Video details Afghanistan insurgent group's prowess

Christian Science MonitorJune 3, 2009 

GARDEZ, Afghanistan — Sitting in an open field, three Taliban-allied insurgents carefully pore over a map of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan.

"This is where we will be staying," says one, pointing.

In the next scene from this insurgent propaganda video, one fighter shows the others a video of an empty room with a window. "You will shoot at Karzai from this window," he explains to the others. "We have people on the inside who will help you."

The attempt to assassinate Afghan President Hamid Karzai during a military parade in April 2008 nearly succeeded. Karzai escaped, but three people died.

The fighters in the video, which was purchased in Quetta, Pakistan, had detailed intelligence of the area. They knew how to slip through police checkpoints, and they had people in the Afghan government telling them exactly where Karzai would be standing on the parade ground.

Afghan intelligence officials have identified one of the three men in the video as part of the assassination team. All three are members of Afghanistan's most lethal insurgent group, the Haqqani network, a shadowy outfit that many officials think is the biggest threat to the American presence in the country.

"The Haqqani network has proven itself to be the most capable (insurgent group), able to conduct spectacular attacks inside Afghanistan," said Matthew DuPee, a researcher at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif.

The network, which is allied with the Taliban, struck again on May 12, when nearly a dozen fighters stormed government buildings in Afghanistan's southeastern city of Khost. The coordinated attack, which featured multiple suicide bombers, was one of the most brazen in the city in years.

The Haqqani network is also alleged to be behind a raid on a luxury hotel in Kabul in January 2008 and a massive car bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul that left 41 people dead in July 2008.

The group is active in Afghanistan's southeastern provinces — Paktia, Paktika, Khost, Logar and Ghazni. In parts of Paktika, Khost and Paktia, it's established parallel governments and controls the countryside of many districts.

"In Khost, government officials need letters from Haqqani just to move about on the roads in the districts," said Hanif Shah Husseini, a parliamentarian from Khost.

The Haqqani network's leaders, according to U.S. and Afghan sources, are based near Miramshah in the Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan. Pakistani authorities and leading Haqqani figures deny this, but former Haqqani fighters say it's the case.

Haqqani himself has been reported to be dead, ailing or incapacitated. He last appeared in a March 2008 propaganda video of another insurgent attack, and his son Sirajuddin has taken the reins of the organization, according to intelligence officials.

The younger Haqqani has expanded the network and adopted new tactics. He took credit for planning the assassination attempt on Afghan president Karzai in a rare interview with NBC News in July 2008, and in March, the U.S. government raised the bounty on Sirajuddin from $200,000 to $5 million.

"He is not content with his father's methods," said one U.S. intelligence officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "He's a lot more worldly than his father."

"The majority of Haqqani fighters are young," said the former Haqqani commander, "and their fathers had fought for Haqqani during the Russian jihad." Many joined after the Afghan government and the Americans failed to live up to their promises, he added.

Suicide bombings are among Sirajuddin's innovations, according to U.S. intelligence officials, an import from al Qaida in Iraq, and the group is more likely to use foreign bombers, whereas the Afghan Taliban tend to rely on locals.

The Haqqanis also are known for well-orchestrated attacks. U.S. intelligence officials and Haqqani insiders say this is largely a result of close cooperation with Pakistani intelligence — something Pakistani officials have denied.

Every major attack "is planned in detail with the ISI in camps in Waziristan," said a former Haqqani commander, who declined to be named for fear of retribution.

Officials say the Haqqanis use money from al Qaida-linked sources, and also possibly from timber smuggling, to finance their operations.

Unlike most of the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network often works closely with foreign militant groups and with the Pakistani Taliban. For instance, the Islamic Jihad Union, an Uzbek militant group, reportedly has ties to the Haqqanis. The IJU brings militants from as far afield as Turkey to conduct attacks in Afghanistan, and it's also allegedly behind plots to attack targets in Europe.

(Gopal is a Christian Science Monitor correspondent.)

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