Afghan forces battle the Haqqani Network in Paktika
Afghan troops killed 23 Haqqani Network and foreign fighters during a clash in Afghanistan's eastern province of Paktika.
The battle took place in Paktika's Barmal district along the border with Pakistan. Arab and Pakistani fighters were among those reported killed during the clash, the Afghan military said.
Today's clash followed a raid on Nov. 15, where six Haqqani Network fighters were killed in the Sarobi district. A "group commander" was reported to be among those killed. Also, two suicide bombers were killed during a premature detonation of their explosives in the Yaya Khil district.
Both the Barmal and Sarobi districts are Taliban strongholds in Paktika province. Paktika province is run by Mullah Sangeen Zadran, who is the shadow governor. Mullah Sangeen is a senior lieutenant to Siraj Haqqani, the military commander of the Haqqani Network.
The battles took place as the Pakistani military is on the offensive against Hakeemullah Mehsud's Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan just across the border in South Waziristan. The military claims it has driven the Taliban out of the major towns and villages in the Mehsud tribal areas, and the top military spokesman described the Taliban as "defeated."
But the Taliban have regrouped in Arakzai, Khyber, North Waziristan, and in Mullah Nazir's tribal areas in South Waziristan, and are continuing to conduct a terror campaign against the state.
Background on major raids against the Haqqani Network in eastern Afghanistan
The US and Afghan military have conducted multiple raids against al Qaeda and Taliban camps deep in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan this year.
Since late May, the joint forces have taken out four large base camps operated by the Haqqani Network in Paktika, Paktia, and Khost provinces. The Haqqani Network, led by Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Siraj, has close ties to al Qaeda, Mullah Omar, the Pakistani Taliban, and Pakistan's military and intelligence services.
On May 28, US and Afghan forces assaulted a heavily defended fort in the mountains in the Wor Mamay district in the eastern province of Paktika, near the Pakistani border. During that raid, 29 Haqqani Network fighters, including six failed suicide bombers, were killed. Mullah Sangeen Zadran, the senior Haqqani Network commander who was the target of the raid, escaped.
The next raid took place on July 17, when US and Afghan forces took out an "enemy encampment" situated in the remote reaches of Paktia province. The US military said a large number of Haqqani Network fighters were killed in the assault.
The US carried out the Paktia raid the same day Sangeen threatened to kill a US soldier unless Coalition forces ended operations in two districts in Paktika and Ghazni provinces in eastern Afghanistan. The soldier was captured June 30 after walking away from his combat outpost in Paktika province, and has not been heard from since mid-July, when the Haqqanis released a staged videotape "interview."
US and Afghan forces struck at two Haqqani encampments in late August.
The first attack took place on Aug. 28 when a joint US and Afghan force assaulted a fortified Haqqani Network base located in the mountains of the Urgun District in Paktika province along the Pakistani border. The US military said "a large number of hostile militants" were killed during a daylong assault on what the US military described as a "logistics base and safe haven for foreign fighters." The base had sophisticated fortifications, and a massive amount of light and heavy weapons were found.
The second attack took place late at night on Aug. 29 in the Sapera district in Khost province. The joint US and Afghan force killed 35 Haqqani Network fighters during the assault on a hideout in the district. Security forces also found weapons and food caches at the hideout.
The proliferation of large enemy hideouts and training camps used by the Taliban, al Qaeda, and the Haqqani Network has concerned US military officers and intelligence officials.
Background on the Haqqani Network
The Haqqani Network is active in the Afghan provinces of Khost, Paktia, Paktika, Ghazni, Logar, Wardak, and Kabul, and provides support to Taliban networks in Kunar, Nangarhar, Helmand, and Kandahar provinces.
The Haqqanis have extensive links with al Qaeda and with Pakistan's military intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI. These relationships have allowed the Haqqani Network to survive and thrive in North Waziristan. The Haqqanis control large swaths of North Waziristan, and run a parallel administration with courts, recruiting centers, tax offices, and security forces.
Siraj Haqqani, a son of Jalaluddin, has risen in prominence over the past few years. He is believed to be the mastermind of the most deadly attacks inside Afghanistan and to be the senior military commander in eastern Afghanistan. The US military has described Siraj as the primary threat to security in eastern Afghanistan.
Siraj is considered dangerous not only for his ties with the Afghan Taliban, but also because of his connections with al Qaeda's central leadership, which extend all the way to Osama bin Laden. On March 25, the US Department of State put out a $5 million bounty for information leading to the capture of Siraj.