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The Haqqanis are Pakistan’s most reliable proxy for ensuring influence in a post-ISAF Afghanistan. Facilitation into new sanctuaries in Pakistan and the provision of operational and materiel support indicate that the level of Pakistani state support for the Haqqanis has increased.
The Haqqanis also harbor al-Qaida and its affiliates in their North Waziristan sanctuary and allow them to train, shelter and participate in operations in Afghanistan.
From a U.S. perspective, the concern that the Haqqani network would allow for a reconstituted and revitalized al-Qaida is not only real, but contradictory to Obama’s objective of preventing al-Qaida’s return to Afghanistan. It is impossible to prevent al-Qaida and its affiliates’ return to Afghanistan without disrupting, dismantling and defeating the Afghan networks on which they operate.
Defeating the Haqqani network would be difficult under any circumstances, especially under the withdrawal timelines the president has outlined. At the very least, dealing with the Haqqani threat in Afghanistan necessitates several sufficiently resourced fighting seasons by U.S. combat personnel that is necessary, but likely not sufficient, to dismantle the network.
Complicating matters further, the network’s sanctuary in Pakistan makes it difficult, but not impossible, to target and remove the Haqqani network leadership. But we know targeting senior leaders is insufficient to defeat insurgent and terrorist groups because they have redundant command structures, control ground inside Afghanistan and intimidate local populations to maintain their operations.
In Afghanistan, not much is certain — except perhaps that the failure to deal with the Haqqanis will present catastrophic challenges to the security of the Afghan state. The Afghan National Security Forces will not be capable of dealing with the Haqqani network, which is likely to grow without serious and sufficient attention. Such a campaign requires high-end intelligence, sophisticated operations integrating infantry and air lift, and excellent tactical skills that American forces alone have. The campaign requires a reallocation of American forces and time to succeed.
If Obama remains committed to the original objectives that he set out for mission success in Afghanistan, he will, at the very least, need to support the continuation of the combat mission and retain force levels at the planned 68,000 American troops until the end of the fighting season in 2013.
Jeffrey Dressler is a senior analyst focusing on security in Afghanistan and Pakistan at the Institute for the Study of War.