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A Good General Is Not Enough

Winning in Afghanistan will also require pressure on Pakistan.

Jul 5, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 40 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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The three principal insurgent groups in Afghanistan—the Quetta Shura Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and the Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin (HiG) organization—share a common goal: the expulsion of American-led forces from Afghanistan. While they fight in Afghanistan, they are rooted in Pakistan, where the senior leadership for each organization is headquartered. McChrystal noted this in the strategy review he submitted to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in August 2009. “Afghanistan’s insurgency is clearly supported from Pakistan. Senior leaders of the major Afghan insurgent groups are based in Pakistan.”

As the name “Quetta Shura Taliban” indicates, this group has long been based in Quetta, Pakistan. It is widely known that Taliban chief Mullah Omar and his cohorts have met in Quetta for the better part of a decade. As McChrystal noted last year: “At the operational level, the Quetta Shura conducts a formal campaign review each winter, after which Mullah Omar announces his guidance and intent for the coming year.” 

Likewise, Jalaluddin and Sirajuddin Haqqani, the father and son who lead their own Taliban-affiliated network, are based in northern Pakistan. So is Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the head of the HiG. All three organizations maintain training camps there and draw recruits from the Afghan refugees who live along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.     

The leaders of the three main Afghan insurgency organizations were all originally proxies of the ISI and maintain a relationship to this day. The degree of the ISI’s current involvement with the Afghan insurgents is a topic of debate. Undoubtedly, parts of the ISI have assisted American efforts to disrupt the jihadist hydra’s operations. Other ISI operatives have, however, continued the patron-client relationship. McChrystal recognized this in his review, which noted that the three groups are “reportedly aided by some elements of Pakistan’s ISI.” 

There is ample evidence to support this proposition. During an appearance on 60 Minutes in May, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that “somewhere in [the Pakistani] government are people who know where Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda is, where Mullah Omar and the leadership of the Afghan Taliban is, and we expect more cooperation to help us bring to justice, capture or kill, those who attacked us on 9/11.” Although Secretary Clinton did not name names, she was almost certainly referring to elements of the ISI. 

Indeed, in late 2009 the Washington Times reported that the ISI moved Mullah Omar and members of the Taliban’s Shura council from Quetta to Karachi. In Quetta, the senior Taliban leaders were more susceptible to American Predator strikes. In Karachi, which is dotted with radical madrassas that can be used as hideouts, they are safer. 

A more dramatic example of the ISI’s ongoing sponsorship occurred on July 7, 2008, when a suicide car bomb exploded at the gates of the Indian embassy in Kabul, killing 58 and wounding more than 140. The attack was carried out by the Haqqani network, but American intelligence officials quickly concluded that the ISI backed the operation. According to the New York Times, the “conclusion was based on intercepted communications between Pakistani intelligence officers and militants who carried out the attack .  .  . providing the clearest evidence to date that Pakistani intelligence officers are actively undermining American efforts to combat militants in the region.” There are also persistent reports that the ISI continues to fund, train, and protect leaders and fighters from all three of the Afghan insurgency organizations.

Each also has long-established ties to al Qaeda. The men who lead the insurgents’ campaign counted Osama bin Laden as a friend and ally long before the September 11 attacks. This is why they have shared their safe haven in northern Pakistan.  McChrystal noted this in his review last year, explaining that the three groups are “linked with al Qaeda and other violent extremist groups.” More important: “Al Qaeda and associated movements based in Pakistan channel foreign fighters, suicide bombers, and technical assistance into Afghanistan, and offer ideological motivation, training, and financial support.” 

The fight against the Pakistan-based Afghan insurgency groups is directly related to the fight against al Qaeda. They are all part of the same jihad. And defeating the jihadists requires a focus on Pakistan as well as on Afghanistan.


Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.



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