WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration declared Friday that the Pakistan-based Haqqani network of militants is a terrorist body despite misgivings about how that could further stall planned Afghan peace talks or put yet another chill on the United States' already fragile counterterrorism alliance with Islamabad.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's decision, signed Friday ahead of a Sunday deadline set by Congress, bans Americans from doing business with members of the group and blocks any assets it holds in the United States. The order, which will go into effect within 10 days, completes an odyssey of sorts for the Haqqanis from the days they partnered with the CIA during the Cold War.
Clinton, whose advisers were of two minds about whether the designation was the right path, said in a statement that the United States will "continue our robust campaign of diplomatic, military and intelligence pressure on the network, demonstrating the United States' resolve to degrade the organization's ability to execute violent attacks."
Enraged by a string of high-profile attacks on U.S. and NATO troops, Congress insisted Clinton deliver a report on whether the Haqqanis should be designated a terrorist organization and its members subjected to U.S. financial sanctions.
A subsidiary of the Taliban and based in the remote North Waziristan region of Pakistan, the Haqqani network is responsible for several attacks in Kabul, including last September's rocket-propelled grenade assault on the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters. American officials estimate its force at 2,000 to 4,000 fighters and say it has close ties with al-Qaida.
U.S. defense officials said the administration doesn't believe the Haqqanis have designs to attack the United States. But they said the group shelters al-Qaida and other militant groups, allowing them to plan and train for possible operations targeting the United States.
The United States already has sanctioned many Haqqani leaders and is pursuing its members militarily. But it resisted the terrorist designation because of worries that it could jeopardize reconciliation efforts between the U.S. government and insurgents in Afghanistan, and ruffle feathers with Pakistan, the Haqqanis' longtime benefactor.
Sherry Rehman, the Pakistani ambassador in Washington, brushed off the designation, calling it an internal U.S. matter and noting that Haqqanis are not Pakistani nationals.
"It's not our business," she said, but added that Pakistan would maintain its counterterrorism cooperation with the United States.