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WASHINGTON — The Taliban’s new self-proclaimed chief of security in Kabul is someone who was designated a terrorist by the U.S. government 10 years ago and is subject to a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture.
Khalil Ur-Rahman Haqqani told Al Jazeera in an interview published Sunday that the Taliban was working to restore order in Afghanistan.
"If we can defeat superpowers, surely we can provide safety to the Afghan people," he said.
Those assurances were called into question by what a Pentagon spokesman called a "complex" bombing attack outside Kabul airport Thursday that killed 13 U.S. service members and caused undetermined number of Afghan casualties.
U.S. officials suspect the bombing was carried out by ISIS-K, a splinter group that is a bitter Taliban rival. The attack raises questions about the Taliban's capacity to police the capital.
In their push to retake Afghanistan, the Taliban made the security situation much more precarious by breaking prisoners out of prisons — including hardcore fighters housed at Bagram Air Base, Taliban officials acknowledged to NBC News.
Two Taliban leaders said in an interview that their biggest blunder was “releasing thousands of prisoners, among them hardcore Islamic State commanders, master trainers and bomb-makers. They were very trained people, and they are now organizing themselves.”
The Taliban itself was never designated by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization, but the Haqqani network, which has close ties to Al Qaeda and Pakistani intelligence, has long held that distinction.
The Haqqani network, which officials say functions like an organized crime family, has been blamed for the kidnapping of several Americans as part of a wide-ranging kidnap-for-ransom business.
Khalil Haqqani has served as the group's chief of operations, said Doug London, who ran CIA counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan before he retired in 2018. In that role, Haqqani approved suicide bombings against U.S. forces and Afghan civilians, London said. He also was a CIA partner when the agency was arming and training the precursor to the Taliban against the Soviet invasion, London said.
He was designated a terrorist by the U.S. government in 2011. The State Department rewards narrative for Haqqani says he "has also acted on behalf of al-Qaida and has been linked to al-Qaida terrorist operations."
"He was the senior emissary to Al Qaeda leadership and the senior go-between with Pakistani intelligence," said London, author of a new book, "The Recruiter," about his CIA career. "He makes a lot of the day-to-day decisions for the Haqqani network."
Haqqani was a CIA partner when the agency was providing weapons to the Afghan rebels in the 1980s to fight Soviet troops, London said. He is the uncle of Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is also a wanted terrorist subject to a $5 million reward.
CIA drone strikes in Pakistan frequently targeted Haqqani militants.
In 2011, Adm. Mike Mullen, then the top U.S. military officer, told Congress that the Haqqani network was a "veritable arm" of the ISI, Pakistan's main intelligence service.