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U.S. lawmakers want Pakistan network to be dubbed terrorists

May 11, 2012 | 12:04 pm

Democratic and Republican leaders of the congressional oversight committees are urging the Obama administration to formally designate Pakistan’s Haqqani Network a terrorist organization, something the lawmakers said the State Department has been reluctant to do while it pursues negotiations with the Taliban.

The Haqqani network is now allied with the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and has carried out a number of attacks against American troops and facilities, most recently, officials say, an April 16 attack against the U.S. Embassy and other buildings in Kabul, Afghanistan. Members of the group, which is believed by U.S. officials to have ties to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, have frequently been targeted by CIA drone strikes.  

But U.S. national security officials have debated what specific steps to take against the Haqqani Network, which unlike Al Qaeda is not seen as harboring ambitions to conduct terrorist operations outside of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton released Friday, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and ranking member C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger (D-Md.) wrote that after classified briefings on their recent trip to Afghanistan, “It was clear that the Haqqani Network continues to launch sensational and indiscriminate attacks against U.S. interests in Afghanistan and the group poses a continuing threat to innocent men, women, and children in the region.” 

The State Department may designate a group a terrorist organization if it is foreign, engages in terrorist activity and threatens the security of U.S citizens, the lawmakers wrote. In November, the State Department said it was conducting a “final formal review” of whether to designate the group.  “Six months have now passed, and the Haqqanis have continued to attack U.S. troops and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul during that period,” the lawmakers wrote.

The lawmakers added that the Obama administration had been reluctant to formally call the Haqqanis terrorists while U.S. officials attempted to negotiate a reconciliation agreement with the Taliban — a deal that may have included or affected the Haqqani Network.  “However, Ambassador Crocker told us last week that there have been no such talks since late last year,” the lawmakers wrote, referring to Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, and that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has opposed their continuation.

The potential talks are not the only reason some in the administration balk at labeling the Haqqanis a terrorist organization. Once backed by the CIA during the 1980s Soviet war in Afghanistan, the group has become akin to a crime family, some U.S. officials say, seeking to maintain its empire of smuggling, kidnapping and extortion in certain provinces on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border in Pashtun tribal areas.  Some officials argue it does not make sense to elevate its status. Instead, the U.S. has put the terrorist label on individual leaders of the group, including Badruddin and Sirajuddin Haqqani, two sons of the network’s spiritual figurehead, Jalaluddin Haqqani.

Regardless of designation, the Haqqanis have been a frequent target of American drone strikes in Pakistan. According to Long War Journal, a website that tracks the strikes, 73 of 292 attacks since 2004 have been against Haqqani targets. In October, a CIA drone strike killed Janbaz Zadran, who had been described as the third-ranking leader of the network.

But because the Haqqanis are headquartered in populated towns such as Miram Shah, North Waziristan’s capital, the CIA has been constrained in its willingness to strike them. In 2010, the CIA passed on a chance last year to kill Sirajuddin Haqqani, a key operational leader, when it chose not to fire a missile at him from a Predator drone because women and children were nearby, U.S. and Pakistani officials say.

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-- Ken Dilanian

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