ISAF spokesman bungles Haqqani Network’s relationship with the Taliban

In a press release issued by the International Security Assistance Force titled “Taliban’s False Claims Translate to Acts of Desperation,” ISAF spokesman Brigadier General Josef Blotz demonstrates a massive misunderstanding of the nature of the enemy in Afghanistan. In the statement, Blotz claims the Haqqani Network is not part of the Taliban:

From falsely claiming responsibility for attacks carried out by other terrorist groups to spreading incorrect information on ISAF and Afghan operations, the Taliban is desperately trying to regain relevancy in Afghanistan, stated Blotz.

On May 23, an attack on the Afghan National Military Hospital in Kabul was claimed to be executed by the Taliban by their spokesman, this statement was released to and accepted by several media. However, credible intelligence sources proved that the Haqqani network were responsible for the act, not the Taliban.

Blotz could not be more wrong. Claiming that the Haqqani Network is not part of the Taliban is like saying that the US is not part of NATO. The Haqqani Network is one of many Taliban subgroups, or, put another way, part of the Taliban’s “coalition.” The organization happens to be one of the more powerful subgroups, operating freely in areas it controls with a degree of autonomy; but at the same time, it coordinates its activities with other Taliban factions and groups like Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin. The top two Haqqani Network leaders have repeatedly denied they operate outside of the aegis of the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” – the Taliban’s state rule by Mullah Omar. Jalaluddin Haqqani, the overall leader of the Haqqani Network, sits on the Taliban’s Quetta Shura, its top council [see a portion of his statement on this subject from an interview with Al Somood Magazine in 2008). Sirajuddin, his son and the operational commander of the Haqqani Network, runs the Miramshah Regional Military Shura, one of four major Taliban councils that report to the Quetta Shura.

Blotz is also ignoring his own organization’s reporting on the nature of the terrorist insurgency operating in and around Kabul. If he read ISAF’s own press releases, he’d know about the Kabul Attack Network, a broad coalition of terrorist groups formed with the help of Siraj Haqqani and tasked with hitting the Afghan government and Coalition forces in and around the capital. ISAF has issued press releases on the Kabul Attack Network no less than 20 times. The network is made up of members from the Haqqani Network, Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin, the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and al Qaeda. A Haqqani Network commander known as Daud, or Dawood, co-leads the Kabul Attack Network along with a Taliban commander known as Taj Mir Jawad.

Also, Blotz seems to misunderstand how the Taliban’s media/propaganda operations work. The Taliban use Voice of Jihad and other outlets as a clearinghouse for all Taliban “coalition” operations. Ironically, this even includes operations executed by the Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin, a group that is truly distinct from the Taliban organizationally, but still coordinates attacks and shares propaganda with the Taliban. ISAF recently captured a HIG propaganda chief who was prolific in publishing at Taliban outlets.

Finally, while Blotz is correct to point out the Taliban’s use of propaganda to further incorrect claims, I wouldn’t characterize acts and associations mentioned in this release as a product of their “desperation.” There are far more legitimate examples of exaggerated and outright falsified Taliban propaganda — for years, the Taliban have made outrageous claims on a number of outlets, including Voice of Jihad. Some of their more fanciful pronouncements would actually be entertaining if the conflict wasn’t so deadly serious. For example, if you were to believe the Taliban, each day an estimated 20-80 NATO and Afghan troops are killed and dozens of “tanks” are destroyed. The idea that the US could hide such losses from the American public is of course absurd. Nevertheless, Blotz’s claim that the Haqqani Network is not part of the Taliban is incorrect, and a bad place to start any critique of Taliban propaganda efforts.

Quote from Jalaluddin Haqqani on his relationship with and role within the Taliban, from a 2008 interview in Al Somood Magazine that was recently republished at Voice of Jihad:

Question: Your excellency Sheikh Haqqani, western news agencies report that your Jihadist movement is independent and outside the organization of the Islamic Emirate. What prompts these claims and what is the truth of them?

Answer: It is well-known that whenever the enemy is defeated on the battlefield, they intensify their activities in spreading baseless rumors and claims. This is typical of those plots of the defeated enemy and its aim is to create divisions and mistrust among the Mujahideen. He is not content with that but spreads many such allegations. Sometimes they spread rumors of the division of the Mujahideen among moderates and extremists, and other times they spread reports of negotiations with them to create divisions among them. All of these claims are baseless. Praise be to Allah, all the Mujahideen wage Jihad under the leadership of the Ameer ul-Momineen Mullah Mohamed Omar Mujahid against the American invaders and their lackeys. There is no crisis (of division) under the names moderate or extremist among the Mujahideen. They all fight under a unified leadership, according to the glorious aya: “Strong against the unbelievers (but) compassionate amongst each other”.

I myself am a member of the High Council of the Islamic Emirate. I also bear on my shoulders responsibility for Jihad in the provinces of Khost and Paktika. The biased claims of the international media agencies are unfounded in truth. Since we swore allegiance to Ameer ul-Momineen Mullah Mohamed Omar Mujahid, we have been to his day steadfast in that allegiance and we are true to (the Emirate’s) principles and decisions. There are no differences, divisions of discord among the Mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate.

Additionally, we have a strong Jihadist experience that makes us acquainted with the schemes and conspiracies of the kuffar. All Muslims, and especially the Afghans, know well of these hostile schemes and plots and that the enemy’s cunning schemes are useless and doomed to fail. I believe that in the 14th century there is no leader like Mullah Mohamed Omar Mujahid in terms of bravery, dignity, zeal and action. This Ameer is a blessing of Allah Almighty upon us. All the Mujahideen understand the degree of this blessing and we pray to Allah Almighty not to take it away from the Muslims. We have tasted the bitter dregs of a multitude of ameers and great number of organizational disputes at the time of the resistance against the Russian army. The multitude of leaders squandered the fruits of our Jihad and because of this we lost all that we had gained through the victories and heroism of our sacred Jihad. We lost all the achievements we had realized. The Afghan Muslim people, therefore, will not permit a repeat of this bitter experience. We are united now and will not allow anyone to fracture or divide us.

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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  • S. Davidson says:

    I completely disagree with this article. The Haqqani network is completely autonomous of the Taliban, though there are some disagreements about this. The Haqqani tribe is like the Gottis; thugs more concerned with exerting power through violence than any ideology. Punishing the Americans and those who work with them is an excuse and a recrutiment tool.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    S. Davidson,
    You should read Jalaluddin Haqqani’s own statement about his role in the Taliban. You can do so here.
    I’ll quote it for you:

    Praise be to Allah, all the Mujahideen wage Jihad under the leadership of the Ameer ul-Momineen Mullah Mohamed Omar Mujahid against the American invaders and their lackeys. There is no crisis (of division) under the names moderate or extremist among the Mujahideen. They all fight under a unified leadership, according to the glorious aya:

  • Charu says:

    What is this? The equivalent of wondering how many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Of course the Haqqani network is a part of the Taliban fighting in Afghanistan; being one the most lethal and effective of the many groups coalesced under the Taliban banner.

  • ArneFufkin says:

    A very strange representation to be certain.

  • Naresh C. says:

    Pakistanis consider Haqqanis as part of Afghan Taliban or good taliban. Haqqanis consider themselves as part of taliban and allied with Mullah Omar. It matters little what other people call the Haqqanis as.

  • James Smith says:

    This isn’t the first odd remark to come from this spokesman. But it’s the scariest.

  • Ross says:

    Another example of american leadership not understanding the enemy. Ignorant of the culture, customs, language, and complex interconnections of the the ethnic and political alliances of this region.

  • David Salmon says:

    @Ross: BG Blotz is a member of the German Army. You may want to revise your peroration. “Everyone” knows the Haqqani Taliban are Taliban terrorists, even, I dare say, the Brigadier, and certainly the ISI, so it likely matters little whether the BG or another made the gaffe. It has no practical significance that I am aware of. Hence, why the high dudgeon?
    I confess I am only an occasional viewer, and perhaps have missed something.

  • John Bijou says:

    Why would the al-Qaeda affiliate Mehsud group be killing Pakistanis and yet the same allegedly Al-Qaeda Haqqani group be on the Pakistani side ?
    American discourse for the past seven years have just been that : trying to obfuscate the Taliban along with AL-Qaeda when abundantly clear that the two not only do not share (fiqh) thats theology for you guys , nor see Pakistan in a same light !
    Lies and deceit work only so much of the times. Its not the American failure to read the nuances in the enemy, absolutely not, but an futile attempt to lump all to put pressure on Pakistan to just lay over and play dead to the US/Bharat nexus.


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