The Obama administration has launched the opening salvos of a new, more aggressive approach toward an Afghan insurgent group it asserts is supported by Pakistan’s government, senior administration officials said.
A CIA drone strike Thursday killed three members of the Haqqani network, including a senior official, and additional strikes Friday left four insurgents dead. The attacks in Pakistan were carried out near Haqqani headquarters in the North Waziristan capital of Miran Shah, a city rarely targeted in the past because of the difficulty of finding well-concealed insurgent leaders and the possibility of civilian deaths in an urban area.
The decision to strike Miran Shah was made at a National Security Council meeting chaired by President Obama two weeks ago and was intended to “send a signal” that the United States would no longer tolerate a safe haven for the most lethal enemy of US forces in Afghanistan, or Pakistan’s backing for it, said one of several US officials who spoke about internal deliberations on the condition of anonymity.
The strikes were made possible by focusing intelligence collection to “allow us to pursue certain priorities,” the official said.
Military options debated at the September 29 meeting were set aside for now, officials said, including the possibility of a ground operation against Haqqani leaders similar to the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May. Although the administration has left the raid option on the table, the potential negatives of such an operation - including the possible collapse of Pakistan’s military leadership and civilian government - are seen as far outweighing its benefits.
Even as it cracks down on the Haqqani network, the White House has authorized more intensive reconciliation efforts with its leaders and those of other Afghan insurgent groups, leaving open a track initiated in August when US officials met in a Persian Gulf kingdom with Ibrahim Haqqani, the brother of the group’s patriarch. Marc Grossman, the administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, left September 30 on an extended trip to the broader South and Central Asia in hopes of persuading governments there, including China, to join and support an international reconciliation effort.
With conferences on the war scheduled for November 2, “what we want to do is provide an international basis of support for a political outcome in Afghanistan” that will match the military timeline adopted by NATO.
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