The Mystery of Who Was Behind the Kabul Attacks

The Taliban claims responsibility, the US blames the Haqqani network

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The three most recent insurgent strikes in Kabul--attacks on the Intercontinental Hotel, the British Council, and the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters--have all followed a similar pattern: The Taliban claims responsibility for the coordinated assault, the U.S. instead blames the Pakistani-based, Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network, and news reports reflect the ensuing confusion. Today, for example, headlines like "Fear in Kabul After 20-Hour Taliban Siege" mix with "US Blames Haqqani Network for Kabul Attacks." So what's going on? Which group represents the true threat to stability in the capital of Afghanistan?

The Haqqani network, the BBC explains, has morphed over the years from a CIA-backed anti-Soviet group into an anti-Western militant organization led by an Afghan named Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Sirajuddin. The group has sworn allegiance to the Taliban's spiritual leader, Mullah Omar, and is one of the main factions fueling the insurgency in Afghanistan from across the border in Pakistan's tribal region (the Pakistani government has long dismissed speculation that its security agents are secretly supporting the militant group). On Wednesday, General John R Allen, the commander of NATO and US forces in Afghanistan, the US Ambassador to Afghanistan, said he believed the Haqqani network was behind yesterday's assault "by virtue of the complexity of the attack and the way it was executed."

So how do we reconcile Allen's statement with the Taliban's self-professed involvement? The Taliban may simply be claiming responsibility in the name of the insurgency as a whole. But in an interview with The Christian Science Monitor, the Long War Journal's Bill Roggio suggests another possibility. The NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan may be well aware that several militant groups have plotted the recent attacks together, he explains, but deliberately blaming the Haqqani network to avoid jeopardizing incipient peace negotiations with the less hard-line members of the Taliban's Quetta Shura leadership. NATO, which views the Haqqani network as irreconcilable because if its ties to al-Qaeda, is trying to cast the group "as the outlier," he adds. The Monitor offers one final explanation: The Taliban, in claiming responsibility, is trying to hide disagreements between the Haqqani network carrying out the attacks and the members of the Quetta Shura who may negotiate with the U.S.

It's not entirely clear which explanation is correct, but the AP's Heidi Vogt says the terminology may ultimately be irrelevant. "Reminder to everyone: Haqqani and Taliban are allied. So a Haqqani network attack coordinated with the Taliban is still a Taliban attack," she tweets.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.