Realigning the Haqqanis & Other Concerns

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by Joshua Foust on 9/17/2012 · 13 comments

The U.S. recently moved the Haqqani Network onto the FTO list — something long overdue, as I explain for The Atlantic:

Arguably, the biggest barrier to a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan is not the insurgency itself, but Pakistan. Islamabad has stood in the way of negotiation efforts it dislikes, and has declined to participate in other efforts that have targeted favored groups such as the Haqqanis. The FTO designation gives the U.S. more leverage for constraining Pakistan’s ability to support the terrorist group.

The FTO designation also shows how smart it was to develop the Northern Distribution Network, a supply network into Afghanistan. The opening of the NDN, which is a northern alternative to Pakistan’s vital supply lines for the war in Afghanistan, gave the U.S. the capacity to sit out Pakistan’s eight-month closure of the supply lines earlier this year. Islamabad can no longer hold those supply lines over Washington’s head, and in return Washington is applying additional pressure on Islamabad.

This is important stuff, in other words, though some analysts also think this move is either pointless or it even makes reconciliation less likely. We’ll see: two years ago I suggested we actually test the hypothesis that the Haqqanis are willing and capable of being responsible actors in Afghanistan. So far I haven’t seen much reason to be hopeful.

This is kind of in line with some recent research I’ve done into lethal drones. For PBS last week I wrote a column about this:

With bad or missing data and uncooperative governments, can we really discuss the real costs – or benefits– of the drones program? From the bits of data we do have available, drones are actually lower-casualty alternatives to countering terrorism; as traditional Pakistani military offensives have killed countless civilians and displaced hundreds of thousands.

Beyond these very imprecise measurements about the human cost, it is impossible to know the effectiveness of drones. The strikes kill both terrorists, and civilians – but we don’t know to what extent. Without more transparency about the government sanctioned use of drones, or even more oversight from Congress, we won’t be able to quantify the costs of these types of attacks… and the program will continue on in shadows.

Examining the data about drones has shifted my attitudes from pretty strident opposition to more grudgingly accepting that they’re probably a least bad option for addressing terrorism in the FATA. In Yemen, the data is much more weighted — though not universally — toward suggesting drones have crowded out better policy options. But this use on data, history, and precedent to understand national security policy is something missing from the discussion of what’s happening in South Asia these days — and that’s very much to our detriment.

Despite the paucity of data, many people still like to voice their opinions of the strikes. PBS collected a whole bunch of them here.

So where does this leave us? You got me. This weekend’s assault on Camp Bastion was astonishing — insurgents not only breached the perimeter of one of the most secure garrisons in the country, they also killed two Marines and destroyed or severely damaged 8 aircraft. It’s the biggest loss of aircraft since the First Gulf War. That does not bode well for the country, just as the Haqqani designation means the U.S. is starting to bring out more and more financial weapons against Pakistan. It all seems headed for a cliff.

What do you think?


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This post was written by...

– author of 1849 posts on Registan.net.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 13 comments }

anan September 17, 2012 at 2:16 pm

The camp Bastion camp according to the Taliban was extraordinarily high end and sophisticated. Khalid ibn al Walid and Omar bin al Khattab are reported by the Taliban to have assisted the attack.

Several aspects are unusual. Why move elite foreign assets to Helmand versus concentrate them in other easier theaters where the ANSF and ISAF are weaker?

Is this retaliation for the Haqqani designation or something else?

It is important not to give too much weight to anecdotal reports. This said, some anecdotal reports from a several regional theatres are describing the largest numbers of foreign fighters in Afghanistan since 2001. While this might not be true for Afghanistan as a whole, the direction is up. Which brings up several questions:

What deep state calculation is contributing to this?

Why is this happening now?

While this is not getting a lot of media coverage. ANSF KIAs are now about 220 a month compares to 35-40 month for ISAF. ANSF only have security lead for 75% of Afghanistan measured by population, with much of the remaining 25% extremely kinetic. Based on current trends, 100% ANSF lead could mean 300-400 KIA/month. Assuming wounded in action is significantly greater than KIA, the current planned ANSF training commands cannot sustain the ANSF over the long term with these kinds of casualties.

anan September 17, 2012 at 2:24 pm

The large majority of Helmand has transitioned to the ANSF. The Marines are down to about 5 thousand, or will be in a few days. The camp Bastion attack is a blow to 215th ANA Corps.

anan September 17, 2012 at 2:25 pm

Drones are “AWFUL”. Is there any other way to go after Taliban linked targets across the Durand line?

Osman September 18, 2012 at 12:53 pm

The west has done practically nothing to show good will towards peace talks. Releasing the 5 high value prisoners from gitmo would of been a good starter to gauge the sincerity of the Taliban toward a negotiated end game, but the US seems uninterested. I don’t know why the US has destroyed this golden opportunity that was 10 years in the making, of the Taliban publicly being in favor of talks. Instead we now have the Haqqanis on some worthless blacklist and negotiations going nowhere.

anan September 18, 2012 at 10:59 pm

Osman, the peace talks have never gone anywhere because of Afghans. These Afghans include the former Northern Alliance, Hazaras, Uzbeks, Turkmen, Tajiks and ANSF; none of them want peace along the terms the Taliban and Pakistani Army have considered offering.

The Afghan Parliament ordered the ANSF to attack the enemy inside Pakistan. When the ANSF refused to implement the Afghan Parliament’s instructions, the Afghan parliament fired the MoI and MoD ministers.

Karzai probably does want peace. But how could he ever convince the Afghan parliament to ratify a peace treaty with the Taliban along the terms currently acceptable to Mullah Omar and the Quetta Shura?

In any case, Mullah Omar cannot offer peace. Any peace treaty would likely result in a civil war within the Taliban with the GIRoA, ANSF and ISAF helping Mullah Omar fight other Taliban.

Osman September 19, 2012 at 5:00 pm

Well the Afghan government has been pretty much kept out of the discussion in terms of the Taliban/American negotiations. When the Taliban said that the Afghan government was powerless and it preferred to talk to the Americans, they were right on the money. It is America that dictates the policy in Afghanistan, not Karzai, and not the minority groups in the country. Karzai and his political rivals owe their continued political existence to American money, and will fall in line if need be. The only thing Karzai has done well politically is divide the former northern alliance, having Fahim and Bismallah on his team is a lot more important than losing relative nobodies like Saleh and Abdullah.

The war would of been over 10 years ago if America had agree’d Karzai to negotiation with the Taliban, even now they hold all the cards. If there were to be an agreement between the Quetta Shura and the Americans, I think the chances of civil war would be a lot more slim than they look today(never mind the fact that the last 30 years have been a civil war). Mullah Omar’s word still carries a lot of weight among the Taliban.

anan September 19, 2012 at 5:40 pm

Osman, the US should not have agreed to talks with the Taliban that did not also include Karzai. This decision has fueled a lot of anger at the US from Afghans, the parliament and ANSF. Now the widely believed conspiracy theory that ISAF backs the Taliban and Pakistani Army against the ANSF and Afghans is more pronounced than ever; being one of the largest causes of tension between the ANSF and ISAF.

What is the point of negotiating an agreement with the Taliban that Karzai and the Afghans publicly oppose? America would be demonized by Afghans for backing Pakistan and the Taliban against them.

“It is America that dictates the policy in Afghanistan, not Karzai” The naive late Holbrooke, may Allah bless his soul, behaved like he partly believed this nonsense. As a result Karzai refused to talk to him after early 2009, and Karzai didn’t allow the ANSF to fully cooperate with ISAF–damaging the COIN campaign. Every senior ANSF appointment and transfer goes through the palace. As does every province and district governor/sub-governor appointment. ISAF can do nothing that Karzai cannot easily sabotage, as he has proved over and over. The only Afghan provinces showing progress are ones where the governor, sub-governers, ANSF, ISAF and Karzai are conducting an at least partially synchronized whole of government approach.

The US and other countries give money and Karzai kicks them around with it. Karzai is in turn constrained by the Afghans around him. The parliament fired Bismallah over Karzai’s objections, for example. While you are right that many Northern Alliance people still support Karzai; do you think that any of them will agree to peace with the Taliban? Really?

The ANSF now has sole security responsibility in areas where 76% of Afghans live. The ANSF are inflicting and absorbing record casualties. The rash of green on green and green and blue attacks is further cementing the grip of minorities, former Northern Alliance and anti Taliban Pashtuns over the ANSF. This creates its own reality which makes a deal with Mullah Omar harder.

Mullah Omar is respected. But his influence is ebbing. Notice how many foreign fighters are now in Loya Paktia, Kunar and Nuristan. Camp Bastion demonstrates that foreign fighters are now in Helmand as well (in unknown numbers.) In July, 96% of all civilian casualties caused by [ISAF + ANSF + Taliban] were caused by the “Taliban.” Many of them were not under Mullah Omar’s control.

Osman September 19, 2012 at 6:05 pm

Recent surveys find that most Afghans are in favor of talks with the Taliban, not because they like them but because it is a road to peace. I think you are overestimating Karzai’s power and influence, the man knows who is masters are and everyone can see behind his bi monthly anti US tirades. Karzai supports an agreement with the Taliban, but the Taliban are not weak enough to accept the silly demands of Karzai such as accepting the Afghan constitution. Karzai’s is only propped up with American $$ and he knows this, which is why all his major policy orders are ignored by America.

“. While you are right that many Northern Alliance people still support Karzai; do you think that any of them will agree to peace with the Taliban? Really?”

What I find more unlikely is that these men who have ditched their Afghan clothes for suits and ties and have shaved their faces, will actually go back to the mountains to fight the Taliban. Even if they are opposed to Karzai, their standing is still based on American support. If an agreement is reached between the Taliban and America, there is no way these Mujahids turned millionaires will ditch their lavish lifestyles out of easily bought ideology to engage the Taliban on their own.

anan September 19, 2012 at 11:33 pm

Osman, every time the US has fought with Karzai, Karzai has decisively won. Karzai rallies the UN, Japanese, Europeans, Indians, Russians, Iranians, Turks, South Korea, Australia, and various Afghan factions to his side and uses them to undermine US pressure.

Whether it is true or not, Karzai believes he can snap his figure and get assistance for the ANSF from Russia, India and Iran at will (this is less true than Karzai thinks.)

Do you really think America was happy about the MoI and MoD ministers getting fired? What could America do about it? For that matter what could America do when Karzai fired the 207th Corps commander back in 2008?

“which is why all his major policy orders are ignored by America.” When has the US ignored Karzai’s orders?

Osman, the Taliban cannot defeat the NDS, ANA, ANCOP and Northern Alliance linked warlords. Nor can they in turn defeat the Taliban. If the Taliban keeps fighting, and if the Taliban keep receiving massive aid from the Pakistani Army and Gulf, this war will go on forever, and kill vast numbers of Afghans. The strategy of the international community appears to be to strengthen the ANSF enough not to lose, but not to give it a fighting chance to win. The strategy of the Pakistani Army and Saudi Arabia appears to strengthen the Taliban enough not to lose, but not enough to win. War without end.

Osman September 21, 2012 at 4:24 pm

The countries that you say Karzai tries to rally know their limits and are only involved because America says they can be involved. Most, if not all the nations you have listed have no strategic interest in Afghanistan and only do what they do out of perceived obligations to keep their standing with America well and good.

America has no concern for petty ministers that can be easily replaced and their pockets made fat if need be. There are no shortage of puppets and yes men to step up to the plate, this is the same whether they answer directly to Karzai or to the US military handlers.

Lets not pretend that Karzai has some kind of authority that supersedes that of the people who appointed him. Karzai wanted all Afghans out of gitmo, he wanted all security roadblocks in Kabul removed, he asked for the US to stop roaming the countryside and remain in their bases, he can’t get all prisoners in his control even after the Bagram handover. Lets not forget all his hilarious responses to NATO civilian strikes where he says things like “this is the last straw” or the hundreds of inquiries he has supposedly sent which bear no fruit.

As for your assessment of the current state of things and the stalemate, I completely agree. wasalam.

anan September 22, 2012 at 12:27 am

Osman, do you really think the US controls Russia, India, Turkey, Iran, China and Japan. :LOL:

The year is 2012, not 1945.

How does the US have more of a strategic interest in Afghanistan than these other countries. I would argue that Russia, Iran, India and Turkey, China and Europe arguably have more of a strategic interest in Afghanistan than the US.

“America has no concern for petty ministers that can be easily replaced and their pockets made fat if need be.”

You live in a dream world brother. Karzai fires ANSF generals at will and the US can do didley squat about it. Karzai just fired 10 governors and what could America do again?

The Afghan parliament fired the very competent and tough as nails Bismillah Mohammedi MoI minister. One of the few people most feared by the Pakistani Army and Taliban. ISAF didn’t want this. Karzai didn’t want this. Neither of them could save Bismillah’s job. This was a major blow to the ANP and a major victory for the Taliban and Pakistani Army.

What power has the US ever had over Karzai in reality rather than in Osman alternate universe? What has the US ever been able to force him to do that Karzai didn’t want to do already for other reasons? There are some examples, but not that many.

“Karzai wanted all Afghans out of gitmo” Did he really? You do know that Karzai changes his mind by the hour and gives continually contradictory orders to everyone around him. Karzai occasionally wants a specific Guantanamo prisoner released but then changes his mind. But in this example you have a point. The prisoners in Gitmo are prisoners of the US government, not the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The Afghan government sent them to the US in 2001 with its sovereign authority and now must live with that decision. In any case the prisoners in Gitmo are treated a lot better than they would be in any Afghan jail. We both know what the NDS does to prisoners.

“he wanted all security roadblocks in Kabul remove”
No he didn’t. Karzai has had full control over all security in Kabul for a long time. If Karzai really wanted all security roadblocks removed he could order the Kabul Police chief and they would be removed.

“he asked for the US to stop roaming the countryside and remain in their bases” Karzai has full control over security in areas that have transitioned to him. That is in areas that house 76% of Afghanistan’s population. In the other 24% Karzai has varying degrees of de facto control. He can order the ANSF around as he chooses, but he does not have the full authority to micromanage all ISAF operations and nor should he. In any case, Karzai really does not want all ISAF forces to remain on their bases all the time. He constantly orders everyone to do the opposite of what he ordered then to do an hour ago.

All night raids in Afghanistan are approved by Karzai’s chain of command. All night raids are either solely ANSF or are joint operations with the ANSF. This has been true for a while. Now sometimes Karzai claims he didn’t approve something he did approve, but he is being disingenuous.

“he can’t get all prisoners in his control even after the Bagram handover. ” Maybe Karzai should get all the prisoners so that the NDS can scare the living daylights out of them. Unfortunately this could cause legal problems for many ISAF contributor countries. Karzai is getting all the prisoners as soon as the ANSF has the capacity to handle all of them. Of course the prisoners and their families and yelling and screaming, begging not to be handed over to Karzai. Which means they probably should all be handed over to Karzai.

“Lets not forget all his hilarious responses to NATO civilian strikes where he says things like “this is the last straw” or the hundreds of inquiries he has supposedly sent which bear no fruit.” Karzai is quintessentially not serious. He wants CAS for the ANSF to keep ANSF casualties from shooting through the roof but then complains when civilians die because of close air support for the ANSF. And then Karzai fires many of the best officers in the ANSF to punish them for civilians casualties caused by ISAF air support for the ANSF.

Karzai does not behave like a wartime president. His ANSF are always wondering whether their commander in chief really has their back or will blame them the moment some civilian dies somewhere. Karzai is the master of mixed messages and confusion.

But his protests do have a large impact when they are sustained in public and private over time (which informs ISAF and fellow Afghans that Karzai really means this specific protest.)

In July only 4% of all civilian casualties were caused by the ANSF and ISAF. The rest were caused by we all know who. And increasingly foreign fighters at that. July was an aberration month, but the general trend holds. The ISI alphabet soup of groups want to be able mass murder Afghan civilians at will the way they mass murder Pakistani civilians at will. And they are getting closer to being able to do it. A depressing thought.

Osman September 24, 2012 at 8:57 pm

Brother, you seem to flip flop on the issue of Karzai, on some issues he is stern and his authority is second to none, on others he is simply not serious or genuine?

The US has invested too much in Karzai to give him the Soviet-Babrak Karmal treatment, this has nothing to do with Karzai’s boldness or authority.

If the US cut off all funding to the Afghan government, how long would he last?

Realist Writer September 19, 2012 at 5:47 am

“From the bits of data we do have available, drones are actually lower-casualty alternatives to countering terrorism; as traditional Pakistani military offensives have killed countless civilians and displaced hundreds of thousands.”

I know that 33% of all those killed in drones are civilians, but do you have the data readily available for to the calculate the ‘civilian percentage’ of deaths during Pakistani military operations? You linked solely to a video showing six civilians being executed, which isn’t really evidence of any broader trend.

Also, your link about displacement only seem to indicate that 65,000 people have been displaced, not the “hundreds of thousands”.

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