September 28, 2011


Brutal Haqqani Crime Clan Bedevils U.S. in Afghanistan (Mark Mazzetti, Scott Shane and Alissa J. Rubin, 9/24/11, NY Times)

With a combination of guns and muscle, the Haqqani network has built a sprawling enterprise on both sides of a border that barely exists.

The Haqqanis are Afghan members of the Zadran tribe, but it is in the town of Miram Shah in Pakistan's tribal areas where they have set up a ministate with courts, tax offices and radical madrasa schools producing a ready supply of fighters. They secretly run a network of front companies throughout Pakistan selling cars and real estate, and have been tied to at least two factories churning out the ammonium nitrate used to build roadside bombs in Afghanistan.

American intelligence officials believe that a steady flow of money from wealthy people in the gulf states helps sustain the Haqqanis, and that they further line their pockets with extortion and smuggling operations throughout eastern Afghanistan, focused in the provinces of Khost, Paktia and Paktika. Chromite smuggling has been a particularly lucrative business, as has been hauling lumber from Afghanistan's eastern forests into Pakistan.

They are also in the kidnapping business, with a mix of pecuniary and ideological motives. In May, the group released the latest of a series of videos showing Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, an American infantryman held by the network since June 2009, with a Haqqani official. David Rohde, then a reporter for The New York Times, was held hostage by Haqqani operatives from November 2008 to June 2009.

Over the past five years, with relatively few American troops operating in eastern Afghanistan, the Haqqanis have run what is in effect a protection racket for construction firms -- meaning that American taxpayers are helping to finance the enemy network.

Maulavi Sardar Zadran, a former Haqqani commander, calls this extortion "the most important source of funding for the Haqqanis," and points out that a multiyear road project linking Khost to Gardez in southeastern Afghanistan was rarely attacked by insurgent forces because a Haqqani commander was its paid protector.

"The Haqqanis know that the contractors make thousands and millions of dollars, so these contractors are very good sources of income for them," he said in an interview.

Other road projects in the region have been under constant assault. According to an authoritative report written by Jeffrey A. Dressler of the Institute for the Study of War, Haqqani militants "repeatedly targeted road construction projects which, if completed, would provide greater freedom of movement for Afghan and coalition forces."

But the group is not just a two-bit mafia enriching itself with shakedown schemes. It is an organized militia using high-profile terrorist attacks on hotels, embassies and other targets to advance its agenda to become a power broker in a future political settlement. And, sometimes, the agenda of its patrons from Pakistan's spy service, the ISI.

Last month, Afghanistan's National Intelligence Directorate released recordings of phone calls intercepted during the June 28 attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul. In the exchanges, Haqqani network leaders in Pakistan instruct their operatives in the hotel to shoot the locks off rooms, throw in grenades and make sure no one escapes.

Later, as a fire blazes, the recordings capture the voice of Badruddin Haqqani, one of Jalaluddin's sons, who the State Department says is in charge of kidnappings for the network.

On the tape, Mr. Haqqani asks: "How is the fire?"

A militant named Omar replies: "It's a big fire, and the smoke is blinding me." Omar says he will not be able to move away from the fire, and Mr. Haqqani asks if he has bullets.

"Yes, I have a lot of ammunition," Omar says. "God willing, I'm very relaxed, lying on this mattress, waiting for them."

Mr. Haqqani laughs and says: "God will give you victory." More than a dozen people were killed in the attack, which American officials say they think was carried out with some ISI help.

A NATO officer who tracks Haqqani activities in southeastern Afghanistan gave a blunt assessment of the Haqqanis' brutal ways of intimidation, saying: "They will execute you at a checkpoint, or stop you and go through your phone. And, if they find you're connected to the government, you'll turn up in the morgue. And that sends a message."

According to a senior American military official, cross-border attacks by the Haqqanis into Afghanistan have increased more than fivefold this year over the same period a year ago, and roadside bomb attacks are up 20 percent compared with last year.

For years, American officials have urged Pakistan to move against the Haqqanis' base of operations in North Waziristan. They typically are rebuffed by military and intelligence officials in Islamabad, who say that Pakistan's military is overstretched from operations elsewhere in the tribal areas and is not ready for an offensive against the Haqqanis.

As a result, the United States has fallen back on a familiar strategy: missiles fired from armed drones operated by the C.I.A. But because the Haqqani network's leaders are thought to be hiding in populated towns like Miram Shah, where the C.I.A. is hesitant to carry out drone strikes, American officials said that the campaign has had only limited success against the group's leadership.

Can't hide in Miram Shah forever.

Posted by at September 28, 2011 6:46 AM

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