Afghan Taliban announces death of Haqqani network leader

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The founder of the militant Taliban-linked Haqqani network has died after suffering from an illness for several years, the Taliban said Tuesday, according to Reuters.

The Haqqani network was described by U.S. Admiral Mike Mullen in 2011 as a "veritable arm" of Pakistani intelligence that has provided safe havens for militant groups fighting foreign and Afghan forces in Afghanistan.

Defense ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanish said the death was not expected to mean any major change for the Haqqani network, blamed by Afghan and US security officials for some of the most devastating suicide attacks of the past decade. Designated a terror group by Washington, targeting it is one of the top U.S. priorities in the region.

The Haqqanis have always been suspected of links to Pakistan's shadowy military establishment and its notorious spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI).

Haqqani was praised by the late United States congressman Charlie Wilson as "goodness personified".

USA and Afghan officials have long said the group was based in Pakistan's border region of North Waziristan, was for years close to al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden and operated with the support of Pakistani intelligence services. But he joined the radical Taliban movement after they took over the country in 1996.

He is believed to have been ill for several years.

He voluntarily gave up the operational leadership of the group in 2001 to give it to his son, Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is now deputy leader of the Afghan Taliban.

"The group was mainly involved in bomb blasts and targeted the killing of government employees and tribal elders in Kabul", the statement said.

The network has also been accused of assassinating top Afghan officials and holding kidnapped Westerners for ransom.

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They include the Canadian Joshua Boyle, his American wife Caitlan Coleman, and their three children - all born in captivity - who were released past year, as well as USA soldier Bowe Bergdahl, who was freed in 2014. They also held United States soldier Bowe Bergdahl, who was released in 2014 in exchange for five Afghan Guantanamo Bay detainees.

Haqqani founded the network in the 1970s as part of an anti-Soviet jihad.

The US official have always been pushing Pakistan to act against the Haqqani Network, considering them to be among the closest proxies of Pakistan's military and spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

The Haqqani family confirmed the patriarch's death in a WhatsApp message to journalists. Washington's own watchdog in a recent report said almost half of Afghanistan is either under the control of the Taliban or influenced by the religious militia. There is no confirmation yet of where he was when he died.

The attack on Indian embassy was thought to have been masterminded by Jalaluddin Haqqani.

"Just as he endured great hardships for the religion of Allah during his youth and health, he also endured long illness during his later years", SITE quoted the Afghan Taliban statement as saying.

Despite his fearsome reputation, his death is not expected to have an impact on the extremist group's operations.

Tawab Ghorzang, director of Public Affairs at the office of National Security Council of Afghanistan, tweeted that according to government sources Haqqani died "back in 2007". Islamabad has repeatedly denied the claims.

"The Haqqanis have been a veritable tool and valuable asset for Pakistan in the past four decades", says Haroun Mir, a Kabul-based political analyst.

At any rate, a crackdown on the Haqqanis might not be easy on either side of the border due to their strong local links in a society where tribal ties matter more than what outside powers want.