WASHINGTON -- Two U.S. senators Wednesday urged the State Department to designate the al Qaeda-affiliated Haqqani network as a terrorist organization in the wake of several attacks against American and NATO facilities that top officials blame on the group.
In a letter sent Wednesday, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) urged Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to add the group to the list of officially-designated foreign terrorist organizations.
The senators, both members of the Armed Services Committee, cited last week's testimony by Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who blamed the Haqqani network for orchestrating a September attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. Mullen called the Haqqani network a "veritable arm" of Pakistan's military spy agency.
They also cited Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's testimony in which he said the United States "simply cannot allow these kinds of terrorists to be able to go into Afghanistan, attack our forces and then return to Pakistan for safe haven."
In their bipartisan letter, provided exclusively to The Huffington Post, the senators wrote:
In light of these statements by our top military officials, we write in strong support of adding the Haqqani network to the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO), a move that we understand you are currently considering.
We are very concerned that the Haqqani network, based in Pakistan's remote North Waziristan region bordering Afghanistan, has a history of killing civilians and harming U.S. interests in the region, and has been blamed by our highest national security officials for attacks on Americans, including our military and diplomatic corps.
The senators also noted the alleged involvement of the Haqqani group in helping Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders flee to Pakistan from Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002. More recently, the Haqqanis were reportedly involved in the December 2009 attack on a CIA base in Khost, Afghanistan, that resulted in the deaths of seven CIA officers. U.S. officials also blame the group for the June 28, 2011, attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul and a Sept. 10, 2011, truck bombing in Wardak Province.
The letter adds to a growing chorus of concern inside the Obama administration that the Pakistani-based network can no longer be considered a partner for peace in the region. Despite its many alleged attacks on Western forces and their Afghan allies, the Haqqanis were seen as crucial to any future political reconciliation in the region. But now, as the testimony by Mullen and Panetta made clear, U.S. officials have just about lost patience.
The State and Treasury departments have already declared several leaders and financiers of the group as terrorist "kingpins." The next step, which Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) also has called for, is to designate the entire organization a terrorist entity.
The designation allows the government to freeze assets the Haqqanis may have in the United States and places a global travel ban and arms embargo on its members.
"We believe it is crucial that our government uses every available tool to address the threat posed by the Haqqani network," the senators wrote, adding that the "designation of the entire organization -- in addition to designation of individuals related to the network -- would be an effective means of curtailing logistical, financial and political support for the group’s terrorist activities."
While this may be true, should the organization and its members not have many or any assets in American banks, the designation may amount to little more than symbolism.