Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said today she plans to officially name the Haqqani network, a violent Taliban-affiliated militant group based in Pakistan, as a terrorist organization.
In a statement, Clinton said she had reported to Congress that the group, which is believed to have been responsible for several high-profile attacks and kidnappings, "meets the statutory criteria... for designation as a Foreign Terrorist Organization." Top leaders of the organization had already been designated terrorists by the State and Treasury departments, but this is the first time the entire group has been recognized as such.
"The consequences of these designations include a prohibition against knowingly providing material support or resources to, or engaging in other transactions with, the Haqqani Network, and the freezing of all property and interests in property of the organization that are in the United States, or come within the United States, or the control of U.S. persons," Clinton said.
The Haqqanis have been accused of launching deadly cross-border attacks in Afghanistan on U.S. soldiers and Afghan civilians, including the suicide bombings at Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel last June. The group is suspected of having close ties to the Pakistani government -- especially its intelligence agency, the ISI -- but a senior administration official said that there are no plans to take similar action against the government.
"We are targeting the Haqqani network. Period," the official said. It is "a consensus, unanimous view of this administration that we are making absolutely no effort to begin the process of designating Pakistan as a state sponsor of terror."
A spokesperson for the Pakistan Embassy in Washington, D.C., released a statement saying that the designation was an "internal matter" for the U.S. and that, despite their being based in Pakistan, the Haqqanis are Pakistani nationals.
"It is not our business... We will continue to work with all international partners including the U.S. in combating extremism and terrorism," the spokesperson said.
Rogers: Haqqanis 'Engaged in a Reign of Terror
Clinton's decision comes at the tail end of a 30-day deadline for the designation that was pushed by Congress.
"The Haqqani network is engaged in a reign of terror in Afghanistan," Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Mike Rogers (Michigan-R.) said in July when the House voted for the designation. "To better protect the lives of U.S. soldiers, now is the time for action, not simply paperwork and talk. There is no good reason that this group has not yet been designated."
Clinton said she made the decision now "in the context of our overall strategy in Afghanistan."
Administration officials were reportedly hesitant to officially call the network a terror organization because it could hurt America's already icy relationship with Pakistan, which has already come under fire publicly for its relationship with the Haqqanis.
In September 2011, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen told a Senate committee the Haqqani network was a "veritable arm" of the ISI -- an accusation denied by Pakistani authorities.
Congress has been expressing increased frustration with Pakistan's lack of action against the Haqqanis and weeks before making her decision on the designation, Clinton said it was as if the Pakistani government was "like the guy who keeps poisonous snakes in his backyard convinced they'll only attack his neighbors."
The senior administration official told reporters the Pakistani government was told about the designation before it was announced today and that senior military and civilian leadership there did not express concern over it.
"We continue to talk frequently at virtually every intervention with the Pakistanis about what more can be done to squeeze the network... We have a common enemy in fighting extremism," the official said.
A recent report on the Haqqani network from West Point's Combating Terrorism Center described the group as a sly organization happy to "play second fiddle" to other terror groups and leaders in order to keep a low profile on the international stage.
"For much of the last decade, this practice succeeded in decreasing the visibility of the network; prior to 2008, there was scant media reporting on the Haqqanis as constituting a distinct or significant entity," the report says. "The capacity of Haqqani leaders to form strategic alliances, such as those with al Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban and the ISI, have served to increase the network's resiliency, as well as their stature within the community."
"Community members in [Pakistan's northern border region] interviewed for this project described the Haqqanis as virtually untouchable," the July 2012 report says.
A recent drone strike may have called that claim into question, however, as it reportedly took out Badruddin Haqqani, a key commander in the group and son of the Haqqani network's founder, Jalaladin Haqqani.
[Editor's Note: A previous version of this report said the Haqqani network had been officially designated as a terrorist organization. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said today she plans to designate the group as a terrorist organization but has not yet.]