The U.S. is struggling to find tribal allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan as it tries to beat back the resurgence of al Qaeda and the Taliban. In alienating a powerful warlord named Jalaluddin Haqqani a few years ago, however, some U.S. and Afghan officials argue the Americans may have shot themselves in the foot.Link.
Mr. Haqqani is now one of the major rebel leaders roiling Afghanistan. But back in autumn 2002, he secretly sent word that he could ally with the new U.S.-friendly Afghan government. The warlord had once been a partner of the Central Intelligence Agency, and later closely collaborated with Osama bin Laden and the ruling Taliban. CIA officers held talks with his brother, Ibrahim, and made plans to meet with Mr. Haqqani, who was leading some of the Taliban's troops.
But U.S. military forces operating separately from the CIA arrested Ibrahim -- cutting off the talks and entrenching his brother as a nemesis. Mr. Haqqani is still fighting U.S. troops along the Pakistan border. "We blew our chance," contends one of the CIA officers involved who had worked with Mr. Haqqani in the 1980s. "I truly believe he could have been on our side."
Other senior officials in the CIA and Pentagon are less certain. But Washington's aborted courtship of Mr. Haqqani epitomizes the conflicts and calculations that are complicating U.S. involvement in the region.
The war in Afghanistan is a major factor in the chaos unfolding in neighboring Pakistan. A spreading Islamic insurgency inside Pakistan is one reason Gen. Pervez Musharraf cited Saturday when he declared emergency rule, though the opposition contends the move was more about extending his stay in power. Militants in Pakistan's tribal belt are suspected of fighting in both countries, dramatically widening the conflict from the days that it was largely confined to Afghanistan.
Pakistani and American officials allege that Mr. Haqqani's group, based in the remote mountains of Pakistan's North Waziristan region bordering Afghanistan, was critical in helping al Qaeda leaders flee to Pakistan from Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002. Today, the warlord and his network continue to provide "security and support for the staging of terrorist acts" against both Afghan and Western interests, says Lt. Col. David Accetta of the U.S. Army's Regional Command East in Afghanistan.
Debate continues in the U.S. and Afghan governments over whether major Afghan warlords can be turned. Commanders inside the Pentagon, which has largely taken over the job of hunting down the militants from the CIA, say they've received promising overtures from members of Mr. Haqqani's network in recent months and are interested in exploring them. "I still believe there's a nonlethal way to get him to reconcile," says Lt. Col. Dave Bushey, who served as a battalion commander for the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division, which until June led operations against Mr. Haqqani's fighters along the border. "I think these guys want to come home."
But there's also concern that Mr. Haqqani has grown too close to Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders. In recent months, European security services have arrested South Asian and Arab men who allegedly trained in Pakistan's remote tribal regions -- partially controlled by Mr. Haqqani's men -- to launch attacks in the West. U.S. intelligence agencies say plots for bombing the U.S.'s Ramstein Air Base in Germany and U.S.-bound airliners from London were hatched there. Suicide bombers sent by Mr. Haqqani's group have killed or injured a string of senior Afghan officials, U.S. and Afghan officials allege.
The whereabouts of Mr. Haqqani and his three sons, who have increasingly taken command of the group's military operations, aren't known. Rumors spread this summer that Mr. Haqqani, thought to be in his mid-70s, had died, but Afghan and U.S. officials say they don't have any supporting evidence. Mr. Haqqani's network is seen as one of the three most-powerful militias fighting Kabul from Pakistani bases, along with Taliban leader Mullah Omar's army in southern Afghanistan and militants controlled by warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in the north.
Last month the Pentagon put Mr. Haqqani's eldest son, Sirajuddin, on its 12 most-wanted list in Afghanistan. Many intelligence analysts inside the Pentagon and CIA believe Mr. Haqqani's militia will continue to fight in the insurgency if he dies, but not if he and his sons change sides.
Members of the Pashtun tribe based along the Pakistan-Afghan border, which includes the Haqqanis, make up 40% of Afghanistan's population but are underrepresented in the central government. The Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001, is made up almost solely of Pashtun tribesmen. Swathes of eastern and southern Afghanistan are in the hands of Pashtun and Taliban leaders who challenge Mr. Karzai's army, heavily staffed by Uzbek and Tajik commanders.
Many inside the CIA, the Pentagon and Mr. Karzai's government argue that Mr. Haqqani is more interested in regaining influence in his traditional strongholds than in restoring the Taliban government in Kabul. Like many Afghan warlords, he is seen by those officials as an opportunist more than an ideologue.
Born to an influential clan in eastern Afghanistan, Mr. Haqqani fled into Pakistan's tribal region with millions of other Afghans after the Soviet army invaded their country in 1979. Many tribal leaders allied with the CIA to fight the invaders and the Soviet-backed local government during the 10-year Afghan-Soviet war. Mr. Haqqani and his men won a reputation for being among the fiercest and most effective. In one battle during the holy month of Ramadan in the late 1980s, Mr. Haqqani was shot in the leg. The CIA dispatched a medical team with a miniature X-ray machine to locate the bullet. Mr. Haqqani refused to ingest painkillers, citing Islam's tenet to fast during the holiday.
He "bit down on a belt, and we pulled the bullet out with forceps," says Milt Bearden, then the CIA's station chief in Pakistan. "Haqqani then went back to killing Soviets."
Mr. Haqqani was seen by CIA and Pakistani intelligence officials then as a relative moderate among the fundamentalist Afghan rebels, and his network received generous funding from Washington. For U.S. lawmakers and columnists who made the trek to see how U.S. taxpayers' money was being used in the anti-communist struggle, Mr. Haqqani displayed an elaborate staging area complete with hotel, ammunition depot, mosque and radio center in tunnels dug into a mountainside.
With the Soviet troop pullout in 1989, Mr. Haqqani warned his U.S. allies that they would quickly be forgotten if they stopped supporting reconstruction. "He wanted money for hospitals and education," says a former senior CIA operative who worked with Mr. Haqqani at the time. But the U.S. cut funding for the mujahadeen operations in 1991.
Mr. Haqqani gravitated to Arab mercenaries who stepped into the void. He struck up a close relationship with Mr. bin Laden, who personally fought in battles against communist forces along the Afghan-Pakistan border where Mr. Haqqani operated. Mr. bin Laden is credited with using tractors and other equipment to help Mr. Haqqani's men build forward bases inside Afghanistan.
With the 1996 Taliban takeover, Mr. Haqqani aligned with the regime. After the U.S. invaded in October 2001 over the Taliban's harboring of Mr. bin Laden, Mr. Haqqani took charge of some Taliban and Pashtun troops fighting the U.S.-led coalition. He also helped al Qaeda members flee into Pakistan's tribal belt, say U.S. and Pakistani officials.
The idea of splitting off Pashtun leaders from al Qaeda and the Taliban became a major CIA objective as the fighting wore on. Mr. Haqqani's previous cooperation with the CIA made him an intriguing target, and Afghan warlords have a history of switching sides with the proper financial or political inducements.
U.S. officials believe members of Mr. Haqqani's family may have been killed during a U.S. bombing campaign in March 2002. But that didn't stop him from reaching out in the ensuing weeks, as fighting in eastern Afghanistan intensified. Intermediaries sent word to CIA officers who had worked with the warlord in the 1980s that he was open to a deal. Pakistani intelligence also messaged the CIA station in Islamabad that reconciliation with Mr. Haqqani was attainable, say former CIA members.
But when Mr. Haqqani's brother Ibrahim was identified in eastern Afghanistan in fall 2002, the U.S. military arrested him as a terrorist risk. He was released after nine months, but his detention effectively killed the CIA's plans of striking a strategic agreement, say former agency staff and Afghan officials.
Afghan officials say the U.S. military was pressed to arrest Ibrahim by a Pashtun leader long engaged in a bitter rivalry with the Haqqani clan, Pacha Khan Zadran. They say Ibrahim was cooperating with local military commanders loyal to Mr. Karzai's government when he was arrested. "Zadran was in fear of Haqqani," says Faiz Zaland, an Afghan provincial government official who worked with the U.S. military at the time.
Some Afghan officials say Washington and Kabul failed to provide convincing guarantees that Pashtun leaders would be welcomed into a national unity government. "At the beginning...every Taliban was seen as a terrorist," says Afghanistan's former interior minister, Ali Jalali. "It created mistrust."
Now, Pentagon officials say, the Haqqani network has adopted tactics tested by al Qaeda in Iraq, using suicide bombers and improvised explosive devices against U.S. and Afghan government forces in Afghanistan. In September 2006, a teenage member of Mr. Haqqani's movement blew up himself and the governor of Paktia province, Abdel Hakim Taniwal, say U.S. and Afghan officials. At Mr. Taniwal's funeral two days later, a second suicide attacker, believed to have been sent by Mr. Haqqani, set off an explosive belt, killing 39 and injuring four of Mr. Karzai's ministers.
On Jan. 10 of this year, units from the 10th Mountain Division engaged Mr. Haqqani's men near the Pakistan border, say U.S. Army commanders. The U.S. forces had built a border checkpoint along a key passage into Afghanistan from Waziristan to stem insurgents. Informers tipped them off that Mr. Haqqani's men were preparing to hit the installation.
Near midnight, hundreds of armed Pashtuns crossed into Afghanistan. Some were barefoot; others wore garbage bags on their feet to protect themselves from the frost, say U.S. soldiers present. The 10th Mountain Division hit them with artillery and machine-gun fire from Apache helicopters, killing about 150 of Mr. Haqqani's men, say U.S. Army officials. "That was a very good day," says Col. Bushey, a battalion commander who was present. "We showed we were increasingly challenging their space."
The division next built a base on the important route between the eastern Afghan cities of Gardez and Khost, near the Haqqanis' home district. The Afghan government is constructing administrative offices there to challenge Mr. Haqqani's influence, and has recruited local leaders in building schools and roads to win over the local population.
Members of the 10th Mountain Division say they have received feelers over the past year about possibly striking a compromise with the Karzai government. They came from Sirajuddin Haqqani, Mr. Haqqani's eldest son, who is on the Pentagon's most-wanted list.
Thursday, November 08, 2007
Flip, Flop; Flip, Flop; Flip, Flop... Our Fickle Allies
The scum our security relies on... then there's the foreigners too.... Playing us; undependable....