July 28, 2010 / 1:48 AM / 9 years ago

US general wants Afghan militants branded terrorists

* Terrorist designation could trigger punitive measures

* Key Senator says would also send message to Pakistan

By Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON, July 27 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama’s pick to lead the U.S. military command overseeing operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere said on Tuesday he wanted top leaders of two major insurgent groups designated as terrorists.

The Quetta Shura and the Haqqani network oppose U.S. forces in Afghanistan and officially blacklisting their leaders could trigger punitive measures, like freezing assets. Advocates say it would also send a strong message to Pakistan, under pressure to go after insurgents inside its borders.

"Both those groups have engaged in terrorism and I believe the leaders of both groups should be placed on the State Department list," General James Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Mattis is nominated to take over the helm of the U.S. military’s Central Command, which oversees operations in a volatile swath of the world that covers 20 countries and stretches from Egypt across the Middle East and into South and Central Asia.

The Quetta Shura, headed by Mullah Omar, is the remains of the Afghan Taliban government which was overthrown and driven into Pakistan by the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.

The Haqqani network, headed by a hero of the 1980s guerrilla war against the Soviet Union, Jalaluddin Haqqani, and his son, is based mainly in Pakistan’s North Waziristan and adjoining provinces in Afghanistan.

The chairman of the Senate committee, Senator Carl Levin, said "these groups and their senior leaders are involved deeply in supporting the ongoing insurgency in Afghanistan."

Beyond providing tools to limit their financial and logistical support, Levin said, the designation would also send a signal — including to Pakistan — "regarding the United States’ serious concern with their ongoing activities."

Renewed concerns about Pakistan’s commitment to fighting militants who oppose NATO forces in Afghanistan surfaced this week with the leak of tens of thousands secret U.S. military reports. Among them were unverified reports of suspected links between Pakistan’s intelligence service and militants.

The U.S. military and intelligence agencies believe some elements within Pakistan’s intelligence service maintain contact with and may even in some cases support the Taliban and its allies who are fighting a nine-year-old war in Afghanistan. But they say assistance for insurgents has been curtailed.

Mattis praised a recent offensive by Pakistan’s military against militants, saying the bilateral relationship was "trending in the right direction." He said he did not know the motives for remaining ties between some elements of Pakistani intelligence and insurgents.

"Whether or not it’s because they’re working with them, trying to infiltrate them, there’s any number of motives and I’m just not current enough to say why," Mattis said.

"I think though that it’s hard to wipe the slate clean and just start over at any one point. And clearly the offensive against many of the people they allegedly used to work with has shown they are no longer friends with most of them." (Editing by Mohammad Zargham) (For more on Afghanistan and Pakistan, click [ID:nAFPAK])

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