TALIBAN REJECT AMERICAN PERCEPTIONS OF THE HAQQANI-ISI RELATIONSHIP
Following a series of high-level meetings between American and Pakistani security and military figures related to the operations of the notorious Haqqani Network in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, the leadership of the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has released a statement denouncing what it perceives as an American attempt to detach the Haqqani Network from the Taliban command in the interests of creating divisions within the movement. The statement is also critical of American suggestions that the Haqqani Network has close ties to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the latter agency long suspected of having close ties to the Taliban and various other Islamist militant groups active in Kashmir and in the tribal agencies of Pakistan’s northwest frontier. The Taliban consider this an attempt to “attribute the decisive and staggering attacks by Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate to the neighboring country of Pakistan” (ansar1.info, September 27).
The Taliban assert that the success of their summer “Badr” offensive was so successful that it forced many Coalition partners to reassess their participation in the Afghanistan conflict. Afghanistan’s government claimed from the beginning that “Badr” was coordinated with the ISI (Tolo News [Kabul], May 28). According to the Taliban statement, the success of this campaign revealed the true nature of the “lies and false information” spread by CIA chief General David Petraeus and others in the American command. Unwilling to attribute these victories to the Afghan Taliban, these same U.S. officials have concocted an intervention from Pakistan to explain their defeats at the hands of an enemy they claim to have weakened long ago. These unfounded allegations are meant to “deceive the members in its coalition for a bit longer.”
The Taliban are especially disturbed by American suggestions that veteran Pashtun jihadi commander Jalaluddin Haqqani is not part of the Afghan Taliban command but is rather somehow a separate force “tied to others.” The statement asserts that such efforts are designed to “give a bad name to our prominent figures by tying them to foreign intelligence… the Islamic Emirate is at its strongest and [is] unified more than it has been at any other stage… Neither are our bases in Pakistan, nor do we need residence outside of our country… The respected Jalaluddin Haqqani is [one of] the Islamic Emirate’s honorable and dignified personalities and receives all guidance for operations from the leader of the Islamic Emirate.”
The U.S. military has long been frustrated by deadly operations carried out against its troops in Afghanistan by Haqqani Network forces, which typically retire into Pakistan after finishing their operations, placing them beyond most forms of retribution by American forces. A series of meetings in the last few weeks has been designed to goad Pakistan’s military into carrying out a major offensive against the Haqqani Network and compel the ISI to stop its support for the group (Pakistan Observer, October 10).
According to U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, “We cannot have the Haqqanis coming across the border attacking our forces and [Afghans] and disappearing back into a safe haven… We keep telling [the Pakistanis] you can’t choose among terrorists. If you are against terrorism, you have to be against all forms of terrorism” (Dawn [Karachi], September 22).
FREE SYRIAN ARMY LEADER THREATENS STRIKES ON SYRIAN MILITARY
Since the formation of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) on July 29, the force led by
Colonel Riyad Musa al-Asa’d (formerly an engineer in the Syrian Air Force) has become the core of a small but still largely ineffective armed opposition to the Syrian regime. 
The only visible part of the FSA is a camp inside Turkey’s Hatay Province containing roughly 65 former Syrian soldiers and officers. The camp is surrounded by troops of the Turkish military, which has been conducting an October 5-13 mobilization exercise in Hatay Province (Hurriyet, October 5; AFP, October 5). It is from here that Colonel al-Asa’ad attempts to recruit and direct defectors from the Syrian Army, which he says number some 10,000, spread all over Syria. The FSA also operates a press office from the camp which tries to rally international support for the FSA and its campaign of armed opposition to the regime of Bashar Assad. As part of this effort Colonel al-Asa’d has recently granted a series of interviews to regional and international news outlets describing the formation of the FSA and its intent to overthrow the Syrian regime.
Colonel al-Asa’d makes some bold claims about the FSA and its ability to control defectors from the Syrian military by creating a type of mirror force: “We have formed a complete army and distributed the regiments and companies according to the system operating in the regular Syrian army’s command… There is a need to create an army nucleus capable of controlling matters and which turns into an official army after the regime’s downfall” (al-Sharq al-Awsat, October 9).
While some defectors have joined the FSA, it seems clear that many other military defectors have simply gone home or into hiding. One group was recently involved in fighting with regime forces in Rastan in a battle in which 40 people are said to have been killed before the FSA was driven from the town (The National [Abu Dhabi], September 30).
Despite the claims of Colonel al-Asa’d and the FSA, the new armed opposition force is still a long way from mounting an effective campaign against the regime. The FSA remains poorly organized and lacks safe bases from which to mount attacks on the Syrian Army. The FSA has few weapons and admits it lacks external support. While Turkey appears willing at the moment to offer refuge to Colonel Asa’d and his small group of followers, this is still a long way from allowing a large resistance force to carry out cross-border military operations. According to the Colonel, "The Turks are the only ones standing with us now. The Arabs have let us down and therefore we have no one except them." The FSA rejects foreign intervention, but is asking for an “air and naval embargo” against Syria and a “no-fly zone” in certain parts of Syria (al-Sharq al-Awsat, August 18; Hurriyet, October 10).
Colonel Asa’d maintains that until now, the FSA has refrained from carrying out operations against fellow soldiers in the Syrian Army, preferring instead to combat selected groups such as the non-military security forces, air intelligence and the Shabihah, an informal pro-regime militia. Now, however, shelling of civilians by the regular army and bombings by the air force has compelled the FSA to direct their attention towards the regular forces: “We excluded [the regular army] at first, but we are now forced to target it. We are going to strike with all our force” (al-Sharq al-Awsat, October 9). In an interview with a UK daily, al-Asa’d said he is coordinating a campaign of guerrilla attacks and assassinations through intermediaries that cross between Turkey and Syria (Independent, October 10).
Nevertheless, Colonel al-Asa’d told a Turkish daily that assistance of the type received by Libyan rebels from NATO would be essential to the FSA’s success: “If the international community helps us, then we can do it, but we are sure the struggle will be more difficult without arms… The international community has helped opposition forces in Libya but we have been waiting and suffering for seven months. The situation is less complicated in Syria than the situation in Libya but we haven’t received any help so far” (Hurriyet, October 8).
1. For the founding statement of the FSA, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SZcCbIPM37w