Evolution of Haqqani goup to a leading militant force

Western military and intelligence officials have acknowledged on Monday that they were surprised by the scale and sophistication of the synchronised attacks in Afghanistan on Sunday, seeing it as a troubling step in the evolution of the Haqqani network of the Taliban from a crime mob to a leading militant force.

Even as the Western officials praised the Afghan security forces' response and sought to play down the attacks' strategic impact, they privately agreed with the criticism by President Hamid Karzai on Monday. He said the assaults involving dozens of attackers who crossed hundreds of miles to strike at seven different secured targets, all around 1:45 p.m. on Sunday represented an “intelligence failure for us, and especially NATO.”

The officials said the episode raised two pivotal questions: whether the militants now had the ability to mount such audacious assaults repeatedly, rather than just once every several months; and whether the Afghan government would be able to blunt such plots after 2014, the deadline for Western troop withdrawal, when its access to allied intelligence assistance would be limited.

“It certainly seems there's some kind of gap in intelligence collection or in sifting through the volume of what's collected,” said John K. Wood, an associate professor at the National Defence University who was senior director for Afghanistan on the National Security Council in the Bush and Obama administrations, and who just returned from a trip to Kabul.

For the Haqqani network, a family of border criminals and smugglers that has gained an astonishing notoriety in recent years as a leading killer of allied troops in Afghanistan, the attacks on Sunday represented more than just the ability to paralyse the mostly tightly secured districts of Kabul for hours. They were proof that the Taliban offshoot could create the vast network of logistical support and planning needed to mount terrorist attacks without anything leaking to the intelligence groups so tightly focused on it.

Mr. Karzai laid the blame for the failure to detect the plots at the door of NATO above all, but members of the Afghan Parliament were more inclined to point fingers at the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan's intelligence agency.

“There is a big question mark: How did they manage to bring all these weapons and all this ammunition and rockets and keep it here in the vicinity of the sensitive installation of Afghan government and international community?” said Fatima Aziz, a lawmaker from Kunduz and a member of the internal security committee.

NATO's main intelligence strength in the region is based on capturing and analysing communications from cellphones and other electronic devices. The Afghans, with their cultural and linguistic advantage, provide a large network of informants. In reality, the work of the two are intertwined, said U.S. and Western officials here, so it is of some concern that neither picked up on the imminent threat of multiple, simultaneous attacks in four different provinces.

Instances

A senior NATO official said there had been at least a few instances since then when NATO and Afghan forces, acting on intelligence, had intercepted, in or near Kabul, supplies and fighters who were preparing to carry out attacks. The official did not provide details and, as with several others interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss classified intelligence.

Privately, however, U.S. and Western officials were more blunt in their self-criticism, in an almost grudging respect for their foe. “It was not lost on anybody that these were very well-coordinated, well-timed attacks,” said a senior U.S. official. A Western official added, “We had general indications that they were planning something in April, but nothing specific enough to actually act on.”

While it is true that it is all but impossible to intercept every terrorist attack, there was not one attack on Sunday, but at least seven three in Kabul, two in Jalalabad, one in Paktia province's capital, Gardez, and another in Logar province's capital, Pul-e-Alam. There would have been dozens more people involved than just the assailants who struck on Sunday.

The nearly 40 fighters who took up positions in vacant buildings in strategic locations in the four provinces were the tip of the iceberg, while the bulk of the terrorist activity that made their attacks possible was hidden: the financers, trainers, reconnaissance agents who chose the sites, logistics experts who arranged transport, and the weapons suppliers who provided what they needed for the attack. — New York Times News Service

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