The most deadly US foe in Afghanistan
The Haqqani network, born of the Russian war and nurtured by the CIA, is behind many spectacular assaults in Afghanistan.
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The network is better connected to Pakistani intelligence and Arab jihadist groups than any other Afghan insurgent group, according to American intelligence officials.Skip to next paragraph
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These links go back a long way. It was here – in the dusty mountains of Paktia Province, near the Pakistani border – that the group's putative leader, Jalaluddin Haqqani, first rose to fame. Born into an influential clan of the Zadran tribe, Mr. Haqqani morphed into a legendary war hero for his exploits against the Russians in the 1980s. Many in the southeastern provinces of the country fondly recall his name, even those who are now in the government.
In the 1980s, Haqqani quickly established himself as one of the preeminent field commanders. "He could kill Russians like you wouldn't believe," says one US intelligence officer who knew him at the time. The Central Intelligence Agency forged close links with him, and through the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency funneled large amounts of weapons and cash his way.
Unlike many commanders, Haqqani was often in the line of fire himself and would at times retreat to Saudi Arabia to convalesce from his wounds. It is believed that his trips to the Gulf helped him forge close links with Arab militants, and he became one of the first Afghan commanders to host foreign fighters. His ties with Arab fighters and Al Qaeda continue to this day, say US and Afghan military officials.
Although he joined the Taliban government in the mid-1990s, Haqqani was never formally part of the Taliban movement. "The Taliban wanted to create an Islamic emirate, but Haqqani favored an Islamic republic," claims Maulavi Saadullah, who was a close friend at the time.
"During those years, [Haqqani's son] Siraj used to complain to me about how heavy-handed and dogmatic the Taliban were in their interpretation of Islam," recalls Waheed Muzjda, an Afghan-based policy analyst who knew the family.
Still, the Taliban saw Haqqani's usefulness as a commander and enlisted him in the fight against the Northern Alliance. On the eve of the American invasion in October 2001, Haqqani was named the head commander for all of the Taliban forces.
A would-be suicide bomber’s tale
‘Ahmad’ tells of his recruitment, indoctrination, assignment, and betrayal.
The case of one captured Haqqani suicide bomber illustrates the closeness of Haqqani's ties to Pakistan.
Ahmad, who asked that his real name not be used for fear of retribution, was born in a small town in Pakistan's Punjab Province. He came from a large but poor family. Pakistan's notoriously poor education system meant that good schools were out of reach, and he instead went to a madrasa– an Islamic school – in his home village.
After this religious schooling, he took a job in a bakery and supported his entire family. "Then one day a friend invited me to take a trip to Waziristan. I knew almost nothing about the Taliban or America at that time," he recalls.
His friend took him to a Pakistani Taliban camp, where his hosts welcomed him and gave him lodging. At first he wanted to leave, but his hosts asked him to stay for a short while and "learn about Islam."
In the morning and afternoon they would recite verses from the Koran, and in the evening they showed him hour upon hour of films of alleged American atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I became outraged when I saw video clips of what was happening to my Muslim brothers and sisters," he says. "After watching this for nearly two months, it became intolerable for me. I eventually decided to give my life for my [Muslim] country."
The camp belonged to Maulavi Nazeer, a powerful Pakistani Taliban commander. According to Ahmad, many of the fighters trained under Mr. Nazeer and then went to Afghanistan to fight with the Haqqanis. Ahmad's destiny was not to become a fighter, however: He told his hosts that he would like to become a "martyr," a suicide bomber.
Nearly seven months passed, then one day Nazeer came to Ahmad and told him that he had a job for him.
Some of Nazeer's men drove Ahmad to the Afghan border. On the other side, he was met by Haqqani representatives, who led him to a car full of explosives and a suicide vest. "They told me to drive down a particular road for a short while, after which I would find some foreign soldiers who had killed many Muslims," he recalls.
"I drove and eventually neared a checkpoint with soldiers. My finger was on the trigger – but then I heard them speaking an Afghan language."
The checkpoint was manned by Afghan soldiers, not Americans.
"I realized that I had been tricked. I didn't want to sacrifice myself to kill other Muslims, only the foreign occupiers," he says. "I had my finger on the trigger, but I couldn't press the button."
Ahmad turned himself in and is today in the custody of Afghan authorities.