Last week, Adm. Mike Mullen, the departing head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sat in front of Congress, where he described the Haqqani Network as a "veritable arm of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency."
The militant group has long been considered one of the most dangerous insurgent forces in the decade-long war in Afghanistan. Their estimated 5,000 to 15,000 fighters, led by militant Jalaluddin Haqqani, roam the mountainous region between Pakistan and Afghanistan, where they carry out deadly roadside bomb attacks, kidnappings and extortion plots.
Mullen accused the group of carrying out several attacks in Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan on behalf of Pakistani intelligence services. Earlier this month, the Haqqanis were blamed for an attack on the U.S. Embassy and a truck bombing that wounded 77 Americans. Mullen said that the ISI, Pakistan's spy agency, helped the Haqqanis carry out both attacks.
"It has long been known that [the Haqqanis] do have some ties to the ISI, but what Mullen did was take it to a new level and accuse the Pakistanis of using the Haqqanis to carry out Pakistan's policies," explains New York Times national security correspondent Mark Mazzetti.
Mazzetti, who recently wrote at length about the Haqqanis' influence and power, says that there is some speculation that Pakistan's ISI is working with the Haqqanis to accelerate the American departure from Afghanistan
"Some people I've talked to have said that the more attacks against the embassy and other places that take place, the more the American public will get fed up with the war and want to get out even sooner," he tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "Again, that's a theory, but it's one way to explain why Pakistan would throw its support behind a group like this."
Mazzetti says that U.S. officials are still trying to figure out the relationship between the ISI and the Haqqanis and are still not sure whether leading Pakistani military officials are involved in any way.
"They're trying to discern ... whether this is actually policy from the Pakistani government or whether this is just part of the ISI," he says. "I think after 10 years of war, that we still don't know."
Ties To American Money
The Haqqanis operate in eastern Afghanistan, an area with few American troops on the ground. For the past five years, they have run what Mazzetti calls a "protection racket for construction firms" — meaning that Haqqani commanders are paid to protect American contractors working on reconstruction projects from insurgent attacks.
"They're running a shakedown scheme in Mafia fashion. The American money goes to all sorts of construction projects in eastern Afghanistan and the only way those roads and schools are not bombed is if the Haqqani Network guarantees they will not be bombed, and the only way they guarantee it, is if they get paid," he says. "You can look at it as American taxpayer money is ultimately going into the pockets of the Haqqani Network."
The Haqqanis then use that money to build up other parts of their crime syndicate and finance other attacks, he says.
"Most of the money from the shakedown ultimately get funneled back to [an area] in Pakistan where the Haqqani Network is based," he says. "To the extent that there is a border [between Afghanistan and Pakistan], they really run the show."
Mark Mazzetti is a national security correspondent for The New York Times. In 2009, he shared a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on violence in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He has also received the Gerald R. Ford Prize for Distinguished Reporting and the Livingston Award for national reporting, for breaking the story of the CIA's destruction of videotapes showing interrogations of al-Qaida detainees.
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