If she says it does not, Clinton must explain her rationale in a report that is due to Congress on Sept. 9. Acknowledgment that the group meets the criteria, however, would probably force the administration to take action, which is strongly advocated by the military but has been resisted by the White House and some in the State Department.
Senior officials have repeatedly called the Haqqani network the most significant threat to the U.S. goal of exiting a relatively peaceful Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and have accused Pakistan of direct support for its leadership. The network has conducted a series of lethal, high-profile attacks against U.S. targets.
In recent weeks, the military has reiterated its call for Pakistan to prove its counterterrorism commitment by attacking Haqqani sanctuaries in its North Waziristan tribal area. The CIA has escalated drone attacks on Haqqani targets, including a strike last week that administration officials said killed the son of the network’s founder and its third-ranking official.
But just as there are reasons to designate the network a terrorist group, there are several factors weighing against the move, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity about the administration’s closed-door deliberations.
Those factors include a tenuous rapprochement with Pakistan that led in early July to the reopening of vital U.S. military supply lines into Afghanistan; hopes that the autumn end of this year’s Afghan fighting season will bring the Taliban back to the negotiating table after the suspension of talks in March; and a reconfigured U.S. offer on a prisoner exchange that could lead to the release of the only U.S. service member being held by the militants.
After a White House meeting last week in which President Obama’s top national security advisers aired divergent views, Clinton is said to remain undecided as aides prepare a list of options. She has avoided taking action on the issue since assuring lawmakers late last year that she was undertaking a “final” review.
U.S. commanders in Afghanistan have long argued that labeling the Haqqani group a Foreign Terrorist Organization — a relatively short list of about four dozen entities that does not include the Taliban — is one of the most important steps the administration could take to win the war.
In a series of meetings and video conferences with Washington, Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has said he “needs more tools” to fight the Haqqanis and asked specifically for the designation, one administration official said.