RECLUSIVE LEADER OF HAQQANI NETWORK SPEAKS TO PRESS AS U.S. URGES HIS ELIMINATION
Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of the dangerously effective and independently operated “Haqqani Network” of Taliban insurgents, terrorists and suicide bombers gave a rare interview to al-Jazeera on January 19. Based in the Miran Shah district of North Waziristan, the network’s operations straddle both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border (see Terrorism Monitor, March 24, 2008). During a January 21-22 visit to Islamabad, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates urged Pakistan’s political and military leadership to expand military operations into North Waziristan, a Haqqani Network stronghold (AFP, January 21).
The secretive Taliban commander revealed little about future activities in the short videotaped interview, but the occasion may have marked a decision to take a more visible role in the conflict. Despite being strongly anti-American, Sirajuddin gave an email and telephone interview to the Wall Street Journal last December (Wall Street Journal, January 20). With U.S. forces scheduled to begin withdrawal next year, Sirajuddin may be attempting to increase his political profile, though not his visibility – Sirajuddin covered part of his face with a head cloth at all times during the al-Jazeera interview. Nevertheless, at one point Sirajuddin appears to complain that his group is not receiving sufficient media attention. “The world is covering up our operations; they know well who we are. I cannot tell you anything before it happens. God willing, the day will come when they will admit who we are…”
Though there have been questions about Sirajuddin’s apparent independence from the core Taliban leadership under Mullah Omar, the Taliban commander insists coordination between the various components of the Taliban is greater than ever:
"Thank God, the mujahideen are getting more advanced. The war is now being dictated by them. I can guarantee you that in the future their fighting will be even better. At the beginning of this war the coordination between our fighters was useless, but now there are so many attacks that even we cannot count them ourselves. But it’s still not enough. The future will show what I mean."
Perhaps in anticipation of a Pakistani crackdown, Sirajuddin recently downplayed his activities in North Waziristan, emphasizing that he was concentrating on military operations in Afghanistan’s Khost and Paktika provinces (Nawai Afghan Jihad, November 11, 2009).
Sirajuddin Haqqani is a dominant presence in Afghanistan’s Khost province. It is unlikely that the complicated operation that resulted in a Jordanian triple agent blowing up seven CIA agents and a Jordanian intelligence operative in Khost on December 30, 2009 could have been carried out without his cooperation or approval.
ARMORED TRAINS RETURN IN RUSSIA’S “WAR AGAINST TERRORISM”
A weapon thought by many to belong to military museums is making a return to active anti-insurgency operations in the North Caucasus: the armored train. First used for such purposes in the American Civil War, armored trains and the tactics associated with their use were most fully developed in the vast expanses of Russia, where they were used in large numbers in World War One, the Red-White Civil War of 1917-22, the Second World War and the Sino-Soviet border conflict of the 1960s. More recently, Russian armored trains were deployed to secure railway lines against Azeri nationalists during the 1990 Soviet military intervention in Baku. Now Russia’s Ministry of Defense has announced the return of armored trains for use against Islamist insurgents in the North Caucasus (Interfax, January 5; Russia Today, January 5).
Building on the 1919 innovation to include a desantniy ortryad (raiding team) with every armored train for offensive and defensive missions, modern armored trains include detachments of armor and infantry that can be quickly offloaded and deployed around the area of the train or sent on reconnaissance missions. This makes it difficult for insurgents to prepare ambushes or destroy sections of track without detection. In the meantime, the armored train can provide mobile artillery fire in support of infantry operations. Anti-aircraft weapons provide a defense against air attack, though this does not figure into anti-insurgency operations such as those in the North Caucasus where control of the skies is held by state forces. Tanks carried on the armored train may also be used in a secondary role as tractors in the removal of derailed railroad cars (as a result of ambush, mines, etc). During the Cold War, Russia deployed 56 RT-23 ICBM missiles (NATO name – SS-24 Scalpel) on military trains used as mobile launch pads. The last of these was decommissioned in 2005.
Russia maintains a unique formation of Railway Troops (zheleznodorozhniki), composed of four railway corps, 28 railway brigades and a number of military and research units under the control of the Ministry of Defense since 2004 (Itar-Tass, May 2, 1999). The Railway Troops are responsible for securing and rebuilding railroads in support of combat and mobilization efforts, the construction of new railways and the repair or reconstruction of rail systems destroyed by enemy forces or natural calamities. Railway troops were active in these roles in the First Chechen War of 1994-96. Shortly after the Second Chechen War began in 1999 the Railway Troops began operating an armored train to protect commercial cargo and military supply trains (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, June 10, 2008).
In the wake of continuing insurgent attacks on the railroads of the North Caucasus, Russia will return two Stavropol-based armored trains to service in Ingushetia, Chechnya and Dagestan. The trains, which have been held in reserve for two years, are equipped with “special devices for the removal of landmines and heavy weapons capable of countering an attack by armed militants.” Armored trains were heavily used in the North Caucasus region by both Reds and Whites during the Russian Civil War.
Bombings of Russian trains in Dagestan have become a major security problem, with some seven explosions on trains in the last six months of 2009 alone. The attacks appear to be part of a new campaign by North Caucasus Islamist insurgents to strike Russian infrastructure, including railways (see EDM, December 10, 2009). However, it seems unlikely that the deployment of armored trains will be able to prevent the current tactic of placing explosives on the trains rather than mining the track.