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US to designate Haqqani network as terrorist group

The United States has moved to designate the Haqqani militant network as a terrorist group. Their blacklisting could negatively impact fragile ties with Pakistan, which allegedly supports the Haqqanis.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed on Friday that she had filed a report saying that the Haqqani network meets the criteria to be labeled as a terrorist group.

The US Congress had set a Sunday deadline for the State Department to decide whether or not the Haqqanis should be classified as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. The label would result in criminal penalties against anyone supporting the Haqqanis and would also put a freeze on any financial assets the group has in the US.

"Today, I have sent a report to Congress saying that the Haqqani Network meets the statutory criteria of the Immigration and Nationality Act for designation as a Foreign Terrorist Organization," Clinton said at an APEC summit in Vladivostok, Russia, on Friday.

"We also continue our robust campaign of diplomatic, military and intelligence pressure on the network, demonstrating the United States' resolve to degrade the organization's ability to execute violent attacks," Clinton said.

Afghan peace talks

Washington has blamed the Haqqanis for some of the most deadly and spectacular terrorist attacks against American assets in Afghanistan.

According to the US, the Haqqanis were complicit in the 2011 siege of the US embassy in Afghanistan as well as a 2009 attack on a CIA forward operating base near the city of Khost, the worst of its kind against the agency in 25 years.

Senior commanders from the network told the Reuters news agency that the terrorist designation could jeopardize the ongoing attempts to strike a peace deal in Afghanistan.

"It means the United States is not sincere in their talks," an unnamed Haqqani commander told Reuters. "They are on the one hand claiming to look for a political solution to the Afghan issue while on the other they are declaring us terrorists."

"So how can peace talks succeed in bringing peace to Afghanistan?" the commander said.

Pakistan connection

The move to blacklist the Haqqani network could weaken already fragile relations between the US and Pakistan. Washington has accused the ISI, Pakistan's intelligence service, of actively supporting the Haqqani network.

The former US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, retired admiral Mike Mullen, publicly drew a connection between the Haqqanis and Islamabad during congressional testimony in September 2011. Pakistan denies the allegations.

In this Aug. 22, 1998 file photo, Jalaluddin Haqqani, founder of the militant group the Haqqani network, speaks during an interview in Miram Shah, Pakistan.

Jalaluddin Haqqani, allegedly supported by Pakistan, was reportedly once a CIA proxy

"The fact remains that the Quetta Shura (Taliban) and the Haqqani network operate from Pakistan with impunity," Mullen said in his written testimony. "Extremist organizations serving as proxies of the government of Pakistan are attacking Afghan troops and civilians as well as US soldiers."

Former US proxy

The Haqqani network was founded by Jalaluddin Haqqani, who was financed by the American CIA as well as the Pakistani ISI during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Haqqani allied himself with the Taliban in 1996, as they took control of the capital, Kabul.

After the US invasion in 2001, Haqqani sought refuge in North Waziristan, a tribal region on the Pakistani side of the Afghan border. He became an anti-US commander and reportedly maintains training bases in eastern Afghanistan and is closely linked to al Qaeda.

Washington has already designated the septuagenarian Jalaluddin and his son Sirajuddin, now the network's de facto commander, as "global terrorists." But their network has long avoided being slapped with the terrorist label.

slk/dr (AP, AFP, Reuters)