On Sunday, insurgents launched a series of coordinated attacks on Western embassies in Kabul, as well as other targets throughout Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s interior minister, Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, said that at least two detained terrorists – one captured in Kabul, the other in Jalalabad – have told authorities that the Pakistan-based Haqqani Network is responsible.
The terrorist captured in Jalalabad was trained to be a suicide bomber and explained to authorities that he was dispatched from Pakistan. “One of the suicide bombers detained in Jalalabad by the security forces confessed that yes, they have come from across the border, they have been trained there and they have been equipped there,” Khan Mohammadi explained, according to the New York Times. “They called themselves a branch of the Haqqani network.”
The spokesman for Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) said one of President Karzai’s deputies, Mohammad Karim Khalili, was a target in one of the attacks. The three assassins tasked with killing Khalili were captured before they reached his home, however. They were reportedly dispatched by the Haqqani network as well.
The Haqqanis’ message to the West – assuming the Haqqanis are behind this latest assault – is straightforward: Get out. And to those Afghans cooperating with coalition forces, the Haqqanis’ message is equally clear: You are targets, too.
The good news is that everyone seems to agree that Afghan forces responded well to this latest test. “I am enormously proud of how quickly Afghan security forces responded to today's attacks in Kabul,” Gen. John R. Allen, commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), said in a statement Sunday. “They were on scene immediately, well-led and well-coordinated. They integrated their efforts, helped protect their fellow citizens and largely kept the insurgents contained.”
After all that has happened in recent months, with members of the Afghan security forces turning on coalition troops on a number of occasions, this is good news indeed. It does not put an end to all of the problems these forces have – not by a long shot. But it shows that the Afghans are capable of repelling a fairly sophisticated attack largely on their own. Thus far, the number of reported casualties has been minimal.
The bad news is that we must once again turn a skeptical eye toward Pakistan. In addition to being a key al Qaeda ally, the Haqqani Network is the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency’s favorite proxy. Admiral Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described the Haqqani network as a “veritable arm” of the ISI during congressional testimony last year.
And so if the Haqqanis’ message to the West is “get out,” then we can assume that’s the message powerful factions inside the ISI want to send as well. This is not the first time they have sent this message.
In June 2011, the Haqqanis struck the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul. The terrorists deliberately sought out foreign guests, killing 11 civilians and 2 Afghan policemen. Intercepted phone calls between the terrorists and their handlers show that the assault was commanded from Pakistan by Badruddin Haqqani, a top commander in the network.
A few months later, in September 2011, the Haqqanis struck the American embassy in Kabul and detonated a massive truck bomb at a NATO outpost south of the capital. As reported by the New York Times, Mullen pointed the finger at the ISI.
“With ISI support, Haqqani operatives planned and conducted that truck bomb attack, as well as the assault on our embassy,” Admiral Mullen testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “We also have credible evidence that they were behind the June 28th attack against the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul and a host of other smaller but effective operations.”
The Obama administration tried to soften Mullen’s comments. But, for many reasons, Mullen’s assessment still stands. There is no serious dispute over the relationship between the Haqqanis and the Pakistani ISI.
Whether the ISI had a direct hand in these latest attacks or not, Pakistan has, at a minimum, allowed the Haqqanis to project their terror into Afghanistan from Pakistani soil once again.
America’s top diplomat in Kabul, Ambassador Ryan Crocker, knows what message the terrorists and their sponsors are trying to send in their latest attacks. And he sees it, as he has said in the past, as a warning against the premature withdrawal of Western forces.
“There’s a very dangerous enemy out there with capabilities and with safe havens in Pakistan,” Crocker said during an interview televised on CNN. “To get out before the Afghans have a full grip on security, which is a couple of years out, would be to invite the Taliban, Haqqani, and Al Qaeda back in and set the stage for another 9/11. And that, I think, is an unacceptable risk for any American.”
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.