Taliban Confirms Death Of Haqqani Network Founder For The First Time
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
This week, Army General Scott Miller became the ninth U.S. general in 17 years of war to assume command of NATO forces in Afghanistan. One of his challenges will be the group known as the Haqqani network, which the U.S. once praised as freedom fighters and now calls a terrorist group. Yesterday, the Taliban announced that the founder of the Haqqani network has died. NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman is with us now to talk about this. Hi, Tom.
TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hello, Ari.
SHAPIRO: The founder of the group is not the current leader, but tell us about who he was and what his significance is.
BOWMAN: His name is Jalaluddin Haqqani, and think of him, Ari, as Don Corleone.
BOWMAN: He was head of this family. He had seven sons, and he was into trucking. He was into extortion, kidnapping, making some money. He grew up in eastern Afghanistan, and he was a mentor to Osama bin Laden and helped bin Laden set up training camps in Afghanistan. And also he got tens of thousands of dollars from the American government to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan.
SHAPIRO: Back in the '80s.
BOWMAN: That's right. And they tried to bring him into the fold after the Taliban fell - he worked with the Taliban in Afghanistan - and he refused. He basically said, now I'm going to fight you. You're the infidels I'll be fighting now, meaning the United States.
SHAPIRO: And one of his sons now runs the group, right?
BOWMAN: Siraj Haqqani runs the group now, the Haqqani network, and people think he's more of a jihadist than his dad was. Again, his dad was, you know, in many respects, sort of a businessman. And they think his son is more hardened. And he's a deputy commander of the Taliban - runs all their military operations.
SHAPIRO: One reason this group has been as successful as it has is that it's been able to find safe havens in Pakistan. How does that factor into U.S. considerations?
BOWMAN: Well, it's a huge problem for the U.S. I remember flying over the border with a Army colonel a number of years ago, and he said, Tom, that's the problem right down there. He was pointing to Pakistan. He said, that's where the Haqqanis are, and I can't get at them. I can't go and get them because it's in another country. So it's a huge problem because the U.S. is trying to work with Pakistan to go after the Haqqani network. But it's interesting. In some of the attacks, they found out that some of the cellphones they picked up, they had calls back to the Pakistani intelligence - some of the Haqqani cellphones.
SHAPIRO: I know there were rumors a few years ago that the founder of this group had died. Now, of course, it's confirmed. Does that really have any impact on how the Haqqani network functions?
BOWMAN: It doesn't have any impact at all, I don't think. The Haqqani network is involved in some of the huge attacks in Kabul. They were involved in a January attack with an ambulance filled with explosives that killed a hundred people. They're one of the toughest groups working with the Taliban. And I don't see any change in the weeks and months ahead.
SHAPIRO: So as the NATO effort in Afghanistan gets new U.S. leadership, how is that effort changing?
BOWMAN: Well, we don't know quite yet how things will change. What we do know is the American government has withheld $300 million from Pakistan to go after the Haqqani network and other militant groups. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joe Dunford and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are going to be in Pakistan talking to Pakistani leaders about the efforts to go after some of these groups. But, frankly, I don't think it's going to matter that much. The U.S. has withheld money in the past. They've complained about Pakistan not going after the Haqqani network and other militants. I just think this is going to fall on deaf ears once again.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Pentagon correspondent, Tom Bowman. Thanks, Tom.
BOWMAN: You're welcome, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.