Sunday, January 9, 2011

Haqqani Network Under-Siege

“I will never forget the anger in the eyes of those Saudis when my friend and I, obviously Westerners, entered to talk with Haqqani .

What does the quote from the 1980s have to do with the status of the modern day Haqqani Network (HN)? There are reports that the Haqqanis may at least for the time being have been targeted enough that their activities have been suppressed. I bring up the Saudi connection because there are forces outside of US control that have a stake in keeping the HN active. The HN has a generation of outside support from the Middle East that could keep the group flush with money that would allow the group to continue to recruit, train, equip, and operate. From their sanctuary in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan the Haqqanis have rebuilt their forces since the Soviet invasion in 1979.
Current Operations:
The Haqqani network is being targeted in both of their strongholds, in the FATA by increasing US drone strikes and in Afghanistan by US and allied special and conventional forces.
In Pakistan the continuing drone strikes have focused on North Waziristan and the Haqqani and al-Qaeda (AQ) networks there. September and October of 2010 saw 34 drone strikes in HN areas with 206 killed. In addition two “hot pursuit” helicopter attacks killed another 50 Haqqani fighters. In Afghanistan at least 30 HN members were captured in Khost province alone during the month of December . “The so called HN is on its heels” in eastern Afghanistan “we have captured and killed many many of their fighters and mid level leaders” according to Army Col. Viet Luong .
This assault against the HN which began in 2009 has used a popular police tactic when dealing with gangs. Pick up enough of the foot soldiers and mid-level commanders and gang operations begin to be affected. In a report to the British government September – November of 2010 British and US Special operations and conventional forces killed 3200 Taliban including 387 mid and high level commanders . In addition to this attempts by the HN to launch large scale attacks have also been unsuccessful. August – October 2010 the HN launched four large scale assaults to see them all repulsed with a loss of at least 112 fighters . These losses may have caused the HN to have to change their tactics.
“The Haqqani’s have been forced to scale back attacks on district centers, fortified government infrastructure, and mass infantry attacks throughout the latter half of 2009 and first half of 2010, out of concern for the loss of indigenous human capital. The population that Haqqani relies on for recruits, shelter, and support has grown increasingly frustrated with the preponderance of civilian casualties and the death of recruits in Haqqani-linked operations. The Haqqanis have not been able to conduct large scale direct assaults and instead have relied increasingly on asymmetric attacks such as IEDs .”
Another sign of success against the HN is that they have not launched a major attack in Kabul in over seven months . Previously the group has tried to assassinate President Karzai, used suicide borne vehicle improvised explosive devices, and sophisticated suicide bombing attacks that were supported by assault teams to get the bomber to their target.
The 2010 fighting season has slowed down and the HN have been knocked back some. Now is the time to talk about 2011.
While the Haqqanis might have trouble recruiting from their own Zadran tribe as noted above, the HN has extensive contacts with foreign fighters and can replenish their ranks with them. During the anti-Soviet jihad Jallaldin (the patriarch) attracted and organized Arab volunteers . Fast forward and the Haqqanis are still if not more aligned with foreign fighters and now AQ. Siraq Haqqani, Jallaladin’s son has extended is families involvement not only with the Taliban but also international terrorists. Major Chris Belcher “Siraj Haqqani’s extended reach brings foreign fighters from places like Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Chchnya, Turkey and Middle Eastern Countries into Afghanistan” Lt Col. Anders adds “Sirajuudin’s allegiance is not with the Zadran tribe, or Afghans, but with Arabs and AQ .” The foreign angle as mentioned previously also has to deal with fund raising. Nasiruddin Haqqani was recently arrested in Pakistan he is known to have made fund raising trips to the Gulf States . As Nariuddin has not been publically turned over to the US time will tell if he was taken into protective custody so he would not be killed in a drone attack or actually arrested.
Foreign fighter recruitment has never been an issue for the HN. Within Pakistan and even within N. Waziristan allied Pakistani groups such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi have and continue to work within the HN. This is interesting because all of these groups have in the past or still are receiving protection and support from Pakistan’s security forces. A disturbing development is that European recruits have been killed in drone strikes in N. Waziristan with some traveling from England and Germany.
There is no crystal Ball to see what the HN will do in 2011 but a tactical resurgence will be needed to keep them on the top of the terrorist pecking order. The HN is going to need to make a statement with some type of attack that will increase their prestige. This will help them consolidate their power base and continue their take over and influence of other Taliban and affiliated groups.
As noted above Zadran tribal loyalties are on the edge due to the many casualties that they have taken. Recently in Sangin district of Helmand province the Alikozai tribe agreed to stop fighting the Marines and Afghan forces there and aid them in kicking out foreign fighters. The reason is because of Marine assaults on them had forced them to the negotiating table . Some think that counter-insurgency operations do not involve combat this is a mistake. Kinetic operations are used to kill those who will not lay down their arms against the government. In some cases finding a weakness such as a tribe’s casualties and exploiting it with kinetic operations to push them over the edge. This situation also happened in al-Anbar province in Iraq when the local Sunnis tired of losing their sons and fathers to Marine and Army units and whole villages being killed by AQ the tribes finally stopped shooting. The only way to for sure keep the HN work down is to continue to kill their rank and file in “an industrial way” forcing the Zadran tribe away from HN. As the HN has to rely on more and more foreign fighters they maybe seen as no longer an Afghan group but as just another outside force. Combine this with a continued drone campaign against HN leadership in the FATA that will force them to stay on the move and in hiding therefore unable to lead as well as they once did when they enjoyed absolute freedom in N. Waziristan.

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