A combined Afghan and US strike force killed 18 Haqqani Network fighters during a raid on a “stronghold in the remote mountains” of Afghanistan’s eastern province of Khost.
The intelligence-driven raid, which took place on Aug. 4, targeted “a Haqqani commander responsible for facilitating foreign fighters, weapons, IEDs, and other explosive materials in the region,” a press release by the International Security Assistance Force stated. The Haqqani commander was not named.
The combined force took heavy fire from the Haqqani Network fighters as they advanced on the Haqqani Network’s mountaintop base. A Haqqani suicide bomber unsuccessfully attempted to attack the Afghan and US troops, while supporting forces opened fire with rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns.
US and Afghan troops returned fire and called in airstrikes to defeat the Haqqani Network’s defense, and killed 18 fighters while overrunning the outpost. No US or Afghan troops were killed or wounded during the operation.
The outpost is also thought to have served as a training camp. Coalition troops found an “array of bunkers, tents and lean-to structures that indicated an active training site,” ISAF reported. Soldiers found materials to make roadside bombs, as well as assault rifles, RPGs, heavy machine guns, hand grenades, and communications equipment at the site.
US and Afghan forces intensify efforts against the Haqqani Network in eastern Afghanistan and in Pakistan
The US and Afghan military have heavily targeted Haqqani Network bases in eastern Afghanistan over the past two months. US and Afghan forces have also conducted raids against Haqqani Network cells on a near-daily basis during this period. Sirajuddin Haqqani, the senior military commander of the Haqqani Network, and Mullah Sangeen Zadran, Siraj’s senior command, have been directly targeted during raids and strikes in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Two other large Haqqani Network bases have been taken out since late May. 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, who was the target of the raid, escaped the battle.
On July 17, US and Afghan forces detroyed a Haqqani Network “encampment” situated in the remote reaches of Paktia province. The operation 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 addition, several massive weapons caches were destroyed after US and Afghan forces overran the base.
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, Pakistani Taliban leader 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 have been 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. 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.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.