Terrorist leaders: Idaho P.O.W. in more danger

Terrorist leaders: Idaho P.O.W. in more danger

Terrorist leaders: Idaho P.O.W. in more danger

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by NBC News / Mushtaq Yusufzai and Waj Khan

NWCN.com

Posted on September 7, 2012 at 10:28 PM

Updated Friday, Dec 20 at 6:51 PM

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Senior members of the Haqqani network said that the United States' designation of the militant group as terrorists could endanger the life of an American soldier thought to be in their custody and jeopardize peace talks.

"The Obama administration and U.S. military commanders know that their soldier Bowe Bergdahl is in our possession," a Haqqani commander told NBC News in a telephone interview from an undisclosed location on Friday. "He is in our custody, but his government failed to make any sincere effort for his release, and now this new development could add to his woes."

HAQQANI NETWORK NAMED TERRORIST

The Haqqanis, a Pashtun tribe with strongholds in southeastern Afghanistan and across the border in Pakistan, have been blamed for an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and other high-profile assaults in Afghanistan. The group is also believed to be holding U.S. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was captured in 2009 in Afghanistan’s Paktika province, bordering Pakistan’s South Waziristan.

Members of the network say Bergdahl was handed over to the Taliban when a delegation of senior Taliban leaders began peace talks with the U.S. in Qatar in exchange for the top five Taliban commanders from Guantanamo Bay. After those talks failed, the Taliban sources told NBC News that Bergdahl was returned to the Haqqani network.

On Friday, U.S. officials announced that the Obama administration would formally designate the Haqqani network as a foreign terrorist organization. The move was part of a complicated political decision as the U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan and pushes for a reconciliation pact to end more than a decade of warfare.

But the move would only undermine the United States' efforts in the region, one of the Haqqani commanders told NBC News.

SENIOR HAQQANI LEADERS SPEAK

"How (will) their talks with the Taliban bring peace to Afghanistan when they declared us terrorists?" the commander, who asked to remain anonymous, said. "It would further increase their hardship and they should wait for more losses in the coming days."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed a report to Congress saying the network met criteria for a terrorist designation on Friday, State Department officials told reporters.

The Obama administration has been trying to coax Afghanistan's fighting groups into peace talks, offering the prospect of a Qatar-based political office for insurgents and even the transfer of several prisoners being held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Negotiations have been dormant for months, and the Haqqanis have been among the least interested in talking.

Designation by the State Department as a foreign terrorist organization would bring sanctions such as criminal penalties for anyone providing material support to the group and seizure of any assets in the United States.

The Haqqani commanders also told NBC News that they were part of the mainstream Afghan Taliban headed by Mulla Mohammad Omar and declaring them as a terrorist group would make it worse for the United States and its allies in in Afghanistan.

"We are fighters of Islam Emirate of Afghanistan led by our supreme leader Mulla Mohammad Omar," a senior commander said. "Our aim is to expel all the occupying forces from Afghanistan and install a purely Islamic government there."

PENTAGON WELCOMES NEW DESIGNATION

"The Haqqani Network represents a significant threat to U.S. national security and we will continue our aggressive military action against this threat," said George Little, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, in a statement. "These new group designations will build on our efforts to degrade the Network's capacity to carry out attacks, including affecting fundraising abilities, targeting them with our military and intelligence resources, and pressing Pakistan to take action."

The United States accuses Pakistan's intelligence agency of supporting the Haqqani network and using it as a proxy in Afghanistan to gain leverage against the growing influence of its archrival, India.

Pakistan denies the allegations.

A senior Pakistani foreign ministry official, who asked to remain nameless because of the sensitivity of the issue, both denied claims that Pakistan was working with the network and dismissed the designation.

"If we are sponsoring the Haqqanis, which we are not because they cause more problems for Pakistan than anyone else, then only will this new labeling equate to something," he told NBC News. "No responsible person has proven that we are directing them in any way. Obviously there are contacts, but the U.S. has contacts for the purposes of negotiations, etc. too with these guys."

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