ISLAMABAD – Afghanistan on Saturday blamed a devastating suicide bomb attack in Kabul that killed at least 95 people and wounded 158 others on the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani Network -- a former CIA asset that now is considered one of the most dangerous factions fighting U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan.
A shadowy, Pakistan-based militant faction is on the rise within the Taliban after its leader was appointed deputy and played a key role in unifying the fractured insurgency. The ascendency of the Haqqani network, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, could significantly strengthen the Taliban and herald another summer of fierce fighting in Afghanistan. The firepower it brings to the Taliban was shown by a Kabul bombing last month that killed 64 people, the deadliest in the Afghan capital in years, which experts say was too sophisticated for the insurgents to have carried out without the Haqqanis. The network's role could also further poison already tainted relations between Islamabad and Kabul. Afghanistan is pressing Pakistan to crack down on the Haqqanis, accusing it of tolerating the group, a charge the Pakistanis deny.
PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN – Afghan guerrilla commander Sirajuddin Haqqani, a possible successor to Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour, would likely prove an even more implacable foe of beleaguered Afghan government forces and their U.S. allies. The United States killed Mansour in an airstrike in a remote border area just inside Pakistan, the Afghanistan government said Sunday, in an attack likely to dash any immediate prospect for peace talks. The U.S. has not confirmed Mansour's death. Haqqani, who has a 5 million U.S. bounty on his head, is widely seen by U.S. and Afghan officials as the most dangerous warlord in the Taliban insurgency, responsible for the most bloody attacks, including one last month in Kabul in which 64 people were killed. If Haqqani is confirmed as the next Taliban leader it may be seen as fitting for the scion of a family that has been famously involved in Afghanistan's decades of bloodshed.
The Taliban has named a 14-member team of negotiators, including five former Guantanamo Bay inmates and a high-profile jailed leader, for the second round of talks with the United States. With the move announced on Tuesday, the group has pushed for the release of Anas Haqqani, younger brother of the leader of the powerful Taliban faction, Haqqani network. He is currently held in a jail in Afghanistan's capital, Kabul. Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said Haqqani "should be released to start work on the negotiating team". He said Haqqani "was a student at the time of his arrest and was not involved in any activity for which he should be arrested".
The network has not been openly involved in talks with the U.S. envoy, except to send three representatives to a meeting in the United Arab Emirates in December. That meeting reportedly touched on the issue of prisoners, including Anas Haqqani and two professors from the American University in Kabul __ Kevin King, an American, and Timothy Weeks, an Australian __ who are believed to be held by the Haqqani network. The two professors were abducted in 2016 from Kabul. A video released more than a year ago indicated King was in poor health.