There was a very interesting Q&A at a recent Pentagon briefing by Gen. Dunford on Operations in Afghanistan in the Pentagon Briefing Room on March 13, 2014.
Some of the questions dealt specifically with the Haqqani network, described by General Dunford as “the most virulent strain of the insurgency” in Afghanistan. After almost a decade of combat and billions of dollars spent the Haqqani network remains a persistent thorn in the side of the United States Military Command in Afghanistan:
Q: I wonder if you can get into the Haqqani network. There’s been reports of a more concerted, coordinated effort to go after the network, you know, better intel [intelligence], coordination with the Afghans, and so forth. First of all, is that true? And then how important is it to move that forward between now and the end of December? And then getting beyond that, if you do have a counterterror mission in ’15, do you consider them part of that counterterror mix? Or is it just al-Qaeda?
GEN. DUNFORD: Okay. First, Tom, you know, without — without talking any operational details, I don’t think I’m the first individual who will probably tell you that Haqqani is the most virulent strain of the insurgency. It’s the greatest risk of the force and, frankly, from a high-profile attack perspective, perhaps the greatest risk to the campaign.
And so do we have a concerted effort to go after Haqqani? Yes. Are we always looking at ways to —
Q: … new and improved from what you had maybe six months ago —
GEN. DUNFORD: Well — well, I think that the — the Haqqani network has been more active in some ways over the last few months. And so, you know, we have energized our efforts accordingly. I don’t think there’s anything that we’re doing today that’s different than what we were doing before, but it may be more focused.
And also, I think it’s fair to say with our Afghan counterparts, as we look at the last several — several months, we had to protect the loya jirga, we had to protect the Islamic festival in Ghazni, we had to protect the political process. Haqqani, obviously, has come out publicly and said that they’re going to disrupt the political process and create high-profile attacks to create the perception of insecurity and adversely affect the elections.
And so as we’ve worked with our Afghan counterparts, we certainly have tried to make sure that we have a shared appreciation for the threat of Haqqani, in that not only are our operations focused on Haqqani, but our operations with the Afghans are focused on Haqqani. So that’s — that’s really what that has been about.
I mean, I — you know, that is guidance I gave after — you know, when — when you look at Haqqani’s high-profile attack threat streams, and you look at the consequences of those threat streams against what we’re trying to accomplish right now, clearly mitigating the risk of the Haqqani network is one of my priorities as a commander. And, in fact, it is one of my top three priorities as a commander. And that’s what you’ve seen over the last few months is really a matter of command emphasis as opposed to something different.
And I’ve also reached out to the interagency, because it’s a broader problem than just me dealing with Haqqani inside of Afghanistan. We obviously want to look at their freedom of movement. We want to look at their financing and so forth. And so there are others in the U.S. government that could help us in that regard, and that’s what we’ve tried to do.
With regard to your final point is, do we view them as, you know, part of — part of the counterterrorism effort in 2015? Our focus, our nation’s focus, the president’s guidance is al-Qaeda. To the extent that we would deal with Haqqani, we would deal with Haqqani as a threat to the force. In other words, the viability of our mission in 2015 to go after al-Qaeda is, obviously, inextricably linked to our ability to protect the force. Haqqani will be, in my mind, remain one of the biggest threats to the force, but largely we will try to deal with Haqqani by, with and through our Afghan counterparts. That’s the whole mission, is to grow the CT [counterterrorism] capacity of the Afghans, but where there is a gap — make no mistake about it — anything we have to do to protect the force we’re going to do that.
But two key points. One, no, we’re going to focus on al-Qaeda. Two, we’re going to do what we have to do to protect the force, and my assessment is part of protecting the force will be to address Haqqani.