In the wake of the news that Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was released by the Taliban in exchange for the "Taliban Five" held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the Taliban have released a video (shown above) showcasing the handover between them and apparent U.S Special Operations soldiers. While the mainstream media and the everyday person may not be aware of who, exactly, took Bergdahl, it is important to note which group is responsible for his kidnapping. It is important to understand this because the group responsible is one of the most vicious and effective militant groups fighting NATO and ISAF forces in Afghanistan. The group I am referring to is, of course, the Haqqani Network.
Background on the Haqqani's:
The Haqqani Network was formed during the Soviet War in Afghanistan around a man named Jalaluddin Haqqani. Jalaluddin, a native of Paktika province and an ethnic Pashtun, quickly rose through the ranks of the Afghan resistance and became a powerful military commander. During his exploits as a notorious effective warlord, he established connections with both the Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) and the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Reportedly, one reason why the US funded Jalaluddin at this time was because "He could kill Russians like you wouldn’t believe". Unfortunately, Jalaluddin was also establishing ties with Usama bin Laden (UBL) around this time. UBL had constructed training camps within Haqqani-controlled territory, which was then overseen by Jalaluddin.
After the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan and after the communist government in Afghanistan fell, the country fell into complete anarchy with various former resistance and anti-communist forces fighting each other for power (read "Ghost Wars" by Steve Coll for an excellent understanding of this chaotic time in Afghanistan's history). One such group was the Pakistani-funded Taliban movement led by Mullah Mohammad Omar. As the Taliban were gaining power and territory in Afghanistan in the mid-1990's, Jalaluddin decided to join the movement and he started to quickly command troops in fights against the Northern Alliance and forces allied to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (a former ally of Jalaluddin). After serving many positions in the Taliban government of Afghanistan, Jalaluddin was appointed the overall military commander of the Taliban forces in late 2001.
After the US invasion of Afghanistan, the Haqqani Network quickly became one of the most deadly and effective fighting forces resisting the NATO and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops. They are responsible for several terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, including two suicide attacks on the Indian consulate in 2008 and 2009 (makes you think about their connections to Pakistan, right?).
Haqqani Network Today:
Today, the Haqqani Network (HQN) is classified as a Taliban subgroup that mainly operates in the Afghan provinces of Khost, Paktika, and Paktia, but are also found in Logar, Kandahar, Badakhshan, and many other provinces. They also control large swaths of ground in the North Waziristan tribal agency of Pakistan, where they run training camps for al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and various other terrorist groups that operate in the region. To make matters worse, Jalaluddin's old ISI connections are still very active. In 2011, Adm. Mike Mullen accused Pakistan of sponsoring HQN attacks on US troops.
The US State Department has designated various members of the HQN as terrorists, as well as blacklisting the entire group as terrorists in 2012. The US Treasury Department has also blacklisted various Haqqani militants, including Saidullah Jan, Yahya Haqqani, and Muhammad Omar Zadran. These three individuals have extensive roles within both the HQN and the Taliban; they also have deep connections to al-Qaeda (AQ).
According to the Treasury Department, Saidullah was not only designated for being a top leader in the Haqqani Network, but was also "was trusted by Al-Qaida (AQ) members as an HQN associate who could help with any trouble, including arrest". Yahya was noted as serving "as a liaison between the HQN and AQ and he has maintained ties with AQ since at least mid-2009. In this role, Yahya has provided money to AQ members in the region for their personal expenses. As of mid-2009, he acted as the HQN’s primary liaison with foreign fighters, including Arabs, Uzbeks, and Chechens". Finally, Zadran was " in charge of smuggling explosives into Afghanistan" for HQN and various militant groups.
These aren't the only members with extensive ties to AQ; Sirajuddin Haqqani, Jalaluddin's son, is thought to be a member of AQ's top Shura council; Khalil al-Rahman Haqqani, Jalaluddin's brother, is a key fundraiser for HQN and AQ and serves on behalf of AQ's shadow army, Lashkar al-Zil, in Afghanistan.
It is clear to me that the people who took and held Bowe Bergdahl are terrible, terrible people who are associated with one of the worst terrorist organizations in the world. While it is great that the Taliban and Haqqani's agreed to negotiate for Bergdahl's release, this does not mean that this will bring them to the negotiation table for peace. In fact, Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesperson, said this of the prisoner transfer: "It won't help the peace process in any way, because we don't believe in the peace process". Sadly, it seems the reign of terror imposed on this region by the Taliban, AQ, HQN and a slew of other terrorist and militant groups will continue for the foreseeable future.