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.
(Page 3 of 3)
But for a few months after the US-led coalition invaded Afghanistan, Haqqani was on the fence as to whether to join the new Afghan government or fight against it, according to those who knew him at the time. A series of American bombing raids killed members of Haqqani's family, and he disappeared across the Pakistani border, telling friends that "the Americans won't let me live in peace," according to Mr. Saadullah. American officials, however, countered that he was abetting Al Qaeda fighters in their escape from Afghanistan into Pakistan and was not a neutral figure.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
During the early years of the current Afghan war, Haqqani was merely one Taliban commander among many. But his close ties with Pakistan's ISI and Arab militants enabled him to raise funds and build training camps. Soon he was able to fight independently against the Americans, without help from the Taliban leadership. By 2007 his network had emerged as a distinct insurgent group.
Haqqani's son Sirajuddin has now taken the reins of the organization, according to intelligence officials. The younger Haqqani has proved more dynamic than his father, expanding the network greatly in the last few years. "He is not content with his father's methods," says one US intelligence officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "He's a lot more worldly than his father."
Sirajuddin took credit for planning the assassination attempt on the Afghan president in a rare interview with NBC News in July 2008.
The father has been reported to be dead, ailing, or incapacitated in some way. He last appeared in a March 2008 propaganda video of another insurgent attack.
Unlike most of the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network often works closely with foreign militant groups. For instance, the Islamic Jihad Union, an Uzbek militant group, reportedly has ties to the Haqqanis. The IJU brings militants from as far afield as Turkey to conduct attacks in Afghanistan. They are also allegedly behind plots to attack targets in Europe.
The Haqqani network also works more closely with the Pakistani Taliban than other Afghan insurgent groups. (See accompanying story, right.)
The Haqqanis pioneered the use of suicide attacks in Afghanistan, an import from Al Qaeda in Iraq. Haqqani attacks are more likely to use foreign bombers, whereas Afghan Taliban attacks tend to rely on locals. The suicide attacks are an innovation of Sirajuddin's, according to US intelligence officials.
In addition to suicide attacks, the Haqqanis are known for their well-orchestrated attacks. US intelligence officials and Haqqani insiders say that this is largely a result of close cooperation with the Pakistani ISI – something Pakistani officials have denied.
Every major attack "is planned in detail with the ISI in camps in Waziristan," says one former Haqqani commander, who declined to be named for fear of retribution. Officials say the Haqqanis use money from Al Qaeda-linked sources, and also possibly from timber smuggling, to finance their operations.
"The majority of Haqqani fighters are young," says the former Haqqani commander, "and their fathers had fought for Haqqani during the Russian jihad." Many joined after the Afghan government and the Americans failed to live up to their promises, he adds.
Here in Paktia Province, the Haqqani network is so extensive that some subcommanders have emerged as nearly distinct threats in their own right. For instance, longtime commander Saif Rahman Mansour, who had been fighting under Haqqani's banner, has been operating more independently of late, Afghan government officials say.
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.