U.S. Adds Haqqani Network To Terrorism Blacklist

The U.S. has decided to add one of the main Afghan insurgent groups to its terrorism list. The decision targets the Haqqani network, which has staged many attacks on Western interests in Afghanistan from its bases in northwestern Pakistan. The State Department announcement could also affect relations with Pakistan.

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Under pressure from Congress, the Obama administration has added a Pakistani-based militant group to a terrorism blacklist. The group is the Haqqani Network. It's been blamed for some of the deadliest attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The move is likely to anger Pakistan, but U.S. officials say they've been preparing their counterparts in Islamabad for this terrorist designation.

NPR's Michele Kelemen tells us more.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Congress had given Secretary of State Hillary Clinton until this weekend to decide whether the Haqqani Network should be added to the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations. Spokesman Patrick Ventrell says Clinton met the deadline, sending a report while on a trip to the Far East. And he says U.S. officials have been in contact with Pakistan as well.

PATRICK VENTRELL: We want the Pakistanis to put more pressure on the Haqqani network. It's something we raised with them. They have a common enemy in terrorism and so we'll continue to work together to put the squeeze on the Haqqani Network.

KELEMEN: The hope is, he says, that this designation will give the U.S. government new tools to go after the Haqqani Network and degrade their ability to carry out attacks.

Marvin Weinbaum, of the Middle East Institute, describes the Haqqanis as one of the major insurgent groups fighting in Afghanistan.

MARVIN WEINBAUM: They're often referred to as the most lethal of them, even though they're not the largest, because most of the high profile attacks that have taken place have been traced back to the Haqqani organization.

KELEMEN: The Haqqanis also have links to al-Qaida, he says, and they have been targeted by U.S. drone strikes.

While the U.S. already had some sanctions in place against the group's leaders, the Obama administration was hesitant to designate the whole network as a foreign terrorist organization. Weinbaum says that's because some in the State Department are still holding out hope for Afghan reconciliation talks, which he says is a pipe dream.

WEINBAUM: It's just grasping at straws. What is involved here is that we are kind of desperate to be able to say that when we finally take out most of our forces, by the end of '14, we've left a somewhat stable situation. And wouldn't it be nice if we had a political agreement to do this?

KELEMEN: Weinbaum says the Haqqanis never showed any interest in peace talks - an assessment shared by Jeffrey Dressler, a senior analyst at the Institute for the Study of War.

JEFFREY DRESSLER: In my estimation based on studying these guys for a long time, talking with U.S. military personnel, there is not a point in time in the near future where the Haqqani Network is going to sit down at the table and say, OK, let's make a deal. These guys are fighters. They're going to fight to the end. And the only way to deal with them is by combining our counterterrorism efforts, financial efforts, and pressure on the Pakistan military to stop working with these groups.

KELEMEN: U.S. officials were careful to say that this move was in no way aimed at Pakistan. But Dressler says if there's blowback from Islamabad, the U.S. should think more critically about this relationship.

DRESSLER: We're fighting a war in Afghanistan. The war in Afghanistan matters. And you have an insurgent group, not just the Haqqanis but many others, who have free reign in the Pakistani tribal areas. And the Pakistan military has systematically refused and pushed off taking action against these groups, because they are proxies for them in Afghanistan.

KELEMEN: The foreign terrorist designation should send a message to Pakistan, he says, that the U.S. won't tolerate this anymore. The Haqqanis are sending out their own messages, saying the move will bring hardship for a U.S. sergeant they are holding.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

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