Afghanistan

Haqqani Network's Reign Of Terror On Afghanistan

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The Haqqani Network is a terrorist group that is not as well known as the Taliban or al Qaida. From its base in Pakistan, the group has mounted a series of sophisticated attacks in Afghanistan. Vahid Brown, a terrorism expert and teacher at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, talks with Renee Montagne about the roots and reach of the Haqqani Network.

ARI SHAPIRO, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. When the Taliban assassinated Afghanistan's deputy chief of intelligence yesterday outside a mosque, the insurgents eliminated a powerful adversary. He was a top intelligence official who'd gone after the Taliban and al-Qaida for years, jailing and detaining many of them. The Taliban is rejoicing at the success of the suicide bombing, and so likely is another little-known terrorist group.

SHAPIRO: It's called the Haqqani Network. From its base in Pakistan it has mounted a series of sophisticated and vicious attacks in Afghanistan. Its leader is a one-time mujahidin who fought the Soviets in the 1980s. Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son have links to the Taliban and al-Qaida, but their group is separate.

MONTAGNE: To find out more, we turn to Vahid Brown, who studies the Haqqani Network in his job as an FBI instructor at West Point's Combating Terrorism Center.

Thank you for joining us.

Mr. VAHID BROWN (FBI Instructor): Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Before we talk about exactly who this group is and what it does, why do we hear so much about the Taliban and al-Qaida but more or less have not heard about the Haqqani group?

Mr. BROWN: Well, I think the primary reason that we don't hear as much about the Haqqani Network as an independent or as a distinct source of violence in Afghanistan is that the Taliban claim the Haqqani Network's violence as their own.

So when the Haqqani Network carries out a very high profile attack in the eastern Afghanistan or in Kabul, it is a Taliban spokesman who will come out and say this attack was carried out on behalf of the Taliban, as being a part of the Taliban insurgency, when in fact there's these two very distinct movements. So one reason…

MONTAGNE: Well, tell us about that, the violence that terrorism experts credit or blame them for.

Mr. BROWN: Well, like the Taliban in the south, the Haqqani Network is mostly deadly because of its daily share of small scale what we call kinetic activity - direct fire, IEDs, bombing attacks.

But they're more famous for very high profile terrorist attacks, very sophisticated multi-stage suicide attacks, not just a single bomber walking into a facility, for example, and blowing himself up, but a series of waves of bombers that deteriorate a defense perimeter and then gain access in the second wave and a third wave with small arms actually entering the building and shooting people. So very high profile attacks.

MONTAGNE: One example…

Mr. BROWN: For example…

MONTAGNE: …that might be - about a year and a half ago an attack - a very deadly attack - on a five-star hotel in Kabul.

Mr. BROWN: Yes. In January of '08, the Serena Hotel, the only five-star hotel in Afghanistan. In April of the same year the military parade overseen by President Karzai in Kabul was attacked in an attempt to assassinate President Karzai by the Haqqani Network. In August of 2008, on the U.S. military base, Camp Salerno, a multi-stage suicide wave attack.

MONTAGNE: Now, why doesn't the Haqqani Network take credit for these things?

Mr. BROWN: Well, that's a great question. Many analysts would agree that the Haqqani Network has some utility in using the Taliban brand. The Taliban brand kind of represents opposition to foreign intervention in Afghanistan. It represents the imposition of a certain baseline of law and order.

But they don't feel that it would help their cause to have a media presence in Afghanistan that would confuse the kind of insurgent environment by saying, well, there's the Taliban movement that is trying to achieve these goals and there's our movement trying to achieve these goals. They try to appear as a unified front.

MONTAGNE: Right. But then what makes the Haqqani Network different than any subgroup of the Taliban?

Mr. BROWN: Well, the Taliban movement that's loyal to Mullah Omar that predominantly operates in southern Afghanistan, in Helmond and Kandahar, that Taliban movement led by Mullah Omar is opposed to a lot of the tactical innovations that the Haqqani Network is famous for. Its use of suicide tactics - the beheadings and videos of brutal killings - these things are eschewed by the Taliban of Mullah Omar. And in fact he openly criticizes such tactics.

MONTAGNE: Then that sounds like they're so much more vicious, I guess you could say, than the Taliban. But why?

Mr. BROWN: One possible reason is the Haqqani Network's closeness with international jihadists groups that has given the Haqqani Network a lot of its edge in terms of its deadliness in Afghanistan. The technological innovations that were perfected by al-Qaida in Iraq in the last five years are being applied and being adopted by the Haqqani Network via foreign fighters.

So this is another one of the main distinctions between the Haqqani Network and the Taliban movement, is the willingness to use foreigners and to cooperate with international jihadists organizations in Afghanistan. Mullah Omar and the Taliban are very careful to portray their movement as an Afghan nationalist movement.

MONTAGNE: Because in fact Afghans in general don't like what they call foreigners, as in al-Qaida foreigners.

Mr. BROWN: Mm-hmm. Yes, that's true. It is a unique vulnerability of the Haqqani Network that Mullah Omar's Taliban has been careful to avoid. The Haqqani Network, it's vulnerable. It risks being tainted by its association with foreign influences, much like al-Qaida in Iraq risked being tainted. So in Iraq in the last five years, when Iraqi people began to see that al-Qaida in Iraq was the proxy of foreign interests, that that is an extremely negative thing to have associated with oneself in Afghanistan.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

Mr. BROWN: Thanks, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Vahid Brown teaches at West Point's Combating Terrorism Center, where he's been tracking the Haqqani Network and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

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