Analysis: New Interview with Taliban Leader

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The only known picture of Sirajuddin Haqqani

ALEXANDER MELEAGROU-HITCHENS

Earlier this week, a newly founded jihadist media group, the al-Balagh Islamic Centre, released an interview with Siraj Haqqani, leader of the Haqqani Network, a Taliban group operating in eastern Afghanistan.  It is available on a number of jihadist forums and also on the Flashpoint Partners website.

According to MEMRI, al-Balagh was established in November last year and is linked to al-Qaeda’s al-Fallujah, one of the web’s main jihadist forums. 

Haqqani begins by explaining his group’s area of operations, which include Paktia and Khost in south-eastern Afghanistan as well as a few pockets in the North and South.  He also claims that the mujahideen are in control of 90% of the land, with foreign forces trapped in their bases.  In what seems to be a nod to the current shape of the NATO strategy in the country, which places a premium on winning over civilians, Haqqani claims that “the areas are all under the control of the Mujahideen, and the common people – they are with the Mujahideen, and they love the Mujahideen.”  This is blatant propaganda but – like the Commander of NATO/ISAF forces in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal – Haqqani knows that the battle over this region will be won by whoever succeeds in the tug of war for the hearts and minds of the local population. 

In the next round of questions, Haqqani manages to contradict himself when speaking about the Western media, doubting information which suggests his group is being beaten while at the same time referring to the same sources when they work in his favour.  Asked about media reports on the positive progress of Western forces, Haqqani replies:

These rumors are baseless lies, directed by the Western media, who are trying to cover up the defeat of the enemies by replacing it with a victory on their media channels. They are always saying that they are winning”. 

The very next question then asks Haqqani if NATO/ISAF is being dishonest about the amount of losses they are suffering, and here he seems more than happy to quote Western media:

have you heard from the Western media, where the U.S. Department of Defence acknowledged that in comparison between the first three months of 2009 and 2010 that their losses doubled, and the wounded has risen to three times more than before?

The discussion then moves on to Humam Khalil Mohamed (aka Abu Dujanah), the Jordanian double agent who killed seven CIA agents in Khost on 30th December 2009.  He had successfully managed to convince the CIA that he could locate al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri, and detonated his suicide vest after luring the agents into a meeting.  Abu Dujanah was originally imprisoned in Jordan for running al-Qaeda forums (which makes him particularly relevant to the forum linked al Balagh Centre) and, thinking he had been ‘flipped’, Jordanian Intelligence sent him to Afghanistan so as to embed into al-Qaeda.

Haqqani claims that “after killing this [CIA] group we managed to break the backbone of the enemy, and the effectiveness of their operations which targeted the Mujahideen were reduced by 90%.”  Although this claim is an exaggeration, the Long War Journal notes that it does contain at least a grain of truth:

…a look at the high value targets killed in the months before and after the [Abu Dujanah] suicide attack at Combat Outpost Chapman lend some weight to his words. A comparison of the high value targets killed between August and December 2009, and January through mid-April 2010 shows a marked decrease in the quality of high value targets killed.

The interview ends with Haqqani calling for a Clausewitzian ‘total war’, stressing the multifaceted nature of the global jihad:

The Islamic Ummah need to help their Mujahideen brother by all means and in all arenas. The people who have money need to help with money. The people with expertise and experiences in the areas of explosives, electronics, communications and anti-spy networks, and the destruction of the enemy, as well as the people of the pen, poetry, literature must rise to refute the rumours and fabrications of the Crusader enemy. They need to act upon knowledge, and need to stand in one rank, just like the West is doing against the Muslims. The Islamic scholars should always tell the truth and act upon it, and they need to give Islamic verdicts in support of the Mujahideen. They must leave the partial differences behind them, and work for unity among the Muslims, and combine their efforts and wake the Muslims up.

This concept is nothing new to al-Qaeda and their partners.  In August 2008, American al-Qaeda recruiter Anwar al Awlaki explained it in his blog:

Because confusion usually surrounds what is meant by Jihad whether it is the Jihad al Nafs or Jihad of the sword I do not exclusively mean one or the other and I do not exclude one or the other. What I mean by Jihad here is not just picking up a gun and fighting. Jihad is broader than that. What is meant by Jihad in this context is a total effort by the ummah to fight and defeat its enemy. Rasulullah says: Fight the disbelievers with your self, your wealth and your tongues. It is what Clausewitz would refer to as “total war” but with the Islamic rules of engagement. It is a battle in the battlefield and a battle for the hearts and minds of the people.

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