As the 2014 NATO withdrawal date looms and prospects for Taliban peace talks evaporate, US military officials have begun to publicly name the Taliban, and its al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network faction in particular, as a prime suspect behind the attacks by Afghan forces on Coalition forces in Afghanistan. Military officials have previously sought to blame the insider, or green-on-blue, attacks largely on cultural differences or disgruntled individual Afghan soldiers, but a different take on the problem is starting to emerge. [For detailed information on the attacks, see LWJ special report, Green-on-blue attacks in Afghanistan: the data.]
On Oct. 5, US officials acknowledged that “the pattern of shootings and the movements and backgrounds of some of the shooters — including travel into Pakistan shortly before the shootings — point to a likely connection” to the Haqqani Network, the Associated Press reported. While officials have not yet found express links to the Haqqani Network in any of the attacks so far, Australian Brigadier General Roger Noble, a senior Coalition operations officer, said that insider attacks as a means of dividing the Afghans from the Coalition are “right up [the Haqqanis’] alley.”
The Haqqani Network, widely regarded as the most lethal Taliban faction, operates largely in Afghanistan but is based in Pakistan. In September, under Congressional pressure, the US State Department finally added the Haqqani Network to its list of terrorist organizations, even though nine top leaders of the group had already been designated global terrorists, starting with overall leader Sirajuddin Haqqani in 2008.
Less than a month after designating the Haqqani Network as a terrorist organization, US officials indicated that the efforts of the past few years to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table for peace talks are being abandoned.
The Haqqani Network is a powerful Taliban subgroup that operates primarily in the Afghan provinces of Khost, Paktia, and Paktika, but also has an extensive presence in Kabul, Logar, Wardak, Ghazni, Zabul, Kandahar, and Kunduz. In addition, the network has expanded its operations into the remote provinces of Badakhshan and Faryab.
The terror group has close links with al Qaeda, 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, a tribal agency in Pakistan. The Haqqani Network has also extended its presence into the Pakistani tribal agency of Kurram.
In 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 that are used by al Qaeda leaders and operatives and by Taliban foot soldiers preparing to fight in Afghanistan.
Although a number of US officials and analysts have viewed the Haqqani Network and the Taliban as separate entities, Siraj Haqqani and other leaders in the network have denied that such separation exists. Recently, Siraj maintained that his forces operate under the aegis of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the Afghan Taliban), and he reiterated his allegiance to Taliban emir Mullah Omar.
New data on insider attacks suggests Taliban, Pakistani links
A recent US military analysis of insider attack data for 2011 and 2012 shows that “a number of shooters were recruited into the Afghan army or police forces from Pashtun areas in eastern Afghanistan — including the provinces of Paktika, Paktia and Khost — where the Haqqanis wield great influence,” according to the AP report.
“In some cases these Afghans — most of whom had served in uniform for six months of less — returned to those areas on leave from their army or police duties, or briefly crossed into Pakistan, shortly before turning their guns on American or allied soldiers, the officials said.”
An article in the BBC from mid-September reached similar conclusions. Finding NATO’s assessment that perhaps only 10-25% of insider attacks were due to Taliban infiltration was too low, “Afghan officials believe this figure underestimates the true level of Taliban infiltration or influence,” the BBC reported.
The BBC report found that “a disproportionate number of the soldiers come from two remote districts in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province, close to the porous border with Pakistan” in areas under heavy Taliban influence. The report also noted that many of the insider attack cases involved recruitment files with falsified documents and other “serious flaws.” In one cited case, an Afghan police officer had been fired twice before being rehired and then fatally shooting two NATO officials.
The Taliban, for their part, have made no secret of their plan to undermine Coalition efforts by infiltrating Afghan security forces. Mullah Omar claimed in his Eid message this August that the Taliban have “cleverly infiltrated in the ranks of the enemy according to the plan given to them last year.” He urged government officials and security personnel to defect and join the Taliban as a matter of religious duty. He also noted that the Taliban have created the “Call and Guidance, Luring and Integration” department, “with branches … now operational all over the country,” to encourage defections.
The BBC article quotes a former Taliban fighter who is now a local police commander in the eastern border province of Kunar: “Two years ago [in 2010] there was a decision taken by Taliban leadership to focus more on infiltration and rogue soldiers instead of suicide attacks, and other attacks.”
More evidence indicating a greater Taliban role in the insider attacks comes from a US military report on insider attacks against Afghan forces which found, according to a Sept. 30 Associated Press article, that as of the end of August, Afghan forces had suffered slightly more insider attack casualties this year (53) than had their Coalition counterparts (52). Similarly, NATO figures show that since 2007, more Afghan troops have been killed by insider attacks than have NATO troops (“at least 135” versus 119), the AP article reports. These figures suggest that the surge in insider attacks cannot be laid at the feet of ‘cultural differences’ — if that were so, there would be much fewer casualties among the Afghan forces.
Along with the US military’s acknowledgment of greater Taliban involvement in the insider attacks, the Oct. 5 AP article refers to hitherto unreported US military data on attacks in which Coalition personnel were wounded but not killed. According to that data, “at least 80” Coalition personnel have been wounded in insider attacks so far in 2012, and 61 were wounded last year.