Joint Chiefs chairman points finger at Haqqani Network in embassy attack

The Haqqani Network, a close Taliban ally, is almost certainly behind several recent high-profile attacks in Afghanistan, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen said Tuesday.

There is little doubt to senior U.S. officials that the network was responsible for the recent attack on the American embassy in Kabul, Mullen said during a farewell speech at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

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The independent extremist group — which has increasingly been a focal point for U.S. national security officials and lawmakers of late — also has carried out other deadly attacks, including one in early Septmeber on a U.S. convoy, Mullen said.

Just four days before he is set to hand over the chairmanship to Gen. Martin Dempsey, Mullen pinned some of the blame for the Haqqani Network’s activities on the double-dealing Pakistani intelligence service.

That organization has long been in the business of supporting “proxies,” meaning groups allied with — but not directly linked to — the Taliban and al Qaeda, Mullen said. In fact, since the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan began, just weeks after the 9/11 attacks, supporting such groups has been “a national strategy” for Pakistan, he said bluntly.

As he prepares to end a military career that began in 1968, the outgoing chairman sent a message to Islamabad: “The Haqqani piece of this has to be reversed. Period.”

Mullen said it is too early to know whether the Haqqanis were behind Tuesday’s assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, Afghanistan's former president and chief of its High Peace Council. He was killed in a bomb blast, U.S. and Afghanistan officials said.

The council was charged with leading peace talks with the Taliban.

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Such high-profile attacks clearly are part of a new tactic by “the insurgents,” Mullen said. U.S., Afghan and coalition forces must understand that and “adjust,” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

Meantime, he also touched on Washington’s relations with one of Afghanistan’s neighbors: Iran.

Mullen said Washington must establish some kind of way to open a dialogue with Tehran, noting even at the most tense moments of the Cold War, U.S. officials were “talking with” Moscow.

Without that kind of ongoing conversation, “it is virtually assured we won’t get it right” with Iran because U.S. officials simply will not have a deep understanding of Tehran’s actions, goals and intentions, he said.