Haqqani Network, al Qaeda, behind attack on UN guesthouse in Kabul

Al Qaeda and the Haqqani Network coordinated last week’s deadly assault on a UN guest house in the Afghan capital of Kabul.

The attack, which killed five foreign UN workers and three Afghans, was launched by three terrorists who were dressed as policemen and were armed with grenades, assault rifles, and suicide belts. The terror assault team jumped the walls of the compound and began hunting foreigners in the Kabul compound.

Residents of the guesthouse bolted themselves in rooms and escaped to the rooftop during the two-hour gun battle, which ended when Afghan police and soldiers began clearing the building. The attack has forced the UN to evacuate non-essential personnel just one week ahead of the runoff presidential election.

Afghan intelligence claimed the attack was carried out by three Pakistanis from the Swat Valley, which was under the sway of the Taliban until this spring. The information was obtained from eight suspects who served as the support cell for the UN compound attackers, Amrullah Saleh, an Afghan intelligence official told The New York Times.

The attack was a joint operation carried out by al Qaeda and the Pakistan-based Haqqani Network, Saleh told reporters. An al Qaeda commander named Ajmal and Siraj Haqqani directed the operation, according to Saleh.

Ajmal is “a major player in Lashkar al Zil,” a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal.

The Lashkar al Zil, or the Shadow Army, is al Qaeda’s military organization that operates along the Afghan-Pakistani border. The Shadow Army is the successor to al Qaeda’s notorious Brigade 055, the military formation that fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan.

During the reign of the Taliban in Afghanistan prior to the US invasion in 2001, the 055 Brigade served as “the shock troops of the Taliban and functioned as an integral part of the latter’s military apparatus,” al Qaeda expert Rohan Gunaratna wrote in Inside al Qaeda. At its peak in 2001, the 055 Brigade had an estimated 2,000 soldiers and officers in the ranks. The brigade was comprised of Arabs, Central Asians, and South Asians, as well as Chechens, Bosnians, and Uighurs from Western China.

The Shadow Army has been expanded to six brigades, and has an estimated 8,000 to 12,000 fighters. In addition to dispatching small teams of embedded trainers to Taliban units, the Shadow Army fights in military formations along the Afghan and Pakistani border region.

The Shadow Army occasional fights alongside the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, Hezb-i-Islami, and the Haqqani Network, in formations ranging from squad to company level. Evidence of this was seen recently in Swat and Bajaur in Pakistan, where the Pakistani Army met stiff resistance in some battles, as well as in North and South Waziristan in 2007 and 2008.

The Shadow Army also played a role in the recent assaults on joint US and Afghan outposts in Nuristan province, as well as in a series of attacks last year on outposts in the Afghan provinces of Paktika, Paktia, Khost, Kunar, and Nuristan. The most publicized attack took place in July 2008 in Wanat in Nuristan, when nine US soldiers were killed and the base was nearly overrun.

The US has targeted the leaders of the Shadow Army during its air campaign in Pakistan’s northwest. The US killed Khalid Habib, the former leader of the Shadow Army, during an airstrike in South Waziristan in Pakistan last November. Habib was replaced by Abdullah Sa’id al Libi.

Siraj Haqqani, a son of Jalaluddin, has risen in prominence over the past year. 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.

The Haqqanis have extensive links with al Qaeda and with Pakistan’s military intelligence agency, the Inter-Service 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.

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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3 Comments

  • Dan A says:

    Why is it that nobody really reported on the Haqqanis before about a year ago? Was it something that ISAF hadn’t pieced together, or did they just try to keep it simple for the media just calling everybody Taliban.

  • Vern says:

    Well, an answer might be that the US intel community tried to ignore the Haqqani network for a longtime, trying to attribute them to either the Taliban or Gulbaddin Hekmatyar. I was “skirmishing” with Haqqani “representatives” back in 2003 and 2004, as he has fighters (read feudal and tribal subordinates) in both Khost and Paktia provinces. Haqqani has long been a receipent of Al Qaida aid and assistance, as well as ISI help (he stays very aloof from any conflict in the FATA between any of the various tribal coalitions and the Pakistan government, such as the current Mehsud-based TTP struggle with the Pakistan Army). Haqqani is also what I call a “concessionaire” of Taliban, as he has received extensive amounts of money since 2002 as well as some material but normally refrains from accepting Taliban personnel. In fact, he has knowingly embezzled millions of dollars from the Quetta-based Taliban, which led Taliban to dispatch several “Inspector General-types” who were to audit Haqqani. Al Qaida prevented this and those hard feelings still exist for any potential post-conflict resolution, assuming Taliban wins in Afghanistan.
    Haqqani group is very interesting, is the last personality-based tribal grouping from the 1980s still existing and prospering. Primarily drawing on Zadrani manpower and allied tribes, it occupies North Waziristan. One wonderful possibility would be for somebody to provoke a fight between Haqqani and the Mehsud, which would mean somehow linking Haqqani tightly to Pakistan and preventing Al Qaida from exerting any peacekeeping influence.
    Just my thoughts and opinions.

  • ArneFufkin says:

    Your insights are greatly appreciated Vern.

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