Days after deciding to blacklist an insurgent group linked to the Taliban and responsible for some of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declined to say whether she also would brand the Taliban a foreign terrorist organization.
Asked in an interview yesterday with Bloomberg Radio if the Taliban -- whose government gave sanctuary to Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda terror network before the 2001 U.S. military actions -- should be blacklisted, Clinton didn’t directly answer.
“You know, we do a very intensive analysis before we designate someone as a foreign terrorist organization,” she said. “We have reached that conclusion about the Haqqani Network, and we think it’s the right decision.”
Clinton’s decision on Sept. 7 to designate as a terrorist organization the Haqqani Network -- a militant group with operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan that is closely affiliated with the Afghan branch of the Taliban -- came after months of inter-agency debate.
One issue was the potential impact on already difficult relations with Pakistan. The Haqqanis operate from havens in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal region with what U.S. officials have said are ties to Pakistan’s intelligence agency.
Clinton said in the interview that blacklisting the Haqqanis wasn’t a message aimed at Pakistan.
“No, it is about squeezing” the Haqqanis, she said.
“It’s part of the continuing effort to try to send a message to them -- not to anyone else, but to them -- because of the really incredibly damaging attacks they have waged against us, against other targets inside Afghanistan, and it’s important that we use every tool at our disposal to go after them,” she said in the interview in Vladivostok, Russia, at the end of an 11-day trip through the Asia-Pacific.
The U.S. had already slapped the Haqqani group’s leaders with individual sanctions, and has long targeted them in military operations and clandestine drone strikes.
Adding the Haqqanis to the group blacklist “gives us much greater reach into any financial assets or fundraising that they may engage in, it gives us better traction against assets that they might own,” Clinton said. “It’s important that we use every tool at our disposal to go after them.”
Though the Haqqanis were behind some of the highest-profile attacks on American and NATO interests in Afghanistan, including a day-long assault last year on the U.S. embassy in Kabul and an attack on NATO headquarters there, the debate on whether to blacklist them involved arguments that doing so might hinder U.S. policy goals.
Last year, Clinton told Congress she was in the final stages of reviewing whether to designate the Haqqanis. Though a dossier analyzing the evidence was delivered to her months ago, according to a U.S. official who wasn’t authorized to speak for attribution, the paperwork to designate them wasn’t signed until lawmakers imposed a 30-day deadline to explain if the group met the blacklist criteria.
The decision followed months of discussion within the White House, State Department, Pentagon, Treasury Department, Justice Department and the intelligence community over the merits and the timing of blacklisting the Haqqanis, according to officials from different agencies who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
Opponents of blacklisting the Haqqanis had argued that slapping them with a label might hinder prospects for engaging them in reconciliation talks to take them off the battlefield. The same may be said of the Taliban.
The U.S. is seeking to engage the Taliban in negotiations to renounce violence and accept the Afghan constitution to better the chances of peace following the planned withdrawal of U.S. combat troops in 2014.
Another concern about blacklisting the Haqqanis -- which can also be said of the Taliban -- is that affixing a terror label to the group may affect U.S. relations with Pakistan. Some U.S. officials, including former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, have said Pakistani intelligence and security forces have aided the Haqqanis in order to wield influence in Afghanistan. Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta have said Pakistan needs to do more to crack down on the group.
Pakistan also has ties with the Afghan Taliban, whose leadership is based in the Pakistani city of Quetta, according to U.S. intelligence officials.
The U.S. wants Pakistan to use its influence with the Taliban to engage them in serious peace talks with the Afghan government to help bring an end to the 11-year conflict.
Relations between Pakistan and the U.S., which soured sharply last year with the killing of bin Laden on Pakistani soil and an accidental U.S. air attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, have improved in the last two months. Pakistan reopened routes used to supply NATO troops in Afghanistan that were closed after the deadly helicopter raid on Pakistani border posts.
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