By Jill Dougherty and Elise Labott
The United States will soon designate the Haqqani network, the al Qaeda-linked group considered to be a major threat against U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, as a foreign terrorist organization, U.S. officials tell CNN.
The anticipated move by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, which would freeze assets, comes after several high-profile attacks on U.S. and NATO troops, as well as Afghan government and civilian targets, and public warnings from U.S. military officials that the Pakistan government refuses to stop the group from operating.
One official said action will be taken "fairly soon."
Under an executive order the State Department targeted what it calls the "kingpins" of the Haqqani network, including financiers, leadership and some of its most dangerous operatives. In 2008 it targeted Siraj Haqqani, in 2011 Badruddin Haqqani and Sangeen Zadran. The Treasury Department designated Nasiruddin Haqqani in 2010, and Khalil Haqqani, Ahmed Jan Zadran and Fazl Rabi in 2011.
Members of Congress, however, have been pressing for the entire organization to be named. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said he'd asked for the designation.
"I've repeatedly written to Secretary Clinton to press to have the Haqqani group added to the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations to make more tools available to our government agencies to sanction that organization," Levin said at a committee hearing last week. "This step is long overdue."
"I think everyone's just trying to think through what the potential repercussions are and make sure that we keep open our options and our own national security interests," one senior administration official told CNN.
That official said the move could be more symbolic than anything.
"There is a question about how much this would actually do because it freezes Haqqani assets in U.S. banks," the official said. The group does not have a lot of money in U.S. banks, according to another official.
The administration has had high-level discussions in the past about designating the Haqqani network as a foreign terrorist organization. Some in the military felt it was warranted and pushed for the designation, according to two senior U.S. officials.
But the Obama administration had resisted listing the group out of concern that it would drive the Haqqanis away from a possible peace deal. The group, with its links to other Taliban entities, was considered integral to the political reconciliation the U.S. was hoping to move forward, according to two senior U.S. officials.
Matthew Levitt of The Washington Institute told CNN, "To the extent one believes you can reconcile, you would want to not antagonize them in a moment when they are coming in from the cold."
He says, however, that "every indication is that the Haqqani network is getting more extreme and is affiliated with whichever radical element is active at the time." Recent attacks by the group, he says, have shown that "they have not responded to reconciliation."
Ultimately the administration took a smaller step of designating some leaders in the group on an executive order
"Once we fingered the Haqqanis for the deaths of Americans I don't see how we don't designate them but there have been valid reasons why we haven't done it to date," a third U.S. official said.
But the official disputed that this was done in reaction to Adm. Mike Mullen's comments last week. Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, accused Pakistan's top intelligence agency of supporting the Haqqani network and its attacks against U.S. targets in Afghanistan.
"The decision to list would have been made anyway, I don't think Mullen's statements drove this ... it might have accelerated the decision a little bit. But the real issue is relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan," the official said.
Once a final decision is made, the process takes approximately two to three weeks to enact. When Clinton decides to designate the group, the decision goes to the Treasury and Justice departments to get their sign-off. After that Congress is notified.