US, Afghan forces hammer the Haqqani Network in Paktia

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Map of Afghanistan’s provinces. Click map to view larger image.

US and Afghan forces again battled with the deadly Haqqani Network in eastern Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan earlier this week.

The joint US and Afghan force killed “a large number of insurgents, including several key leaders for both the Haqqani network and Taliban” during a military operation in the Jani Khel district in Paktia province, according to the International Security Assistance Force. “Arabs, Uzbeks, Turks, and Chechens” were among those killed, according to the ISAF report.

The fighting took place during a two-day offensive in Jani Khel that targeted the “largest insurgent camp in the area.” Local villagers in Jani Khel joined the fight in an attempt to block the retreat of Haqqani Network fighters into neighboring Khost province.

“When Haqqani network fighters attempted to retreat from Jani Khel to Musa Khel, a neighboring district in Khost, villagers from Kotkai prevented the foreign fighters from moving through their village,” ISAF stated.

Among those reported killed were a Haqqani network commander named Hamiddullah, a Taliban commander named Qari Ismael, and a foreign fighter facilitator named Maulawi Sadiq.

Hamiddullah was a Haqqani Network commander in the Sabari district in Khost “who had direct ties to Haqqani senior leadership based in Pakistan,” ISAF stated. Sabari is a major stronghold of the the Haqqani Network; it operates a forward command center in the village of Zambar in Sabari. The death of Hamiddullah, who “was well-known throughout the Haqqani Network, is expected to have significant disruptive effects on the network throughout Khost and Paktia provinces,” ISAF stated.

Qari Ismael was the Taliban’s commander for Jani Khel, and Maulawi Sadiq helped al Qaeda fighters infiltrate from Afghanistan and conduct attacks in Afghanistan. ISAF often uses the term “foreign fighter” to describe Arab and Central Asian al Qaeda fighters.

The clash in Jani Khel earlier this week was preceded by another major fight across the provincial border in Khost late last week. US and Afghan forces killed 38 Haqqani Network fighters in the Musa Khel district in Khost during a two-day battle on June 19-20. The fighting broke out after more than 200 Haqqani Network fighters attacked the joint force during an operation in the area.

There have been two other major clashes against the Haqqani Network in the Khost-Paktika-Paktia region this month. Afghan and US forces killed 38 Haqqani Network fighters in neighboring Paktika province on June 16, according to an Afghan police official. The operation took place in the Surobi and Komal districts, two known strongholds of the Haqqani Network.

On June 9-10, US and Afghan forces killed Haqqani Network commander Fazil Subhan and an undisclosed number of fighters during a raid in the Shamal district. Subhan and his team were holed up in fortified fighting positions in the district. He was a known facilitator of al Qaeda fighters and aided them in entering the country from Pakistan.

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Click to view slide show of the Haqqani Network. Pictured is a composite image of Siraj Haqqani.

Background on the Haqqani Network

The Haqqani Network has extensive links with al Qaeda and the Taliban, and its relationship with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency has allowed the network to survive and thrive in its fortress stronghold of North Waziristan. The Haqqanis control large swaths of the tribal area and run a parallel administration with courts, recruiting centers, tax offices, and security forces. They have established multiple training camps and safe houses used by al Qaeda leaders and operatives, as well as by Taliban foot soldiers preparing to fight in Afghanistan.

The Haqqani Network has been implicated in some of the biggest terror attacks in the Afghan capital city of Kabul, including the January 2008 suicide assault on the Serena hotel, the February 2009 assault on Afghan ministries, and the July 2008 and October 2009 suicide attacks against the Indian embassy. American intelligence agencies confronted the Pakistani government with evidence, including communications intercepts, which proved the ISI’s direct involvement in the 2008 Indian embassy bombing. [See LWJ report “Pakistan’s Jihad” and Threat Matrix report “Pakistan backs Afghan Taliban” for additional information on the ISI’s complicity in attacks in Afghanistan and the region.]

The Haqqani Network is led by Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son, Sirajuddin. Jalaluddin is thought to be ill and is considered the patriarch of the network. Siraj runs the daily operations and is the group’s military commander.

Siraj is one of the most wanted Taliban and al Qaeda leaders in the Afghan-Pakistan region. The US military has described Siraj as the primary threat to security in eastern Afghanistan. He is the mastermind of the most deadly attacks inside Afghanistan, including suicide assaults in Kabul, and he is the senior military commander in eastern Afghanistan. He is the leader of the Taliban’s Miramshah Regional Military Shura, one of the Afghan Taliban’s four regional commands [see LWJ report, “The Afghan Taliban’s top leaders“].

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. Siraj is a member of al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis, or top council, US intelligence sources told The Long War Journal. In a tape released in April 2010, Siraj admitted that cooperation between the Taliban and al Qaeda “is at the highest limits.” On March 25, 2009, the US Department of State put out a $5 million bounty for information leading to the capture of Siraj.

Despite Siraj’s ties with al Qaeda, and the Haqqani Network’s use of suicide attacks, some top US military commanders have stated that Jalaluddin Haqqani, his father, and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, another supporter of al Qaeda, are “absolutely salvageable” and ripe for negotiations.

“The HIG already have members in Karzai’s government, and it could evolve into a political party, even though Hekmatyar may be providing al Qaeda leaders refuge in Kunar,” Major General Michael Flynn, the top military intelligence official in Afghanistan, told The Atlantic in April 2010. “Hekmatyar has reconcilable ambitions. As for the Haqqani network, I can tell you they are tired of fighting, but are not about to give up. They have lucrative business interests to protect: the road traffic from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border to Central Asia.”

Sir Graeme Lamb, a senior adviser to General McChrystal, echoed Flynn’s view on Hekmatyar and Haqqani, and discounted the groups’ close ties to al Qaeda.

“Haqqani and Hekmatyar are pragmatists tied to the probability of outcomes,” Lamb also told The Atlantic. “With all the talk of Islamic ideology, this is the land of the deal.”

A Haqqani Network leader known as Zakim Shah serves as the shadow governor of Khost province. Khost, Paktika, and Paktia provinces are the main strongholds of the Haqqani Network in eastern Afghanistan. The Haqqani Network also has a presence in the provinces of Logar, Wardak, Nangarhar, Ghazni, Zabul, and Kabul.

The Haqqani forces in Paktika province are commanded by Mullah Sangeen Zadran, a senior lieutenant to Sirajuddin Haqqani. A US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal that Sangeen also commands forces outside of Paktika and that he has become one of the most dangerous operational commanders in eastern Afghanistan.

Last summer, Sangeen took credit for the kidnapping of a US soldier who apparently stepped away from his post at a combat outpost in Paktika on June 30, 2009. US forces in eastern Afghanistan launched a massive manhunt for the soldier, but failed to find him. The soldier is believed to be held across the border in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan.

US and Afghan forces hit the Haqqani Network hard in the summer of 2009 during a series of raids in Khost, Paktika, Paktia, Logar, and Zabul. Major battles were fought in mountainous regions as the joint forces assaulted heavily defended Haqqani Network “fortresses” and camps. The raids failed to dislodge the Haqqani Network from the provinces.

The Haqqani Network has also been heavily targeted by the CIA in the covert air campaign in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Siraj has been the target of multiple Predator strikes. His brother, Mohammed, who served as a military commander, was killed in a February 2010 strike in North Waziristan.

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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15 Comments

  • Steve337 says:

    “When Haqqani network fighters attempted to retreat from Jani Khel to Musa Khel, a neighboring district in Khost, villagers from Kotkai prevented the foreign fighters from moving through their village.”
    Looks like our Civil Affairs folks are doing their job. For whatever reason (perhaps for survival), the locals did not aid an abet these Haq-Network fighters. Maybe our engineers dug them a well or something.

  • Mr T says:

    If we want to find Taliban to fight, it should be pretty easy. I don’t understand why we don’t seek them out for a fight more often. They don’t win these fights and it creates a lot of problems for them.
    I guess its because a lot of our guys get picked off in the process or we worry too much about “civilian” casualties. I would guess that most of the civilians killed are actually fighters or are helping the fighters, which makes them an enemy. They all dress like civilians.
    It never made any sense to me that the Taliban control large areas of the country. With over 100,000 coalition troops in country, we should move into any area that the Taliban controls. I don’t think they would fare very well if we did.
    Oh yeah, and where are all the Afghan troops?

  • ArneFufkin says:

    @Bill Roggio: Bill, it might be useful to put together another of those great OOB graphs you used to feature during the height of the OIF surge. I know it’s a bit more complex given the ISAF and multinational component but I’d like to know what units – if only American and Afghan – are involved in these kinetic engagments since they primarily seem to be our guys and the Afghans right now in RC East at least.

  • m3fd2002 says:

    This should be looked at as a Pashtun insurgency. There are about 40 million Pashtuns in afghanistan/pakistan, that is a large manpower pool. In Iraq, there were only about 4 million sunni arabs, that was easy to handle with the resources committed. The afghan theater will require us to recruit a significant number of Pashtun tribes to fight with us if we want to succeed. It’s possible. But we will have to prove to them we will stay and support them, that is not a given.

  • ArneFufkin says:

    @Mr T. “Oh yeah, and where are all the Afghan troops?”
    It seems to me that most every one of these engagements involves American and Afghan forces.

  • Zeissa says:

    A well won’t usually make people risk their whole clan.

  • anan says:

    ArneFufkin wrote: “primarily seem to be our guys and the Afghans right now in RC East at least.” No. RC East is a pretty large area with 14 provinces, 14 PRTs, many agriculture teams, many sub PRTs, 2 ANA Corps, 7 ANA brigades, more than 11 million people.
    Some of the multinational forces:
    * France has 6 OMLTs assigned to 3-201 ANA [out of a total of 7 French OMLTs in country] 1 French Brigade is embedded partnered with the brigade and at least one French PRT in Kapisha
    * Czech Republic has 1 OMLT planned for Lowgar that will be assigned to 201 ANA
    * Jordan has about a thousand troops in Lowgar. Jordan’s role in mentoring ANSF is unknown.
    * Portugal has 2 OMLTs deployed with 201 ANA Corps. Don’t know which specific battalions
    * Poland has 4 OMLTs deployed and 2 OMLTs deploying to 3-203 ANA in Ghazni province. 2600 troops embedded partnered with 3-203. Polish PRT in province.
    *South Korea deploys 1 PRT and 320 troops additional troops to Parwan in July.
    *New Zealand troops and PRT in Bamiyan
    *Turkish PRT and ANP training facility in Wardak
    *other countries have troops, OMLTs or POMLTs and PRTs in RC-East.
    One reason many countries prefer RC East is because it has many relatively safe provinces. Even many dangerous parts of RC East are safer than RC South.

  • Render says:

    Arne: Not speaking for Bill here, but that sort of info has become exceedingly difficult to come by and to confirm here of late.
    FOR BETTER
    OR WORSE,
    R

  • Civy says:

    38 out of 200 is a clear indicator that troops don’t have enough organic firesupport, and are too dependent on CAS for fires. Especially in fighting insurgencies, when your enemy chooses to give battle, you must capitalize and annihilate them.
    Knee mortars, SPIKE missiles, and 6.5 Grendels would be a good start. Once your organic support is overwhelmed you are no longer a combatant. You are a spectator sitting around managing help always late and on the way. IE: a sitting duck doing nothing.
    For a population base as diffuse as that of Afghanistan, vs the urbanized populations of Iraq, it is very encouraging that militias are beginning to succeed against Jihadists.

  • madashell59 says:

    Note the number of different nationalities. Looking at the bigger picture, this is a Islam Crusade and it will not be completely squashed until the true top leaders are forced to stop pushing their ideology on the rest of the world. Christianity had its dark day before they woke up to the fact that violence is not the answer. I hope that Islam does the same soon before it is too late. So the real question is who are the real Islam leaders and where do they reside?

  • ArneFufkin says:

    @anan. Thanks for that detail. It IS important to acknowledge the commitment and investment the NATO allies are making in that theater.
    I guess I was talking more about the recent kinetic engagements between Coalition forces and Haqqani Network insurgents.

  • paul says:

    madashell
    You would find these islamic leaders in Saudi and Iran!

  • anan says:

    ArneFufkin,
    There is substantial coalition involvement in battles with Siraj since his network and allied groups are taking a growing role in the insurgency in the East, North, Kabul and even Zabul [which I thought was Mullah Omar centric QST.]
    However, it might be best to think about action by district, province, and ANSF battalion and note the involvement of different countries with each of those functions.
    201 ANA Corps [10 provinces] has more coalition involvement through embedded partnership and OMLTs, in part because it contains many safe provinces. 201 ANA Corps is one of the more problematic ones. [207th ANA Corps being the worst.] 201 ANA Corps use to be Marine mentored, but the French, 82nd, and others shunted the Marines aside and pushed through embedded partnering.
    The French take mentoring very seriously. They appoint Major Generals to advise the 3rd Bde, 201st ANA. Other high ranking mentors as well.
    203 ANA Corps is the best in the ANA. It is on the frontline against Siraj in Paktya, Khost, Paktika and Ghor. The Corps troops and its 1st and 2nd Bde are US Army mentored [anecdotally seems to be mostly 82nd and 101st Airborne.] 3rd Bde in Ghazni is mostly Polish mentored.
    Been trying to obtain data on 203rd ANA Corps [including to find out if any countries other than Poland and the US Army were mentoring them], but it is hard. CJTF 82 and and MG Curtis Scaparrotti were very responsive to e-mail RFIs. For some reason CJTF 101, which took over RC East a few weeks ago isn’t. Lets see if that changes.
    201 ANA Corps is more transparent. They even publish a weekly and very informative magazine. Maybe you could read the archives for them.
    Think you might want to read Chris Radin’s update on the ANSF OOB.

  • DANNY says:

    To: madashell59
    How does stopping the Muslim hoard from taking over the whole world translate to A dark day in Christianity’s past? We the west fought to stop the take over of the civilized world from a religion determined to rule and kill those unwilling to submit.
    Thank God they were able to contain them! We are looking at having to do the same thing today and even now we are again being called crusaders. Truth is we are fighting again to keep one religion from trying to rule the world who in MHO serve a religion of domination not truth. Mercy is surely not their code…

  • Mr T says:

    And what are the numbers for the Afghan forces? How have they evolved since 2001? How many total each year? How fast are they growing? How many desertions and double agents?
    More importantly though, is the training schedule. Petraus was the guy in charge of training Iraqis. What is the training situation for Afghans? This is something that some of these mamby pamby countries can help with. The don’t want to commit soldiers but they can certainly help with training Afghan troops, providing financing to supply and equip them, and logistical support so they can grow quickly to the size needed.
    If the coalition has 100,000 troops there now, then the Afghans need double that number to continue the fight. As in Iraq, it takes years to train a good soldier. We have been there 9 years now. Thats 20,000 troops per year that should be built up, many with several years of training under their belts.
    They are the ones that must do the fighting. If Afghans won’t stand up, then their country will fall to the Taliban. We can only prop them up for so long. If they fall, then the world will suffer for a long time but the Afghans will suffer the most. Do they not get that yet?

Iraq

Islamic state

Syria

Aqap

Al shabaab

Boko Haram

Isis