Over the past several days, Coalition and Afghan special operations forces have captured two key commanders of the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network and two suicide operations facilitators during raids in the north and east.
A combined special operations team captured the top suicide operations facilitator for all of Nangarhar province during a raid in the Khogyani district yesterday. The suicide facilitator was “working for Al Qaeda, Taliban, Haqqani [Network] and other insurgent groups,” the International Security Assistance Force stated in a press release. The commander, who was not named, “moved suicide bombers into Afghanistan” from Pakistan.
The terrorist facilitator was detained just six days after the Taliban’s failed suicide assault on Forward Operating Base Fenty in the Behsud district in Nangarhar. In that attack, US troops killed six enemy fighters and recovered two suicide vests along with multiple weapons.
Al Qaeda and the Pakistani terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba maintain a strong presence in Nangarhar province, according to an investigation by The Long War Journal. The presence of al Qaeda cells has been detected in the districts of Achin, Bati Kowt, Behsud, Chaparhar, Dara Noor, Deh Bala, Jalalabad, Khogyani, Sherzad, Shinwar, or 10 of Nangarhar’s 22 districts.
On Nov. 18, an Afghan and Coalition special operations team captured “a key Haqqani facilitator, who served as a liaison between Haqqani and Taliban operatives in northern Afghanistan,” during a raid in the district of Baghlan-e Jadid in Baghlan province.
“The facilitator was reportedly in contact with Pakistan-based senior leadership from both insurgent groups and was a top target for Afghan and Coalition forces,” ISAF stated. The commander, who was not named, is said to have been instrumental in expanding Haqqani Network operations into the north.
Also on Nov. 18, combined special operations teams captured a Haqqani Network facilitator who moved roadside bombs, or IEDs, into Khost province to attack US and Afghan forces. The commander was detained in the Terayzai district, a known stronghold for the Haqqani Network.
The US military said that 12 senior Haqqani Network commanders have been captured in Khost this month.
And, on Nov. 16, special operations teams captured another Haqqani Network commander who was “directly involved in planning Haqqani suicide attacks in Kabul.” The commander, who was not named, was involved with the Kabul Attack Network, the Taliban group responsible for carrying out attacks in and around the Afghan capital.
The Kabul Attack Network is made up of fighters from the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin, and cooperates with terror groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and al Qaeda. Top Afghan intelligence officials have linked the Kabul Attack Network to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate as well. The network’s tentacles extend outward from Kabul into the surrounding provinces of Logar, Wardak, Nangarhar, and Kapisa.
The Kabul Attack Network is led by Dawood (or Daud) and Taj Mir Jawad, military and intelligence officials told The Long War Journal. Dawood is the Taliban’s shadow governor for Kabul, while Taj Mir Jawad is a top commander in the Haqqani Network.
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.
The US Treasury recently added Nasiruddin Haqqani, Siraj’s brother, to the list of specially designated global terrorists. Nasiruddin is a key financier and emissary for the Haqqani Network. According to the Treasury, Nasiruddin has traveled to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates between 2004-2009 to carry out fundraising for the Haqqani Network, al Qaeda, and the Taliban.
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 year, 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 strongly-defended Haqqani Network “fortresses.” 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 and his top lieutenant, Mullah Sangin Zadran, have been the targets of multiple Predator strikes. Siraj’s brother, Mohammed, who served as a military commander, was killed in a February 2010 strike in North Waziristan.
Siraj is currently believed to be sheltering in the neighboring tribal agency of Kurram to avoid the Predators.
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