The cable, which was described by several officials familiar with its contents, could be used as ammunition by senior military officials who favor more aggressive action by the United States against the Haqqani havens in Pakistan. It also could buttress calls from senior military officials for a more gradual withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan as the 2014 deadline for ending combat operations approaches.
These military officials have maintained for months that the strategy of targeting raids against Taliban leadership and building local Afghan governance is showing impressive results. But they warn that worsening conditions in Pakistan and the ability of insurgent groups to find haven there necessitates a larger American force than many in the Obama administration are advocating.
The United States is on course to reduce the size of its force in Afghanistan to about 68,000 troops by the end of this summer and shift from combat to more of an advisory role to Afghan forces by the middle of next year.
The coming drawdowns will put heavy pressure on the Afghan government in the east, where U.S. and Afghan forces have struggled to curb violence, in part because insurgents can flee across the border to Pakistan, U.S. officials said. The American frustration with insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan has long been a source of tension in the brittle relations between the two countries.
“The sanctuaries are a deal-killer for the [Afghan war] strategy,” said a senior defense official who is familiar with the ongoing debate and who, like several officials in this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations.
In past years, U.S. military officials have argued that the best defense against insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan was a stronger Afghan army and government. But with U.S. drawdowns looming, the need to directly address the sanctuaries seems more urgent.
The Haqqani network is responsible for some of the larger and more dramatic attacks on Kabul, including one on the U.S. Embassy last year, U.S. officials said.
The group’s patriarch, Jalaluddin Haqqani, was a major mujaheddin fighter in the CIA-backed effort to expel the Soviets from Afghanistan in the 1980s. He has relinquished control to his son, Sirajuddin, who carries a $5 million U.S. bounty on his head and runs day-to-day operations from the network’s Pakistani base in Miran Shah.
The location has given the Haqqani leadership a measure of protection. The CIA has repeatedly refrained from launching missiles at known Haqqani targets, including a prominent religious school the network uses as a base of operations, out of concern for civilian casualties and the backlash that could ensue.