The US and Afghan military have continued attacks against the Haqqani Network in eastern Afghanistan despite a threat from the group that a captured US soldier would be executed if the raids did not cease.
Last night, US and Afghan forces conducted two major raids in Paktia and Logar provinces. The raids were aimed at taking down the leadership of the Haqqani Network and gathering intelligence on the location of the captured US soldier.
The biggest raid took place against an “enemy encampment” situated “in the remote reaches of Paktia province,” the US military said in a press release. The operation was carried out about 20 miles southeast of Gardez City, and was designed to stem the flow of foreign fighters and weapons moving from Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan through the Khost-Gardez Pass to the capital of Kabul.
The combined force killed “several” Haqqani Network fighters in firefights and with air support after repeatedly taking fire while moving to assault the Haqqani base. Several massive weapons caches were destroyed after US and Afghan forces overran the base.
Afghan and Coalition forces also conducted a targeted raid against a Haqqani Network safe house near the village of Ebad in Logar province. The compound is known to be used by a Haqqani commander to make roadside bombs. Three suspected Haqqani Network fighters were detained during the raid.
The US military conducted the raids the same day that Mullah Sangeen Zadran, a senior commander in the Haqqani Network, threatened to kill a US soldier unless Coalition forces end 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.
The US military has issued fliers in Paktia and Ghazni provinces, urging Afghans to provide intelligence on the location of the missing soldier. But the soldier may have been moved already into North Waziristan, a US intelligence official familiar with the search told The Long War Journal.
Operations against the Haqqanis have intensified over the past two months
The US military has heavily targeted the Haqqani Network over the past two months. US and Afghan forces have conducted raids against the Haqqani Network on a near-daily basis over the timeframe. Overall military commander Sirajuddin Haqqani as well as Sangeen have been directly targeted during raids and strikes in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
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. Twenty-nine Haqqani Network fighters, including six failed suicide bombers, were killed during the raid. Sangeen, the target of the raid, escaped.
Siraj and Sangeen were also the targets of US airstrikes in South Waziristan in June. Several strikes occurred after the US received information that Siraj was attending a high-level al Qaeda and Taliban meeting to advise a Pakistani Taliban leader on his options against the Pakistani military [see LWJ report Senior Taliban leaders targeted in yesterday’s Predator strikes]. In another strike, Sangeen, Baitullah Mehsud, and his deputy Qari Hussain Mehsud were targeted at the funeral of a mid-level Taliban commander in South Waziristan.
Background on the Haqqani Network, one of the most dangerous groups in Afghanistan
The US military has been targeting the Haqqani Network in Afghanistan and across the border in Pakistan since early 2008. US special operations forces have targeted the Haqqani leadership in multiple raids in Afghanistan, while the CIA has conducted a covert Predator air campaign against the network across the border in North Waziristan. Nearly half of the US Predator strikes in Pakistan during 2008 were aimed at the Haqqani Network and at al Qaeda leaders sheltering in their tribal areas.
“We want the Haqqanis to know we will hit them anywhere,” a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal after the Sept. 8 strike on the Haqqani madrassa, known as the Manba Ulom.
The Manba Ulom madrassa was established by Jalaluddin Haqqani, the family patriarch who has close ties with Osama bin Laden. The madrassa was used in the 1980s to train mujahedeen to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. After the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the Haqqani family used the Manba Ulom madrassa as a training center and meeting place for senior al Qaeda leaders.
The Pakistani government closed the madrassa in 2002, but it was reopened in 2004. Since then, Taliban fighters and members of al Qaeda’s network are known to shelter in the madrassa compound.
The madrassa serves as the headquarters for the Haqqani Network, while the network’s forward operating command center for Afghanistan is in the village of Zambar in the northern Sabari district of Khost province, Afghanistan. The 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-Service Intelligence, or ISI. This relationship has 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 two years. He is believed to be the mastermind of the most deadly attacks inside Afghanistan, and is the senior military commander in eastern Afghanistan. The US military has described Siraj as the primary threat to security in eastern Afghanistan. On March 25, the US Department of State put a $5 million bounty out for information leading to the capture of Siraj.
Siraj is believed to be dangerous for his connections not only with the Afghan Taliban, but also with al Qaeda’s central leadership. His connections extend all the way to Osama bin Laden. Siraj actively recruits foreigners into the network and trains them to conduct suicide attacks in Afghanistan.
Just as the US has finally admitted that Taliban leader Mullah Omar and his senior commanders are running their Afghan operations from Quetta in Pakistan, the Haqqanis have been labeled as operating from Pakistan’s tribal areas.
“The Haqqani network remains one of the most lethal Taliban organizations operating out of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas,” the US military admitted in a recent press release.
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