007- Mullah Manan, a senior commander for the Haqqani Network, is killed during an ambush by Afghan soldiers as he attempted to infiltrate the Spira district of Afghanistan’s Khost province from Pakistan.
December 14, 2007- Mullah Sangeen, a top commander for the Haqqani Network and part of the most wanted list, is reported to have been killed during a Coalition raid in eastern Afghanistan.
January 14, 2008- Four gunmen storm the five-star Serena hotel in downtown Kabul and shoot dead at least seven people. The assault occurred while a high level visit by Norwegian officials, whose embassy was based inside the hotel, was taking place. The attack is later directly tied to Siraj Haqqani.
January 16, 2008- Top Haqqani Network Commander Darim Sedgai is ambushed by unknown gunmen in Pakistan. Sedgai was on the Coalition’s most wanted list and had a $10,000 bounty for information leading to his capture. The Coalition confirmed Sedgai’s death on Jan. 26 but the Taliban have insisted that Sedgai survived the ambush and recovered from his wounds.
March 3, 2008- The Haqqani Network launches a devastating suicide truck bombing against the Sabri district headquarters in Khost province. The building is severely damaged and two US soldiers in a guard tower die in the blast.
March 12, 2008- Siraj Haqqani tells reporters his group planned and coordinated the March suicide bombing in Khost province.
March 13, 2008- Coalition forces launch a salvo of “precision munitions” against a known Haqqani Network compound in Lawar Mundi, North Waziristan, close to the Afghan border. Coalition sources told the Long War Journal several insurgents were killed in the blast which coincided with a meeting of high ranking Haqqani field commanders. Pakistani authorities maintained only women and children were killed during the strike.
March 20, 2008- Jalaluddin Haqqani appears in a Taliban produced propaganda video and takes credit for the Sarobi district headquarters bombing, shows footage of the attack, the video will of Turkish suicide bomber and threatens to execute further attacks against foreign forces in Afghanistan.
April 8, 2008- Coalition forces raid the compound of a suspected Haqqani Network commander accused of conducting foreign-fighter and weapons-facilitation operations. The targeted commander and one other Haqqani-linked insurgent are arrested.
April 14, 2008- A Haqqani network commander “associated with IED facilitation, financial and logistical support operations” is nabbed in the Gurbuz district of Khost province by Afghan and Coalition forces.
April 27, 2008- Afghan President Hamid Karzai narrowly escapes assassination while attending a massive military parade in Kabul. Four people, including a Parliamentarian, a local cleric and a ten-year old boy are killed during the shooting, 11 others are seriously injured. Haqqani Network and Hezb-i-Islmai operatives are later blamed for the attack.
May 2, 2008- Three Haqqani Network operatives are nabbed by Coalition forces in Khost province.
June 21, 2008- Coalition jets pound a mountainous area in Khost’s Spera district after a group of insurgents including a senior Haqqani Network commander are spotted by intelligence assets.
July 1, 2008- A letter reportedly written by Jalaluddin Haqqani appears in a regional newspaper outlining the split within the Taliban leadership. Haqqani faults the current Taliban leadership by Mullah Omar calling it inept and demands a new generation of Taliban be able to run the insurgency. Both Mullah Omar and Haqqani refuse to offer public statements regarding the letter’s authenticity.
July 7, 2008- A devastating suicide car bombing rocks the Indian embassy in Kabul killing two Indian diplomats and causing serious damage to both the Indian embassy and the nearby Indonesian embassy. At least 41 people are killed and 150 others wounded.
July 10, 2008- The youngest son of Jalaluddin Haqqani, Omar Haqqani, is killed during a clash with security forces in Khost province. The 18-year old died in combat in Satto Kandao, the mountainous area that links Paktia with the Khost province. His death is later confirmed by Taliban fighters in Khost province.
July 30, 2008- Siraj Haqqani agrees to meet with American news media in an Taliban controlled village in Khost province to discuss the insurgency. He allows the photographer to take shots of his back and tells the journalist that his network carried out the Serena Hotel attack and the assassination attempt on President Hamid Karzai while working in conjunction with senior Afghan government officials.
August 2, 2008- US and Indian officials say recorded telephone intercepts links Pakistani’s intelligence service to insurgents who planned and executed the deadly suicide car bombing against India’s embassy in Kabul. The report also accuses the Haqqani Network of facilitating and providing the bomber for the attack.