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Congress starts formal push to slap terrorist designation on Haqqani network

State Department officials say that they are considering whether to add Pakistan’s Haqqani network to their list of foreign terrorist organizations, and now Congress is moving to force them to show their work. "We are continuing to review whether to designate the entire [Haqqani] organization," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in September, only ...

State Department officials say that they are considering whether to add Pakistan's Haqqani network to their list of foreign terrorist organizations, and now Congress is moving to force them to show their work.

"We are continuing to review whether to designate the entire [Haqqani] organization," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in September, only days after then Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen testified to Congress that the group was directly responsible for a deadly Sept. 13 attack on the U.S. embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul that left nine dead and 23 injured.

Mullen also said that the Haqqani network was a "veritable arm" of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan's premier spy agency. That accusation encapsulates the State Department's conundrum over designating the Haqqani network as terrorists: If it does, it is only one short step away from being pressured into naming Pakistan as a State Sponsor of Terror, a move that would shatter whatever is left of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship.

State Department officials say that they are considering whether to add Pakistan’s Haqqani network to their list of foreign terrorist organizations, and now Congress is moving to force them to show their work.

"We are continuing to review whether to designate the entire [Haqqani] organization," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in September, only days after then Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen testified to Congress that the group was directly responsible for a deadly Sept. 13 attack on the U.S. embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul that left nine dead and 23 injured.

Mullen also said that the Haqqani network was a "veritable arm" of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s premier spy agency. That accusation encapsulates the State Department’s conundrum over designating the Haqqani network as terrorists: If it does, it is only one short step away from being pressured into naming Pakistan as a State Sponsor of Terror, a move that would shatter whatever is left of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a show out of naming and shaming the Haqqani network during her recent trip to Pakistan in October. But does she really intend to designate it as a foreign terrorist organization? Several senators moved on Wednesday to force her to say one way or the other.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) introduced on Wednesday the "Haqqani Network Terrorist Designation Act," which would require a report from Clinton on the issue. The report would be required to take a position on whether the Haqqani network meets the criteria for designation as a terrorist organization under section 219 of the Immigration and Naturalization Act. If Clinton determines that it should not be classified as a terrorist organization, the bill requires a detailed justification as to why not.

"The Haqqanis are a violent extremist group who have perpetrated deadly attacks on U.S. forces and innocent Afghan civilians, used murder as an intimidation tactic against the Afghan people, and employed suicide attacks with deadly effectiveness," Burr said in a Wednesday statement. "Their size, resources, experience, and well organized execution of attacks makes them an extremely dangerous group, and they deserve to be classified as a terrorist organization.  This designation would allow us to more aggressively pursue them as well as limit the ability of foreign governments to provide them with aid and assistance." 

Burr is joined on his mission by a very powerful Democrat, Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

"There is no question that the Haqqani network meets the standards for designation specified in Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act," Feinstein wrote in a Sept. 22 letter to Clinton. "It conducts attacks against U.S. targets and personnel in Afghanistan, and poses a continuing threat to American, Afghan, and allied personnel and interests."

In addition to the Sept. 13 attacks, Feinstein said that the Haqqani network was responsible for the June 28 attack on the Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul, which killed 20 people, and the Sept. 10 truck bombing in Wardak province that killed five Afghans and injured 77 U.S. troops.

In addition to Burr and Feinstein, the new bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Dan Coats (R-IN), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Mark Warner (D-VA), James Inhofe (R-OK), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Bob Corker (R-TN), and Mark Kirk (R-IL).

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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