Taliban cooperation with al Qaeda 'is at the highest limits' - Siraj Haqqani
The top leader of the dangerous Haqqani Network operating in eastern Afghanistan said that al Qaeda fighters are welcome to fight alongside the Taliban, and that his forces control 90 percent of the areas under his command.
Siraj Haqqani, the military commander of the deadly Haqqani Network, a Taliban group that operates in eastern Afghanistan, made the statements during an interview conducted by Abu Dujanah al Sanaani for the newly established Al Balagh Media Center. A translation of Siraj's interview was provided by Flashpoint Partners.
Siraj stated he was 30 years old and confirmed he is a "member in the Shura Council in the Islamic Emirate" of Afghanistan. Better known as the Quetta Shura, the Taliban's top council is headquartered in the Pakistani city of Quetta in the southwestern province of Baluchistan.
During the interview, Haqqani admitted that foreign members of al Qaeda are welcome to fight with his men and the rest of the Taliban, and that relations between the Taliban and al Qaeda are excellent.
When asked about the Haqqani Network and the Taliban's relationship with "mujahideen who emigrate to the land of the Khorasan" and whether they "form any obstacle or burden on the Afghani people," Siraj responded that the foreign fighters, or al Qaeda, "enlighten the road for us and they resist against the cross worshippers by cooperating with us and us with them in one trench." Siraj also said that cooperation between Arab fighters and the Taliban "is at the highest limits."
Siraj's disclosure that his fighters are closely allied with al Qaeda matches statements made by Mullah Sangeen Zadran, one of Siraj's top lieutenants. Sangeen is the top military commander in Paktika province, a Haqqani Network stronghold. In an interview released in September 2009 by As Sahab, al Qaeda's top media outlet, Sangeen said al Qaeda and the Taliban "are all one and are united by Islam."
Siraj also dispelled the notion that the Haqqani Network operates independently of the Taliban. He outlined his areas of responsibility and said his fighters are also operating in northern and southern Afghanistan, but under the command of local Taliban leaders.
"We are assigned by the Islamic Emirate in the southeastern front of Afghanistan (Paktia, Khost, Paktika) and we have mujahideen members who are carrying out jihad in the north (provinces in northern Afghanistan) and in the south (provinces in southern Afghanistan), and they are operating under the Amirs of the provinces they are under," Siraj said.
Siraj also claimed that his forces are in control of all but the government centers in Paktika, Paktia, and Khost.
"Our mujahideen in the provinces we mentioned are controlling 90% of the land, and the foreign forces and the apostates [Afghan security forces] and government are narrowed inside their centers, and the general public are (in support) with the mujahideen and they love them," he said.
Siraj also spent a good deal of time discussing the importance of jihadist media and claimed the suicide attack against the CIA at Combat Outpost Chapman degraded the effectiveness of the US operations in Pakistan by 90 percent [more on this topic from The Long War Journal shortly].
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. 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. Miramshah, the main town in North Waziristan and a stronghold of the Haqqanis, is a hub of activity for jihadis from all over the world.
Siraj has risen in prominence over the past few years. The US military has described Siraj as the primary threat to security in eastern Afghanistan. He is believed to be the mastermind of the most deadly attacks inside Afghanistan, and has admitted to carrying out the attack on the Serena Hotel in Kabul and an assassination attempt against President Hamid Karzai in early 2008.
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, 2009, the US Department of State put out a $5 million bounty for information leading to the capture of Siraj.
Siraj is believed to be a member of al Qaeda's military shura, or council, US intelligence officials told The Long War Journal. He is also the head of the Miramshah Regional Military Shura, one of the Taliban's four major military commands in Afghanistan. [See LWJ report, "The Afghan Taliban's top leaders," for more on the Quetta Shura and its leaders and commands.]