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The latest report from the Institute for the Study of War on the Haqqani network in Eastern Afghanistan is a tour de force by author Jeffrey Dressler. The Haqqani Network: From Pakistan to Afghanistan explains how this formidable fighting organisation, based on two generations of fighters, has become the most dangerous element of the Afghan Taliban.
While Mullah Omar and his Quetta Shura, based in the city of the same name in Baluchistan, remains as titular head of the Taliban, it is Sirajuddin Haqqani and his network of tribal, Pakistani and international fighters that are the backbone of the insurgency, particularly in the east of the country.
Dressler provides a comprehensive history of the network, showing how the Haqqani family, members of the Zadran tribe, have been able to dominate the region through their ruthless attitude towards competitors and their proxy status in relation to Pakistan's ISI intelligence service.
While paying lip service to Mullah Omar, the Haqqanis retain considerable freedom to do exactly as they please, particularly in their relations with al-Qaeda and other foreign fighters, most of whom are based in the Haqqani-dominated area around Miran Shah in North Waziristan. As Dressler points out, the Pakistan Army has consistently refused to mount an operation to take on the Haqqanis, regarding them as an important element in their political strategy in Afghanistan.
Dressler notes that until recently Coalition forces in Afghanistan lacked the resources to take on the Haqqanis. However, the massive increase in special forces, combined with drone attacks in North Waziristan, has now begun to have an impact.
He recommends exploiting the tribal disputes in the southeast of Afghanistan to exacerbate rifts over such issues as civilian casualties, expanding special forces operations, expanding the drone campaign and even conducting limited unilateral raids into North Waziristan to capture or kill key figures in the network.
It goes without saying that these are all military solutions to a situation that may, in the end, defy this kind of endgame. Nonetheless, Dressler's report is full of facts and details and essential reading for anyone who wants to follow the military campaign.