The NATO-led international force in Afghanistan said it killed Wednesday a high-level insurgent commander it suspects provided “material support” to the terrorist assault Tuesday on the InterContinental Hotel.
The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) says it killed a man named Ismail Jan in an airstrike over eastern Afghanistan. According to ISAF, Ismail Jan was a deputy to the senior commander in Afghanistan for the Haqqani Network, a faction of the Taliban-led insurgency.
However, local journalists in Paktia Province, reached by the Monitor, report no knowledge of any airstrike nor of a commander named Ismail Jan.
So far, the response to the InterContinental has offered a window into the US approach to the Afghan conflict for the years to come.
The response during the hotel raid involved Afghan forces on the front lines with an option to call for backup [see story on how the raid tested Afghan security skills]. And the swift retaliatory strike the next day – if it indeed happened – fits the intelligence-driven, focused strikes that the Obama administration wants to rely more on in the US effort to combat terrorism.
A key advantage of this strategy is that it requires far fewer troops. One disadvantage, however, is that it relies heavily on Afghan political support for the sort of missions that have come under the heaviest local criticisms: bombings and special forces raids.
Such operations often result in complaints from residents that those targeted were in fact innocents – charges that are sometimes true and often reported nationwide.
Another disputed incident
This type of dispute occurred once again today following a separate coalition raid conducted Wednesday in Zurmat district of Paktia Province. An ISAF press release claims that two Haqqani Network insurgents were killed during a hunt for a Haqqani leader.
Residents say that among those killed were a student in the 9th grade, Mohammad Afzal, and his brother, a farmer named Mohammad Anwar, according to local journalist Ihsanullah Mahjoor. Mr. Mahjoor says he went to the village and saw school documentation showing Azfal was a student and spoke to his teacher who said Azfal was not against the government.
An ISAF spokesman declined further comment.
President Hamid Karzai, under mounting public pressure, has previously criticized ISAF airstrikes and special operations raids. After 2014, the US ability to have access to bases to stage such attacks will depend on ongoing negotiations in Kabul. Many Afghans as well as Afghanistan’s neighbors deeply oppose a continued US military presence in any form.
US attempts to keep even a minimal presence in next-door Pakistan are steadily unraveling. On Wednesday, Pakistan’s Defense Minister Chaudhry Mukhtar announced that the government told the US to vacate Shamsi, an air base in southwest Pakistan that has housed drones.
What the Haqqani network has to do with it
The ISAF report announcing Ismail Jan’s killing also assigned responsibility for the InterContinental attack on the Haqqani Network “in conjunction with Taliban operatives.”
According to ISAF, the "material support" given by Ismail Jan consisted of fighters, weapons, and training. He also assisted in providing accommodation and facilitated movement for the fighters.
In a phone interview yesterday, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid refused to give the name of the commander in the fight, but he said the main person in charge of the operation was the insurgency’s shadow governor for Kabul. The level of sophistication of the attack suggested it came from the Haqqanis, not other Afghan insurgents, says Christine Fair, a regional expert at Georgetown University in Washington.
The Haqqani Network is led by Afghan warlord Jaluluddin Haqqani and his son Sirajuddin. The group has a strong presence in eastern Afghanistan and a haven in the North Waziristan tribal agency of Pakistan.
The group remains a major point of contention between the US and Pakistan. The US wants Pakistan to launch a military offensive into North Waziristan to eliminate the Haqqanis and a host of other Islamic militant groups living alongside them.
The Pakistan military, echoing some of Obama’s latest war rhetoric, has said it will consider targeted, intelligence-driven operations in North Waziristan, but appears disinclined to launch a full-scale ground assault.