Rejecting the Terrorist Label

Frank Crimi in FrontPage

Despite the Haqqani Network’s decade-long murderous assault on American-led troops and Afghan civilians, the Obama administration is refusing calls to designate the Taliban-allied and al-Qaeda linked insurgent group a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO).

The most recent call to formally label the Pakistan-based Haqqani an FTO came from a bi-partisan coalition of leading lawmakers, whose ranks included Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Republican Representative Mike Rogers, chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

In a letter to President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton, the lawmakers said the Haqqani Network — named after its leader, Jalaluddin Haqqani –is “continuing to launch sensational and indiscriminate attacks against US interests in Afghanistan,” and, therefore, had more than met the FTO threshold.

To be fair, however, the Haqqani Network had long ago exceeded the threshold for indiscriminate terrorist violence, barbarism that has escalated in intensity ever since the group fled Afghanistan to Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal region following the Taliban’s ouster from power in 2001.

Since then, the Haqqani Network, with an estimated 15,000 fighters — many who gained experience fighting Soviet occupation troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s — has developed a well earned reputation as the most lethal and treacherous of the insurgent groups.

For starters, despite just being one of several insurgent factions that have been fighting American-led NATO and Afghan government forces, the Haqqani Network has been responsible for at least 90 percent of all attacks against Coalition forces in eastern Afghanistan.

Moreover, many of these attacks have come via suicide bombing, a tactic that the Haqqani is said to have introduced into the Afghanistan conflict.

A short list of these Haqqani suicide attacks on American-led NATO troops include a March 2009 truck bombing in Khowst Province, which killed three American soldiers; a May 2010 bus bombing that killed 5 American soldiers and a Canadian colonel; and an October 2011 car bombing that killed 13 American, British and Canadian soldiers.

In addition to targeting Coalition forces, the Haqqani has been equally adept at terrorizing both the Afghan populace and its government through focused campaigns of suicide bombings and assassinations.

Those campaigns of terror have been abetted by the Haqqani’s use of death squads, the largest of which is the Khurasan, responsible for at least 250 assassinations and public executions, including mass beheadings.

Unfortunately, the Haqqani’s ability to carry out these atrocities has come with the direct assistance of the Pakistani army’s intelligence wing, the Inter Services Intelligence directorate (ISI).

Aided by the ISI, the Haqqani, according to recent a Pentagon report, has been able to flourish in North Waziristan, using the mountainous territory to establish training camps and bases from which to launch raids into Afghanistan against Coalition forces by Taliban and al-Qaeda insurgents

In fact, in September 2011 after heavily-armed Haqqani fighters attacked both the US Embassy and the headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul, then Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, was prompted to label the Haqqani “a veritable arm” of the ISI.

Not surprisingly then, the familial closeness between the Haqqani and the ISI has led Pakistan’s military to refuse repeated requests from American military commanders to launch major offensives in North Waziristan to root out the Haqqanis.

Yet, even though the State Department has acknowledged the Haqqani as being at the “forefront of insurgent activity in Afghanistan, responsible for many high-profile attacks,” it has steadfastly balked at requests to label the Haqqani Network an FTO.

Instead, the State Department has felt it sufficient enough to limit its activities to targeting individual Haqqani Network commanders as global terrorists,deferring any future decision against the entire terrorist organization to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Unfortunately, Clinton still remains undecided as to a course of action, despite having been engaged since November 2011 in what the State Department then called the “final formal review” of the Haqqani.

Clinton’s reluctance to render a judgment against the Haqqani has been attributed in part to concerns that listing the Haqqani as an FTO will furtherdamage American relations with Pakistan.

Those relations have been rapidly disintegrating since the May 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden by US Special Forces in Abottabad, Pakistan, where bin Laden had been reportedly living for years under the watchful protection of elements within the ISI.

While one American analyst asked, “Once you designate the Haqqani Network, how do you not designate Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism,”given the ISI’s continuous support of the Haqqani, that ship has already sailed.

For its part, Pakistan sees little incentive in waging an overt war on the Haqqani, especially as one Pakistan official noted, “The Haqqanis will be with us forever. And in two years the US will be gone for the most part.”

In fact, in its rush to exit Afghanistan, the Obama administration is bending over backwards to do nothing that will derail its prospects of negotiating a reconciliation agreement to bring the Taliban back into the Afghan government.

As such, Obama administration officials believe that the Haqqani’s ties to the Taliban could throw those peace talks off the rails given the American government’s long-standing policy of not negotiating with terrorist organizations.

However, it should be noted that the Obama administration has played fast and loose with that policy in that Hillary Clinton acknowledged back in October 2011 the United States had held preliminary meetings with representatives of the Haqqani Network “to test their willingness and their sincerity…to try to put together a process that would sequence us towards an actual negotiation.”

To speed those negotiations, the Obama administration, which recently said the US has been in “direct discussions” with key Taliban leaders, had been facilitating those discussions for years by secretly releasing high-level Taliban captives on the condition that they promise to not fight anymore.

Not everyone, however, is on board with bringing back the Taliban into the Afghan fold, most notably Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, a position likely hardened by the recent Haqqani-backed assassination in Kabul of Mullah Arsala Rahmani, a former Taliban official and peace negotiator.

In fact, if anything, the Taliban appears growing stronger and more deadly, an observation made by Senator Feinstein upon her recent return from Afghanistan, resurgence she attributed in large part to the increased violence by Haqqani forces.

Specifically, in April 2012, insurgents launched the biggest attack on Kabul in 10 years, an assault on major on Afghan government buildings, military bases and foreign embassies that killed 15 and wounded 74 others.

That attack was followed three weeks later in May when — hours after President Obama departed Kabul after signing the Afghan-US strategic pact –insurgents launched a series of coordinated suicide attacks against Afghan government targets in Kabul.

Yet, while the Afghan Taliban claimed responsibility for both those attacks, the Pentagon said they were likely carried out by Haqqani militants withUS Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker offering more certainty, claiming, “There is no question in our mind that the Haqqanis were responsible for these attacks.”

In fact, the strength of the Haqqani in fueling the escalation in violence is such that in March General John Allen, commander of American forces in Afghanistan, said the upcoming spring Coalition offensive would primarily be rooted at clearing out Haqqani strongholds in eastern Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, the long-term effects of that strategy remains undecided given that the Afghan-US strategic pact prohibits the American military fromusing Afghanistan as a base to combat insurgencies in neighboring countries after 2014.

As such, the agreement will expose the remaining 30,000 American troops expected to still be in Afghanistan to attacks by the Haqqani who could then cross back over into the safety of Pakistan.

According to one US military official, “The Haqqanis should not be given carte blanche to do whatever they want while State Department officials hold out false hope that they can cut a deal with the Devil.”

Sadly, those words will continue to fall on deaf ears, as in the eyes of the Obama administration, there is a clear distinction between the Devil and a Foreign Terrorist Organization.

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