In anticipation of the upcoming Knowlton Project event on the strategies and tools necessary to counter threat finance, the Praescient Analytics team recently sat down for a discussion with Jeff Dressler, senior research analyst at the Institute for the Study of War and author of a series of definitive reports on the Pakistan-based terrorist group known as the Haqqani network.
In the course of our conversation, Dressler elaborated on his assessment, offered in recent testimony before a House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee, that the “critical capability of the Haqqani Network is its financial capacity, which distinguishes it from other insurgent groups operating in Afghanistan.”
“With respect to the Haqqani network,” Dressler explained when we spoke, “counter-threat finance is a very important tool, but unfortunately it’s one that hasn’t been explored to the extent that it could be.”
In general, when it comes to devising strategies to operate against insurgent and terrorist networks’ sources of material support, Dressler went on, “we tend to think of it as very narrowly focused effort—in terms of financial, monetary activity—when in fact there is a whole range of ways in which terrorist groups like the Haqqanis see value.”
There are indications, as Dressler and others have revealed, that the Haqqani network profits from ties to licit businesses such as car dealerships, money exchanges, and construction companies in Pakistan, as well as from illicit timber and mineral smuggling rings in Afghanistan—all in addition to donations from wealthy sympathizers in the Gulf states.
To develop more effective counter-threat finance strategies, Dressler argues that “we need to understand how the economy in places like North Waziristan works, and how the Haqqani network exercises influence for economic advantage—and there are a variety of ways.” At present, however, “it’s hard for anyone to fully articulate it, because we don’t understand the breadth and the depth of Haqqani network financial operations.”
As a result, in our fight with the Haqqanis and their allies in the lawless border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan, “we’ve really been operating with one hand tied behind our back.”
“We’ve dramatically expanded our counterterrorism capabilities, which is great, but there are certain elements of the Haqqani network that you can’t hit with CT,” Dressler said. Counter-threat finance operations, on the other hand, can be a “critical enabler,” as the United States seeks to disrupt and degrade the Haqqani network’s capability to stage attacks in Afghanistan and further afield.
“There are a lot of things we can do, but we’re only in the beginning stages of it. And yet I think that slowly, but surely, decision-makers are beginning to appreciate the different tools that are required” to contend with a complex threat like the Haqqanis. The authorities afforded by the recent State Department designation of the Haqqani network as a foreign terrorist organization, for instance, could “in the long run have some pretty significant effects,” Dressler said.
Although the designation is certainly an indication of the seriousness with which the United States regards the threat from the Haqqanis, Dressler noted that “the near-term practical impact may be somewhat minimal, simply because the deep understanding of how the network operates and sustains its economic strength just isn’t there yet.” Dressler explained that although the Haqqani network may be processing transactions through banks in Pakistan—and thus creating opportunities for sanction and seizure as the funds enter the international financial system—there are likely a wide range of other economic activities on which we have inadequate visibility.
In the end, it’s clear that the United States faces not only a problem of intelligence collection in the case of the Haqqanis, but also a substantial analytic challenge, to the degree that only a thorough and consistent mapping of the flows of money, people, illicit goods, and other resources across the network will enable the United States and its partners to begin disrupting it in a sustained manner.
To learn more about more the strategies, tools, and methodologies for analyzing and operating against the financial activities of transnational terrorists, criminals, and proliferators, tune in next week for a review of the discussions at Praescient’s second Knowlton Project session, which will feature presentations by Dr. David Asher of the Center for a New American Security and Celina Realuyo, adjunct associate professor at Georgetown University.