U.S. concerns grow as militants move bases along Pakistan border

Kabul, Nov.8 (ANI): A militant network that is a major Western adversary in Afghanistan is expanding its reach into tribal badlands outside its longtime sanctuary in Pakistan, a move that could complicate U.S. efforts to eradicate the group.

The Los Angeles Times has quoted Pakistani tribal elders in the Kurram region along the Afghan border, as saying that large numbers of fighters from the Haqqani network, an ally of Al Qaeda, have been stationing themselves in the highlands of their rugged district and are demanding the freedom to move in and out of Afghanistan at will to carry out attacks in the neighboring country.

The United States regards Haqqani militants, a potent wing of the Afghan Taliban that focuses on attacks in eastern Afghanistan, as one of the biggest threats Western coalition forces face in that nation.

The group pioneered the use of suicide bombings in Afghanistan and was behind a 2008 assassination attempt on Afghan President Hamid Karzai that nearly succeeded.

It has also led spectacular attacks on American military installations, including a brazen frontal assault last May on the Bagram airfield near Kabul, the Afghan capital.

American military commanders regard the group as a major roadblock to concluding the nine-year war in Afghanistan.

Haqqani militants have long maintained bonds with Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency, which has allowed the insurgents to use the North Waziristan region as their nerve center.

A dramatic increase in U.S. drone missile attacks on the network's compounds and training centers there this fall has helped trigger the movement of the militants during the last two months, experts and Kurram tribal leaders say.

"If the Haqqani network spreads out like that, it will become very difficult for NATO forces to gather intelligence and strike the group," said Khadim Hussain, coordinator at the Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy, a think tank in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital.

With Pakistani military leaders refusing to pursue the Haqqani network, the Obama administration has ratcheted up the rate of drone attacks in Pakistan's tribal areas.

So far this year, the U.S. has carried out 97 drone missile strikes in northwestern Pakistan, including two Sunday that reportedly killed 13 people.

That compares with 53 strikes in 2009 and 35 in 2008. According to the Long War Journal website, which keeps track of drone missile strike statistics, 88 of the attacks this year have occurred in North Waziristan. (ANI)

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