Haqqani Taliban thwarted over last 7 months by special ops attacks

NURISTAN PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN - FEBRUARY 18: ...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
NY Times:

The deadliest group of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan has not conducted a complex large-scale attack in the capital city of Kabul for seven months, its momentum stymied as elite American-led commandos have escalated raids against the militants’ bomb makers and logisticians.

But in a testament to the resiliency of the fighters, the so-called Haqqani network, and a nod to the fragility of the allied gains, the White House is not trumpeting this assessment. Instead, it is tucked into a classified portion of the Obama administration’s year-end review of its Afghanistan war strategy, and senior American officials speak of it in cautious terms, as if not wanting to jinx the positive trend.

That is because even in its weakened state, the network remains the most formidable enemy that American troops face in Afghanistan, and the group is showing signs of adapting its tactics and shifting its combatants to counter the allied strategy, American commanders say.

“They’re financed better, they’re better trained and they’re the ones who bring in the higher-end I.E.D.’s,” said Maj. Gen. John F. Campbell, the top allied commander in eastern Afghanistan, referring to improvised explosive devices, or homemade bombs, which the Haqqanis have employed with lethal efficiency in the past several years.

In many ways, much of the war in Afghanistan, particularly in the rugged eastern part, is a war against the Haqqani family, whose patriarch, Jalaluddin Haqqani, was a legendary guerrilla fighter in the Central Intelligence Agency-backed campaign to oust the Soviets from Afghanistan in the 1980s. His son Sirajuddin now runs the group’s daily operations from his haven in Pakistan, and he has made aggressive efforts to recruit foreign fighters from the Persian Gulf and elsewhere in Central Asia.

The Haqqani network is considered a part of the Afghan Taliban, and is a key ally and protector of Al Qaeda’s top leadership, whose members are believed to be hiding in Pakistan’s remote border regions. American and other Western intelligence officials believe that Pakistan’s powerful spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISI, shields the Haqqanis in exchange for the network’s attacks against Pakistan’s archrival, India, in Afghanistan.

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Allied officials attribute the tactical success to several factors. A sixfold increase in the past year in the number of Special Operations raids against insurgents, including the Haqqanis, has disrupted the militants’ operations. In the past three months alone, commandos have carried out 1,784 missions across Afghanistan, killing or capturing 880 insurgent leaders.

About one-third of those operations were directed against the Haqqani network, a senior NATO official said. He and two other NATO officials agreed to speak candidly about current operations if they weren’t quoted by name.

At the same time, 5,400 additional American ground forces have been deployed to eastern Afghanistan, bringing the total there to nearly 37,000. Combined with increased Afghan army, police and intelligence service operations in and around Kabul, the troop surge has hampered the Haqqani network’s ability to run suicide bombers in a crucial corridor between Kabul and Khost, adjacent to the group’s Pakistan sanctuary, allied commanders and independent counterinsurgency specialists say.

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To help offset the withdrawal of some troops from isolated outposts in the east, NATO has increased surveillance drone flights and positioned 68 tethered balloons with cameras and other sensors along the border with Pakistan, a senior allied official said.

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Many of the Hellfire strikes have been around where the Haqqanis congregate. If we do start special ops attacks across the border, the Haqqanis should be primary targets.

The success is in part due to having an adequate force to space ratio in the area of operations that makes it difficult for them to maneuver to contact without detection. That is what counterinsurgency is all about. The drone flights and the tethered balloons operate as force multipliers in finding their attempts to move to contact.

The special ops troops are concentrating on decapitation strikes against Taliban leadership, including the Haqqanis. Their night raids have been so devastating the Taliban have been trying to enlist Karzai to stop them.
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