(Updates with Pakistan reaction in sixth paragraph.)
Sept. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Top American officials blamed a Taliban faction with ties to Pakistan’s military intelligence agency for the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and said the Obama administration will not accept its haven in Pakistan.
The attackers who seized a building under construction and fired rocket-propelled grenades into the embassy came from the Jalaluddin Haqqani group, U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker told reporters in Kabul after Afghan forces ended the 20-hour siege yesterday. The Haqqani fighters operate largely from a sanctuary in Pakistan’s borderland with Afghanistan.
Crocker and U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the Haqqani group also was behind the Sept. 10 truck-bomb attack on a U.S. base southwest of Kabul that injured 77 Americans. Panetta called the Haqqani group’s continued “safe haven” in Pakistan “unacceptable.”
“I’m not going to talk about how we’re going to respond,” Panetta told reporters. “I’ll just let you know we are not going to allow these kinds of attacks to go on.”
Haqqani’s faction is backing Pakistan in a sharpening “struggle with the U.S. over which country will play a more central role in brokering an eventual peace deal” in Afghanistan, said Waliullah Rahmani, director of the independent Kabul Center for Strategic Studies. The attack on the U.S. Embassy, which began Sept. 13, is likely to be part of that struggle, he said in a phone interview yesterday.
Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, Tehmina Janjua, said today Panetta’s comments “are not in line with the cooperation that exists between the two countries on the war against terrorism.” Pakistani cooperation with the U.S. “is premised on the respect for Pakistan’s sovereignty and envisages a joint action,” Janjua told reporters in Islamabad.
Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in April he was troubled by continued relations between the Haqqani group and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISI.
Crocker said the assault had not seriously endangered the embassy. “They were firing from at least 800 meters away, and with an RPG,” he said. “That’s harassment, that’s not an attack.”
Eleven Afghan civilians died in the attack and four coordinated suicide bombings, the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, General John Allen, said yesterday. Five Afghan police officers were also killed.
The Haqqani group, based in eastern Afghanistan and the Pakistani region of Waziristan, has claimed responsibility or been blamed by the Afghan, U.S. and Indian governments for attacks on Kabul in the past three years against the Indian Embassy, government ministries and hotels where foreign diplomats or aid workers were living.
Pakistan’s ISI has directly backed at least some of those attacks, including a July 2008 bombing of the Indian Embassy that killed 54 people, former Afghan intelligence director Amrullah Saleh told the PBS television network in January.
Officers in Pakistan’s ISI have scuttled CIA efforts to kill or capture Haqqani network leaders by leaking details of the planned raids, according to former CIA counter-terrorism chief Vincent Cannistraro and other agency retirees.
While the 18-month-old U.S. military offensive in southernmost Afghanistan has eroded the fighting capacity of Taliban in that region, the largely independent Haqqani faction has increased its capacity for sophisticated urban warfare and terrorist strikes, said Rahmani and Hadi Khalid, a former deputy interior minister and retired Afghan army general. In a string of recent Taliban assaults, “most of the complex attacks have been conducted by Haqqani’s network,” Khalid said in a phone interview.
Imtiaz Gul, an analyst at the independent, Pakistan-based Center for Research and Security Studies, says Pakistan’s army, which has supported the Haqqani faction since the 1980s, is trying to use it as a proxy force to ensure that any Afghan government will respect Pakistani security interests. Pakistan wants to make certain that Afghanistan will not align with its rival, India, and won’t pursue old Afghan claims to sovereignty over ethnic Pashtun regions of western Pakistan, he said.
Although U.S. officials for years have declined to discuss links between Pakistan’s military and the Haqqani guerrillas, Mullen, the U.S. military chief, did so April 20 in a visit to Pakistan. Pakistan’s ISI “has a longstanding relationship with the Haqqani network,” Mullen said. “I’m extremely concerned in particular about that aspect.”
The Washington Post and New York Times have cited U.S. and Pakistani officials as saying President Barack Obama’s government is seeking to pursue talks with the Taliban without using Pakistan as a mediator.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed declined to comment yesterday on a report in the Times of London that the guerrilla movement may open an office in the Arab gulf state of Qatar as a possible point of contact for U.S. or other governments for future negotiations.
Although rockets have been fired in the U.S. Embassy’s direction during the decade-old war, this latest assault was the most direct and ambitious so far.
While no U.S. staffers were injured, four Afghans at the mission’s compound were hurt, embassy spokeswoman Kerri Hannan said in a statement Sept. 13. Six personnel of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force were injured, the force said in a statement.
The attackers set off suicide bombs Sept. 13 at an intersection east of the embassy compound and seven guerrillas rushed into the high-rise overlooking the U.S. mission and headquarters of the U.S.-led ISAF. All were killed.
Police said the militants may have donned the enveloping blue burqas worn by many Afghan women to ferry a carload of weapons and ammunition past checkpoints.
The attack came three weeks after the Taliban killed eight people in an assault on the British Council cultural center, northwest of the city center.
Two days before the strike, Crocker presided over a Sept. 11 memorial ceremony in which the ISAF commander, Marine General John Allen, said forces had “reversed the momentum of the insurgents. On this sacred day of remembrance, I can say we are on the path of success in Afghanistan.”
President Hamid Karzai said Sept. 13 that Afghan forces, rather than international troops, responded to the latest attack, according to a statement from his office. Such assaults “cannot stop the process” of shifting security responsibilities from international to Afghan forces, Karzai said, “but rather embolden our people’s determination in taking the responsibility for their country’s own affairs.”
--With assistance from Viola Gienger in Washington. Editors: Mark Williams, Patrick Harrington
To contact the reporter on this story: Eltaf Najafizada in Kabul at email@example.com; James Rupert in New Delhi at firstname.lastname@example.org
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