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Haqqani network boosts infiltration, says official

By Jerome Starkey, For CNN
updated 6:44 PM EDT, Tue October 18, 2011
A U.S. soldier on patrol in Kandahar province in Afghanistan
A U.S. soldier on patrol in Kandahar province in Afghanistan
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Official: Haqqani network has increased infiltration into Afghanistan from Pakistan
  • Haqqani fighters are blamed for killing more than 1,000 coalition and Afghan forces
  • Allied commander wants to keep emphasis on the south

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- NATO and U.S. forces are seeing a marked increase in infiltration into Afghanistan from Pakistan by the militant Haqqani network, a senior NATO official said Tuesday.

There has been a significant increase in the Haqqani network's activity in Khost, Paktia, Logar and Wardak provinces which are used in that order as an infiltration route from Pakistan, to launch attacks on the capital, the official said. The senior NATO official spoke to reporters in Kabul on the condition no name was used.

Whether or not NATO and the United States will have to provide more assistance to the Afghan security forces, particularly along the border with Pakistan, will depend on "the level of threat coming out of Miramshah" in North Waziristan, the official said. Miramshah is believed to be where the Haqqani network leaders are based.

Haqqani fighters are blamed for killing more than 1,000 coalition and Afghan forces. The official said Haqqani militants were behind a series of "spectacular attacks," this summer, including a 20-hour attack on the American Embassy, last month, and an assault on Kabul's InterContinental Hotel, in June, which left at least a dozen people dead.

NATO officials said there had also been a marked increase in the number of cross border attacks from Pakistan, but the insisted reports of artillery bombardments and heavy casualties were often exaggerated.

International Security Assistance Force troops respond to all reports by deploying surveillance assets, usually helicopters and drones, but they often cannot find evidence of structural damage or the craters consistent with the villagers' accounts of sustained artillery and rocket bombardments, the official explained.

The official said ISAF's primary objective is sharing this information with Afghan and Pakistani officials as quickly as possible to diffuse cross-border tensions. Both sides have agreed, within the last ten days, to set up a working group for investigating future allegations.

Part of the problem is that insurgents have reoccupied safe havens inside Afghanistan, which became much more attractive following the U.S. withdrawal from remote bases in Kunar and Nuristan provinces, coupled with increased pressure on the Pakistani side of the border, said the official.

While most of the cross-border attacks are launched by insurgents, he said there is legitimate confusion as to where the border lies.

"We'll get the maps out and there will be differences of multiples of kilometers of where they think the border is," the official said.

Gen. John Allen, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, has completed a compressed 90-day assessment and revision of the campaign plan and, contrary to earlier suggestions that there would be an abrupt shift of focus to the east of the country, he concluded that he wants to continue building on progress in the south, while keeping Kabul and its environs secure, eventually linking the two areas via Afghanistan's ring road, the official told reporters.

"As things improve in the south we will focus more on the east," the official said.

"Our progress is incremental, but it is progress," the official said. "We have physically taken away their safe havens [in the south], and they won't get them back."

In the east, the focus will be on Kabul and the surrounding provinces, particularly Wardak and Logar, which are being used to launch attacks on the capital, the official said.

"The other issue is the harder one, that's the sense of security in the minds of the Afghan people.... Do the Afghan people feel any more secure? No, not yet."

The military is proving the space for the Afghan government, but the government remains deeply unpopular and corrupt, the official said.

Areas likely to be slated for transition in the upcoming second tranche include the Ghazni municipality (capital of Ghazni province Maidan Shah (the capital of Wardak), and Nawa, in Helmand. Kunar is likely to be at least a year away.

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