Image of Haqqani Network military commander Mullah Sangeen Zadran. Obtained by The Long War Journal from a Taliban propaganda tape.
Today under Executive Order 13224, the US State Department added Mullah Sangeen Zadran, a top Haqqani Network leader, to the list of specially designated global terrorists. The designation allows the US to freeze Sangeen’s assets, prevent him from using financial institutions, and prosecute him for terrorist activities.
State describes Sangeen as “a senior lieutenant to Haqqani Network leader Sirajuddin Haqqani.” Sangeen is also the “Shadow Governor for Paktika province, Afghanistan and a commander of the Haqqani Network, a Taliban-affiliated group of militants that operates from North Waziristan Agency in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan.”
Sangeen “helps lead fighters in attacks across Southeastern Afghanistan, and is believed to have planned and coordinated the movement of hundreds of foreign fighters into Afghanistan,” State continued. The US military and government often use the term “foreign fighters” to describe members of al Qaeda and allied terror groups operating along the Afghan-Pakistani border. When asked if the foreign fighters mentioned in the designation included al Qaeda fighters, Jason Blazakis, the chief of the US State Department’s Terrorist Designations Unit, told The Long War Journal “Yes. Absolutely.”
State said that Sangeen has been involved in numerous IED attacks in southeastern Afghanistan. US military officials have told The Long War Journal that Sangeen is considered to be one of the most dangerous operational commanders in eastern Afghanistan, and has organized multiple assaults on US and Afghan combat outposts in the region. Sangeen is one of the most wanted Taliban commanders in all of Afghanistan.
Sangeen also “is believed to have orchestrated the kidnappings of Afghans and foreign nationals in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan,” according to State.
Sangeen is known to have captured one US soldier, who is still in his custody. In the summer of 2009, Sangeen took credit for the kidnapping of Specialist Bowe Bergdahl, who apparently stepped away from his post at a combat outpost in Paktika on June 30, 2009. The soldier is still in Sangeen’s custody, and is thought to be held in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan. On July 2, 2009, Sangeen said he hoped to exchange the US soldier for imprisoned Taliban leaders.
“The case will be referred to Sirajuddin Haqqani and other Taliban top leadership,” Sangeen told CBS News. “They have to decide the future of the US soldier, but we would not mind a prisoner exchange in this case.”
Sangeen has openly admitted the strong links between the Haqqani Network and al Qaeda. In an interview released in September 2009 by As Sahab, al Qaeda’s top media outlet, Sangeen said al Qaeda and the Taliban “are all one and are united by Islam.”
“We do not see any difference between Taliban and Al Qaeda, for we all belong to the religion of Islam. Sheikh Osama [bin Laden] has pledged allegiance to Amir Al-Mumineen [the Leader of the Faithful, Mullah Muhammad Omar] and has reassured his leadership again and again. There is no difference between us, for we are united by Islam and the Sharia governs us,” Sangeen told As Sahab.
Top Haqqani Network leaders designated as terrorists by the US
Mullah Sangeen Zadran is the latest senior Haqqani Network leader to be added to the US’s list of specially designated global terrorists. Four other top Haqqani Network leaders have been placed on the list since 2008; three of them have been designated in the last year.
Sirajuddin Haqqani, the overall leader of the Haqqani Network as well as the leader of the Taliban’s Miramshah Regional Military Shura, was designated by the State Department as a terrorist in March 2008; and in March 2009, the State Department put out a bounty of $5 million for information leading to his capture. US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal that Siraj is a member of al Qaeda’s top council. In April 2010, Siraj said that cooperation between al Qaeda fighters and the Taliban “is at the highest limits.”
Nasiruddin Haqqani, one of Siraj’s brothers, was placed on the US’s terrorist list in July 2010. Nasiruddin is a key financier and “emissary” for the Haqqani Network, and is known to have 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.
Khalil al Rahman Haqqani, Siraj’s uncle, was added to the US’s list of terrorists in February 2011. Khalil is a key fundraiser, financier, and operational commander for the Haqqani Network, and has been crucial in aiding and supporting al Qaeda’s military, the Lashkar al Zil or Shadow Army.
Badruddin Haqqani, another one of Siraj’s brothers, was designated by the State Department on May 11, 2011. Badruddin sits on the Miramshah Shura, is an operational commander of the Haqqani Network, and provides support to al Qaeda and allied terror groups.
Jalaluddin Haqqani, the father of Siraj, Nasiruddin, and Badruddin, and the brother of Khalil, has not been added to the US’s list of terrorists, despite his close links to both the Taliban and al Qaeda. In an interview with Al Somood, the Taliban’s official magazine, Jalaluddin admitted he served on the Taliban’s executive council, which is known as the Quetta Shura.
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 (ISI) 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. In addition, the Haqqanis 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.
The terror group collaborated with elements of Pakistan’s military and intelligence service in at least one of these attacks. 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 US military has been hunting top Haqqani Network commanders in special operations raids in the Afghan east, while the CIA has targeted the network with a series of unmanned Predator airstrikes in Pakistan’s tribal agency of North Waziristan. Both Siraj and Sangeen have been the targets of past strikes. Mohammed Haqqani, a mid-level Haqqani Network military commander and a brother of Siraj, was killed in a Predator airstrike in February 2010.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.