Friday, February 10, 2017

Haqqani Network enjoys sanctuary in Pakistan, US commander

The Haqqani Network continues to pose the greatest threat to US troops in Afghanistan, a top US commander based in the war torn country said in Washington underlining the terror outfit uses Pakistan as a safe haven and remains America’s principal concern.“The Haqqanis still pose greatest threat to Americans and to our coalition partners and to the Afghans,” General John Nicholson, Commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, told reporters during a news conference here on Saturday.
“The Haqqanis hold five American citizens hostages right now. I think this is worth remembering as we think about the Haqqani Network. They remain a principal concern of ours. And they do enjoy sanctuary inside Pakistan,” Nicholson said during a Pentagon news conference.
Nicholson said he is looking forward to meeting the new Pakistani Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa. “I’ll meet him upon my return to the region next week,” he said.
“There are many areas of mutual cooperation with the Pakistanis with respect to the border, our joint efforts against terrorism and so forth. So we’re looking forward to working closely with them going forward,” he said. Nicholson said the Afghan security forces have a hold on approximately 64 percent of the population. This is down slightly from his 68 percent that he talked about in September.
“The decrease has not meant more control to the Taliban. We see them still holding ess than 10 percent of the population. More of the country, slightly more is now contested. They still hold roughly two-thirds of the population. The enemy holds less than 10 percent and the balance is contested,” he said. Nicholson said since the start of the Taliban’s campaign in April, the Afghan security forces have prevented them from accomplishing their strategic objectives. 
“They’ve been unable to mass because of air power, both Afghan and coalition air power, and therefore they resorted to small scale attacks on checkpoints around cities in attempts to isolate the cities and create panic,” he said.
Expressing concern about the stability of the Afghan government going forward, he said his message to Afghan partners and members of the political opposition is that the US respects their political process.
“Second concern would be the malign influence of external actors and particularly Pakistan, Russia and Iran. We are concerned about the external enablement of the insurgent or terrorist groups inside Afghanistan in particular where they enjoy sanctuary or support from outside governments,” Nicholson said.
“We are concerned about the convergence of these terrorist groups. I mentioned the 20 groups, 13 in Afghanistan, seven in Pakistan. The morphing of these groups into more virulent strains or the fact that sometimes they cooperate and then the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts,” he said.

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