Attack on the CIA in Afghanistan raises jitters in Pakistan

January 5, 2010

droneLast week’s suicide bomb attack on a base in Afghanistan which killed seven CIA officers and a Jordanian spy is raising fears in Pakistan that it could encourage an intensified drone bombing campaign to target those who planned the assault.

Although it is too early to say for certain who ordered the attack, possibilities include the Pakistani Taliban who claimed responsibility; the Afghan Taliban who had earlier said the bomber was an Afghan army officer; the Haqqani network; al Qaeda; or a combination of different groups working together. 

U.S. media reports, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, have described the bomber as a double agent who was allowed onto the base after he promised to provide information about al Qaeda’s top leadership. The Washington Post named him as Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, a Jordanian who had been recruited by Jordanian intelligence, and whose intended role may have been to help hunt down al Qaeda’s second-in-command Ayman al Zawahri.

Instead after what must have been a long campaign of deception to win the trust of the CIA, he blew himself up at the base in Khost province near the Pakistan border.

According to Pakistani journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai, the attack was believed to be carried out by the Haqqani network, founded by Jalaluddin Haqqani and now run by his son Sirajuddin Haqqani, and based in North Waziristan.  Writing in The News, he forecast intensified drone bombings in North Waziristan,  potentially destabilising Pakistan, which has already launched an offensive against the Pakistani Taliban in South Waziristan.

“The US army, or the CIA to be specific, and the Haqqanis were already involved in a deadly war of revenge against each other and their blood feud has now become deadlier and personal.  In the 80s, the elder Haqqani and CIA cooperated with each other fighting the Soviet occupying forces in Afghanistan. Today, they are rivals,” he said.

“The US Special Forces and CIA have killed scores of Haqqani’s men, women and children in secret operations and drone strikes in Afghanistan and in North Waziristan, where the family migrated from Khost after the Soviet invasion in December 1979. The CIA will now try harder to eliminate the Haqqanis, who control one of the most powerful Taliban groups in Afghanistan. To succeed, the CIA will make more frequent use of drones in North Waziristan and other Pakistani tribal areas, and hire a larger number of informants, (better screened to prevent incidents like the recent suicide bombing at Khost).”

Drone attacks are unpopular in Pakistan because they cause civilian deaths and are seen as a violation of  Pakistani sovereignty.

Pakistan has so far resisted U.S. pressure to go after the Haqqani network, insisting it must first deal with militants behind a series of gun and bomb attacks inside the country, and fearing a further escalation in violence were it to try to tackle too many different groups at once. Like the Afghan Taliban in the Quetta shura led by Mullah Omar, the Haqqani network has focused on fighting U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, rather than targetting Pakistan. U.S. media reports in the past have quoted unnamed U.S. officials as saying Pakistan’s security services maintained close links with both the Haqqani network and the Quetta shura.

Following the attack on the CIA officers, the Financial Times said, ”Pakistan’s security officials have moved to distance the country from any links to the Haqqani network but have also warned against an escalation in attacks by pilot-less US drones on the country’s territory. “If the Americans step up the attacks at what they suspect are locations of Haqqani’s men inside Pakistan, that would be a risky step,” it quoted a security official in Peshawar  as saying. ”The Americans cannot simply go by assumptions. First, all the facts must be ascertained.”

Haqqani senior was once the darling of the Americans when U.S. and Saudi-funded mujahideen fought the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Now his network has become one of the United States’ most dangerous enemies and source of serious tension with Pakistan.

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As a post-script, do read two items on the Jihadica website which cast some light on the Haqqanis. One is about an interview with Jalaluddin Haqqani in which he described the United States as a nation which has imposed its “arrogance and terrorism” on the whole world, and especially Afghanistan.

The second is about the bomber who attacked the base in Khost and his identity as a “jihadi blogger”. Intriguingly, it notes that the bomber, assuming his identity is confirmed, had previously described himself as ”outraged by the violent repression of Muslims in Palestine, Iraq and Pakistan” - issues which tend to be more associated with al Qaeda than with the Haqqani network.  It also says that he specifically cited the summer 2007 military assault on gunmen holed up in the Red Mosque in Islamabad – widely seen as the trigger for the revolt by the Pakistani Taliban. So if the Khost attack was indeed ordered by the Haqqani network, why was it carried out by a man whose sympathies lay more with al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban? Evidence of the different groups working more closely together? Or just of one man moving between different groups?

(File photo of Predator drone)

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