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State Department Dubs Haqqani Network Terrorists, ‘Sopranos of the Afghan War’

September 7, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And we turn to a new label for the Pakistani insurgents known as the Haqqani Network. The State Department today designated the group a foreign terrorist organization. American officials have blamed the militants linked to the Taliban for high-profile attacks on U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan.

Ray Suarez has our report.

And a warning: Some images in this story are graphic.

RAY SUAREZ: They have been called ‘The Sopranos’ of the Afghan war, and the Pakistan-based Haqqani group have pulled off some of the bloodiest attacks in the U.S.’ 11-year war in Afghanistan.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explained the order in a statement, saying, this country will “continue our robust campaign of diplomatic, military, and intelligence pressure on the network, demonstrating the United States’ resolve to degrade the organization’s ability to execute violent attacks.”

In 2008, it’s believed the group launched an assault on the Indian Embassy in Kabul, killing 54 and wounding hundreds. In September 2011, 77 U.S. soldiers were wounded and five Afghans were killed during a reported Haqqani truck bombing. The network struck again a few weeks later, allegedly attacking the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters simultaneously; 16 Afghans were killed in a 19-hour gunfight.

SGT. BOWE BERGDAHL, U.S. Army: I am scared.

RAY SUAREZ: And the Haqqanis have held U.S. Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl in captivity since 2009.

C. CHRISTINE FAIR, Georgetown University: I think it’s fair to say that the most spectacular attacks that have had the most far-reaching political impacts have been the work of the Haqqani Network.

RAY SUAREZ: Christine Fair teaches peace and security studies at Georgetown University’s Foreign Service School. She says the official designation gives the U.S. new tools to take on the network.

C. CHRISTINE FAIR: Most immediately, this is going to allow the U.S. government and its partners to go after its extensive financial network. Right? There had been — the Department of treasury has specifically designated particular individuals within the Haqqani Network that we could then pursue to try to go after their financial assets. This allows us to catch — to cast a much larger net.

RAY SUAREZ: Some top U.S. officials accuse the Pakistani intelligence service of aiding the Haqqani Network, or at least allowing it to operate in Pakistan unmolested.

ADM. MICHAEL MULLEN, Joint Chiefs chairman: The Haqqani Network, for one, acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan’s internal services intelligence agency.

RAY SUAREZ: After the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen was explicit about what officials had said privately, that the terror group is connected to a U.S. ally.

ADM. MICHAEL MULLEN: In choosing to use violent extremism as an instrument of policy, the government of Pakistan, and most especially the Pakistani Army and ISI, jeopardizes not only the prospect of our strategic partnership, but Pakistan’s opportunity to be a respected nation with legitimate regional influence.

RAY SUAREZ: The Pakistani Embassy in Washington responded today in an email, saying: “This is an internal matter for the United States. It is not our business. The Haqqanis are not Pakistani nationals. We will continue to work with all international partners, including the U.S., in combating extremism and terrorism.”

How the new designation will affect U.S./Pakistan relations isn’t clear. The relationship is already strained after American troops killed Osama bin Laden, and U.S. drones continue to strike Pakistan, even killing the son of a Haqqani leader last month. Fair says the situation could get worse.

C. CHRISTINE FAIR: There have been several terrorist groups operating in Pakistan with state support that we long ago designated as a foreign terrorist organization. Pakistan did nothing. We pretended to not notice and they pretended to not care.

So, it’s — in one scenario, this could be just like these previous designations. Right? We know what you are doing. We are going to pretend that you are not because we have got work to get done in Afghanistan. At the other extreme, this could open the way for the Congress to say, well, I think we now should declare Pakistan as a state that supports terrorism.

RAY SUAREZ: The Haqqani Network also responded today. A senior commander told Reuters the designation shows the U.S. is not sincere about peace efforts in Afghanistan, and he threatened, the move would bring hardship for the captive U.S. sergeant.