"I have repeatedly written to Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton to press her to have the Haqqani group added to the State Department's list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, to make more tools available to our government agencies to sanction this organization," Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, of Michigan, said in an email exchange with The Washington Examiner. "This step is long overdue and I hope the State Department will move quickly to designate the Haqqanis a Foreign Terrorist Organization."
Levin, who traveled to Kabul last week with Democratic Sen. Jack Reed, of Rhode Island, said the Pakistani government's tolerance of the Haqqani network, which is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of U.S. and Afghan forces, is "unconscionable." The State Department's failure to designate the group a terrorist organization is making it difficult for the intelligence community to use all available tactics to defeat them, he said.
Last October, Clinton said the administration was in the "final, formal review" of whether to add the Haqqani network to the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organization, or FTO, list. But since then, the department has said little about the decision. A State Department spokeswoman, speaking on condition that she not be named, said the matter was an "ongoing process" and declined to comment further. But military and intelligence officials who asked not to be named have told The Examiner that the reluctance to designate the Haqqanis as terrorists springs from the desire not to antagonize Pakistan and to keep open the option of having the group represented in peace negotiations.
The Haqqani network, led by Sirajuddin Haqqani, gained power during the 1980s by fighting the former Soviet Union after the invasion of Afghanistan. The clan, which is believed to have close ties with al Qaeda, is responsible for thousands of U.S. troop injuries and deaths. Pakistan uses the group for proxy wars against India and has done little to stop the clan, even at the behest of senior U.S. officials.
Levin and Reed were both in attendance when President Obama made his surprise visit to Afghanistan last week where he signed the Strategic Partnership Agreement with the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
The same day the president gave a televised address from Bagram Air Base, the Pentagon released a report saying the defeat of the Taliban by the 2014 withdrawal date for U.S. forces was in serious jeopardy. The Pentagon report said the Haqqani network, numbering as many as 15,000 fighters, is a major threat to peace in the region.
Other senior Democrats are also now calling on the State Department for action. Chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and Michigan Republican Mike Rogers told CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday that one of the first steps the administration must take is to designate the Haqqani network a "foreign terrorist organization" and take "aggressive action" against the group.
Feinstein also contradicted Obama's talk of progress in securing peace for Afghanistan. "I think we'd both say that what we've found is that the Taliban is stronger," Feinstein said.
Arturo Munoz, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation who has traveled on numerous occasions to the region, said the current strategy to reduce forces and commit U.S. Special Operations to the area is "the correct strategy" but warned it will be difficult to get Pakistan to cooperate with U.S. efforts to damage the Haqqani clan's power.
Munoz said, "The Haqqanis, who are trained in Pakistan, are facilitating the death of our soldiers."
Bruce Riedel, a senior analyst with the Brookings Institution who chaired President Obama's Afghanistan/Pakistan strategy, said Pakistan's lack of action regarding the Haqqani network is a reflection of the strong support the group has within Pakistan's army and spy agency.
Failing to deal with the Haqqanis before the U.S. pulls out in 2014 could doom the region to decades of turmoil, Munoz said.
"If Pakistan continues to function as a staging area and safe haven for the Haqqanis, then this war will go on for generations," he said. "It could leave Afghanistan and the tribal belt in a state of endemic war. So far, the indicators are not good. The sacrifices made by our troops and civilians are in danger of being squandered."
Sara A. Carter is The Washington Examiner's national security correspondent. She can be reached at email@example.com.