Afghanistan’s National Intelligence Directorate (NDS) recently disclosed that it intercepted communications on June 28 between fighters who were assaulting the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul and their Haqqani Network handlers based in Pakistan. In an intercepted phone call, Badruddin Haqqani, a top leader of the terror network, is heard directing one of the fighters and laughing during the attack that killed 11 civilians and two Afghan policemen as well as nine members of the attack team.
On Aug. 31, NDS officials briefed reporters in Kabul on the phone intercepts between Badruddin, another Haqqani Network commander known as Qari Younis, and two of the members of the Continental suicide assault team. The NDS said the phone calls from the Haqqani Network handlers originated from Pakistan, according to Al Jazeera.
Younis is heard giving a Taliban fighter known as Rohullah directions on how to root out foreign guests in the hotel. He advises the fighters in the hotel to conserve their ammunition, send a team downstairs to fight, and then come up with a plan to search the rooms and kill those hiding.
“Use grenades and talk with each other,” Younis advises. “If you’re in agreement go and break down one or two doors. Or, if possible, throw a grenade into the room and then pull back.”
“Whatever you do, make sure these guys don’t get away. OK?” Younis orders.
Badruddin Haqqani is later heard talking to another Taliban fighter named Omar. Badruddin asks Omar if he has enough ammunition and if it is possible to change his location due to a fire in the hotel. Omar says he has “a lot of ammunition” but is unable to move.
“God willing, I’m very relax, lying on this mattress waiting for them,” Omar tells Badruddin.
“God will give you victory,” Badruddin responds, while laughing.
Badruddin, an operational commander in the Haqqani Network who also sits on the Taliban’s Miramshah Shura, is one of five senior Haqqani Network leaders to have been added to the US’s list of specially designated global terrorists. Also designated are Sirajuddin Haqqani, the overall leader of the Haqqani Network as well as the leader of the Taliban’s Miramshah Regional Military Shura; Nasiruddin Haqqani, a key financier and “emissary”; Khalil al Rahman Haqqani, a key fundraiser, financier, and operational commander for the Haqqani Network; and Mullah Sangeen Zadran, a top military commander in eastern Afghanistan. All five commanders have close ties to al Qaeda.
The back-and-forth during the Intercontinental attack between the Taliban fighters and their handlers in Pakistan is reminiscent of at least three other attacks carried out by terror groups in the region. In all three attacks, the terrorists were directed by commanders based in Pakistan.
In November of 2008, the Lashkar-e-Taiba assault team that attacked hotels and other locations in Mumbai, India, was in constant contact with its six Pakistani handlers. The handlers, who were identified as Zarar, Kafa, Wassi, Jundal, Buzurg, and “Major General,” monitored the news coverage from Mumbai and provided tactical advice to the terrorists holed up in Nariman House and the Taj Mahal and Trident hotels during the three-day siege. In phone intercepts, the handlers are heard laughing and cheering as the suicide assault team gunned down civilians. Several of the handlers have been linked to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI).
More recently, Pakistan-based handlers provided direction to members of a suicide assault team that attacked the Kabul Bank in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad in February 2011.
“The planning of this incident-all of it – took place in Pakistan. It took them four months to plan the attack from inside Pakistan,” said NDS spokesman Lutfullha Mashal. “The person who took part on the attack got training in weapons, bomb making, and other tactics in Pakistan.”
Both the Mumbai and the Jalalabad attacks have been linked to the ISI, which actively supports both the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Haqqani Network, as well as several other terror groups in the region.
The ISI’s sponsorship of the Haqqani Network has long been recognized by the US intelligence community, as the relationship dates to the 1980s jihad against the Soviets. A leaked State Department cable titled “Allies Find Briefing On Afghanistan NIE ‘Gloomy,'” and dated Dec. 5, 2008, contains a description of the intelligence community’s National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) for Afghanistan. The NIE was apparently finalized just weeks before, on Nov. 25, 2008.
Dr. Peter Lavoy, who was then the National Intelligence Officer for South Asia and is now the Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Analysis and Chairman of the National Intelligence Council, briefed NATO’s permanent representatives on the NIE. “Although Pakistan now identifies both al Qaeda and the Taliban as existential threats,” Lavoy told NATO’s representatives, “Pakistani government institutions still support the Taliban in two key ways.”
Lavoy explained, according to the leaked cable, that the Pakistani government permits “the Quetta Taliban Shura (the Taliban leadership council) to operate unfettered in Baluchistan province.” And Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) “provides intelligence and financial support to insurgent groups – especially the Jalaluddin Haqqani network out of Miram Shah, North Waziristan – to conduct attacks in Afghanistan against Afghan government, ISAF, and Indian targets.”
When pressed on why Pakistan would continue to support the Taliban, Lavoy proffered three reasons. “First,” Lavoy explained, “Pakistan believes the Taliban will prevail in the long term, at least in the Pashtun belt most proximate to the Pakistani border.”
Second, Lavoy said that “Pakistan continues to define India as its number one threat, and insists that India plays an over-active role in Afghanistan.” And finally, “Pakistani officials think that if militant groups were not attacking in Afghanistan, they would seek out Pakistani targets.”
Furthermore, according to the leaked cable, “Lavoy claimed that the Pakistani Army’s current operations in the FATA’s Bajaur Agency [in late 2008] are directed exclusively against insurgent groups that refused to cooperate, while the Haqqani network remains untouched and continues a policy of cross-border attacks.”
A particularly infamous example of ISI support for the Haqqani Network’s “cross-border attacks” occurred on July 7, 2008, when terrorists attacked the Indian embassy in Kabul. The attack killed more than 40 people. Lavoy is cited in the leaked State Department cable as saying that “India believes without doubt that ISI supported the Haqqani network in orchestrating the Indian Embassy bombing in Kabul.”
The Indians are not the only ones who detected the ISI’s hand in the attack. The New York Times reported on Aug. 1, 2008 that American intelligence officials had come to the same conclusion. “The conclusion was based on intercepted communications between Pakistani intelligence officers and militants who carried out the attack,” US officials told the Times, “providing the clearest evidence to date that Pakistani intelligence officers are actively undermining American efforts to combat militants in the region.”
The US officials cited by the Times “also said there was new information showing that members of the Pakistani intelligence service were increasingly providing militants with details about the American campaign against them, in some cases allowing militants to avoid American missile strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas.”
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal. Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.