Targeting Taliban commander Siraj Haqqani

Jalaluddin Haqqani with his son Nasrudin. Click to view.

As the Taliban’s insurgency in Pakistan escalates, the US and Afghan National Army have identified Pakistani-based Siraj Haqqani as the primary threat to security in eastern Afghanistan. Siraj Haqqani, the son of the influential Taliban leader and former defense minister Jalaluddin Haqqani, was described as “one of the most influential insurgent commanders in eastern Afghanistan” who has “vied for the lead role as the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’s prime antagonist.”

Siraj is believed to be dangerous not only for his connections with the Afghan Taliban, but with al Qaeda’s central leadership. “Siraj is part of a younger, more aggressive generation of Taliban senior leadership that is pushing aside the formerly respected elders,” said Army Lieutenant Colonel Dave Anders, the director of operations for Combined Joint Task Force-82, which oversees operations in eastern Afghanistan. “Now, the Haqqani network is clearly in the hands of Siraj, and the face of it is evolving, becoming more violent and self serving.”

The younger Haqqani’s “extended reach brings foreign fighters from places like Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Chechnya, Turkey and Middle Eastern countries into Afghanistan,” said Major Chris Belcher, a spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-82. This represents a growing trend to internationalize the Afghan jihad by bringing in foreign fighters and using tactics such as suicide attacks, which were rare in the past.

Siraj is believed to have eclipsed his father in power and influence, and is said to “rival Mullah Omar for the Taliban leadership,” said Belcher. “In many ways, he’s simply smarter and more respected.”

“He is growing more and more powerful within the Taliban networks, and some would argue his authority exceeds that of elder leaders, who Siraj may believe are becoming obsolete,” said Belcher. “The younger leaders demonstrate little respect for the elder leadership. They have become more brutal. They disregard the former motivations for fighting, and they tend to look for opportunities to displace or undermine the old leadership.”

US and Afghan forces are now actively working to dismantle the Haqqani Network, which is active in Khost, Paktia, Paktika, Ghazni, Logar, Wardak, and Kabul provinces and provides support to Taliban networks in Kunar, Nangarhar, Helmand, and Kandahar provinces. “A desired effect of these operations has been to disrupt the Haqqani network,” said Anders. Thirty members of the Haqqani Network have been captured during recent operations in eastern Afghanistan.

“Siraj Haqqani is the one who is training, influencing, commanding and leading,” Anders said. “Kidnappings, assassinations, beheading women, indiscriminate killings and suicide bombers – Siraj is the one dictating the new parameters of brutality associated with Taliban senior leadership.”

Siraj’s ascension to power may partly due to the decline of his father’s health. Jalaluddin has long been believed to be ill, and rumors have persisted he died in June after a bout of hepatitis.

Jalaluddin Haqqani is a leader of the Taliban in North Waziristan. “He became close to Osama bin Laden during the jihad and after the Taliban took control, he served as minister of tribal affairs in its government,” PBS’ Frontline reported in an extensive feature on the senior Haqqani.

The Haqqani family runs several mosques and madrassa, or religious schools, inside of North Waziristan. The Pakistani government closed down the Haqqani-run Manba Ulom madrassa after the US commenced Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, but it was reopened in 2004. Syed Saleem Shahzad, who interviewed Siraj in 2004, described the Manba Ulom madrassa as “a center of jihadi activities, and where top Taliban and al-Qaeda commanders meet.”

The US military put a $200,000 reward out for Siraj and 11 other mid-level Taliban, al Qaeda, and other allied commanders. Also included with Siraj were Abu Laith al Libi, al Qaeda’s military commander in Afghanistan, and Tahir Yuldashev, the leader of the al Qaeda-aligned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Fight4TheRight says:

    Obviously, this guy sounds like the new face of the Taliban and it’s been obvious the shift to new tactics such as the kidnappings and the suicide bombing attacks. I, personally, feel those tactics come from his association with Al Qaeda.
    However, I wonder. Isn’t Siraj Haqqani treading on thin ice here with the import of fighters from Arab and outside regions? Hasn’t Al Qaeda in Iraq proved that this is a failed strategy? In Iraq, the citizenry of Iraq has been a major player in the turn against Al Qaeda, with more and more tips coming in each day – all because Al Qaeda brought in more and more Arabs and conducted more terror attacks on local citizens.
    The Afghan people are going to reach a breaking point, in my view when they will see the operatives that Siraj Haqqani has brought in as the TRUE enemy and they will start relaying Taliban locatons to the Afghan military. That will be a day when the tide finally turns in Afghanistan.

  • joe says:

    This was an interesting briefing by the U.S. military about Siraj Haqqani. It actually seemed more like a psy ops operation trying to cause dissension among the taliban ranks than anything else. The military really went out of its way to attempt to show that Siraj has contempt for Mullah Omar saying that hes simply smarter and more effective. I dont know how much of this is true about Siraj trying to undermine Omars leadership but hopefully it achieves its purpose.

  • Is Siraj in any way linked to Husain Haqqani – Director of the Center for International Relations and Professor at Boston University?

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