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The Pentagon said that there is "marbling" and "commingling" between the Taliban and the Haqqani network as the State Department defends calling the two groups "separate entities" — despite strong links and interlocking ties between the organizations, including Haqqanis helping fill out the top ranks in the Taliban's leadership.
When asked about whether the Pentagon considered the Taliban and Haqqani network separate entities, Defense Department spokesman John Kirby at first tried to dodge, saying, "I'm not going to give you a breakdown here — a characterization of the Taliban or Haqqani. … I'm not sure what benefit it does for me to try to characterize one group or another." After a reporter said that Sirajuddin Haqqani is the "deputy leader" of the Taliban and has a $10 million U.S. bounty on his head, Kirby conceded some "commingling" between the groups.
"We know that there is a certain matter of commingling. I mean, there is a marbling, if you will, of Taliban and Haqqani," Kirby said Saturday. "What I'm pushing back on you a little … is the relevance of that discussion to what we’re trying to do today."
Kirby's statement contradicted the assessment of State Department spokesman Ned Price, who was asked on Friday whether U.S. coordination on security at the airport with the Taliban extended to the Haqqani network.
"No, it does not," he said. "The Taliban and the Haqqani network are separate entities."
After a reporter noted that members of the Haqqani family had prominent positions inside the Taliban, Price said, "The Haqqani network is a designated terrorist organization. We are not coordinating with the Haqqani network."
The State Department reiterated its characterization Saturday, with a spokesman telling the Washington Examiner, "The Haqqani network and Taliban are separate entities, but they are affiliated. The State Department has long noted the affiliation between the Haqqani network and the Taliban. … Any information sharing with the Taliban has been focused on very specific tactical threats around the airport and resolving specific problems around access to the airport."
The Taliban, the Haqqani network, and al Qaeda are deeply intertwined in Afghanistan, and the Taliban have integrated Haqqani network leaders and fighters with al Qaeda links into their command structure. The local Islamic State affiliate, ISIS-K, has long clashed with the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan, claiming that Taliban rule is illegitimate. Former Pakistani Taliban militants founded ISIS-K, the group recruits Taliban defectors, and it seems to have some connections with the Haqqani network as well.
Biden national security adviser Jake Sullivan acknowledged the ties last weekend, saying, "The Taliban, obviously, to a considerable extent, are integrated with the Haqqani network. Our effort is with the Taliban military commanders currently in charge of security in Kabul."
Sirajuddin Haqqani, the "deputy emir" of the Taliban, "currently leads the day-to-day activities of the Haqqani Network," according to the State Department's website, which explained that "the Haqqani Network is allied with the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda." Haqqani has been designated a terrorist by the United States, and the State Department’s Reward for Justice program has offered $10 million for his arrest.
Haqqani notably wrote a February 2020 opinion piece for the New York Times titled "What We, the Taliban, Want" with a subheadline of "I am convinced that the killing and the maiming must stop, the deputy leader of the Taliban writes," saying that "everyone is tired of war."
The Long War Journal reported in 2017 that "the Taliban again affirmed that the Haqqanis are an integral part of its organization — not an independent faction," and Haqqani also denied that the Taliban and the network were separate entities.
"There is no truth to such claims and rumors at all; they are part of the war of rumors by the enemies of Islam," Haqqani said in a 2012 edition of a Taliban magazine. "We are one of the fronts of the Islamic Emirate. … We obey completely in good deeds the Emir of the Believers Mullah Muhammad Omar." Omar, now deceased, was the Taliban's founder.
Haqqani is the nephew of Khalil Rahman Haqqani, another top Taliban figure, who is reportedly in charge of security in Kabul. Khalil, whom the Treasury Department designated as a global terrorist in 2011 for allegedly "providing support to al-Qaeda," told al Jazeera on Sunday that "all Afghans" should feel safe under Taliban rule.
In June, the United Nations released a report that called the Haqqani network "the primary component of the Taliban in dealing with al Qaeda."
"Ties between the two groups remain close, based on ideological alignment, relationships forged through common struggle and intermarriage," the report read.
The U.S. first designated the Haqqani network as a terrorist group in 2012. The National Counterterrorism Center within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence describes the Haqqani network as a "Sunni Islamist militant organization" whose founder was "one of Bin Laden's closest mentors." NCTC said the Haqqani Network was considered a terrorist group "because of its involvement in the Afghan insurgency, attacks on U.S. military and civilian personnel and Western interests in Afghanistan, and because of its ties to the Taliban and al-Qaeda."
Since the fall of Kabul, some with ties to the Haqqani network have been given leadership positions in the Taliban's command. Mohammad Nabi Omari, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee with strong ties to the network, was reportedly appointed the provincial governor of Khost in Afghanistan on Tuesday.
Hamid Karzai, a former president of Afghanistan, and Abdullah Abdullah, the former chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, have attempted to insert themselves into the Taliban's government creation efforts. Abdullah and Karzai reportedly met with Khalil on Aug. 19, with Abdullah saying Khalil promised to "work hard to provide the right security for the citizens of Kabul."
Shortly after the Taliban's Aug. 17 pledge of "amnesty" for Afghans, 13 U.S. service members and dozens of Afghan civilians were killed in a suicide bombing outside the airport in Kabul on Thursday. The U.S. military said ISIS's affiliate in Afghanistan was behind the deadly suicide bombing attack, and ISIS-K took responsibility for it. The Pentagon said Saturday it had conducted a drone strike and killed two ISIS-K members.
Central Command leader Gen. Frank McKenzie said Thursday that the U.S. would continue to ask the Taliban to assist with security, saying he hadn't seen evidence that the Taliban let the attack occur.
"There is no evidence thus far that I've been given, as a consequence by any of our commanders in the field, that there has been collusion between the Taliban and ISIS in carrying out what happened today," President Joe Biden said Thursday,
There is also evidence of ties between the Haqqani network and ISIS-K. A report from the U.N. in July said ISIS-K "was largely underground and clandestine" and is led by Shahab Muhajir, whom one member state says "may also have been previously a mid-level commander in the Haqqani Network." He "continues to maintain cooperation with the entity" and provides "key expertise and access to [attack] networks," the member state reportedly added. The document indicated some member states "have reported tactical or commander-level collaboration between ISIL-K and the Haqqani Network," but “others strongly deny such claims.”
"Authorized movement of personnel with a tacit understanding that both groups benefit from certain joint venture attacks is also likely," the report added, warning that one member state "has suggested that certain attacks can be denied by the Taliban and claimed by ISIL-K, with it being unclear whether these attacks were purely orchestrated by the Haqqani Network, or were joint ventures making use of ISIL-K operatives."
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Original Author: Jerry Dunleavy