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Afghan officials blame Haqqanis for attacks

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Afghan officials blamed a brazen series of weekend attacks on the Haqqani militant network, saying yesterday that fighters captured in the assault claimed they were affiliated with the insurgent faction tied to the Taliban and al-Qaida.

The 18-hour offensive left 36 insurgents and 11 others dead and was the largest in Kabul since insurgents fired on the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters in September. That attack also was blamed on the Haqqani network, which commands the loyalties of an estimated 10,000 fighters and is considered one of the most lethal threats to NATO in Afghanistan.

Afghan Interior Minister Besmillah Mohammadi said one militant arrested during Sunday's assault on Kabul and three other cities confessed that he was loyal to the Haqqani. An Afghan intelligence official said three other insurgents detained for allegedly plotting to assassinate one of the nation's two vice presidents also said they were Haqqani members. The group, led by Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Sirajuddin, operates primarily in provinces along the border with Pakistan.

Former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen said in October that the Haqqani network acts as a "veritable arm" of the Pakistani intelligence agency, an accusation Islamabad denied. Mullen accused the network of staging the Sept. 13 attack on the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters, as well as a truck bombing that wounded 77 U.S. soldiers in Wardak province.

During the series of attacks that continued into yesterday morning, eight policemen and three civilians were killed, along with 36 insurgents, Mohammadi said.

Early Tuesday, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said her country expects to pull most of its troops out of Afghanistan nearly a year earlier than planned, possibly by the end 2013. Australia had planned to withdraw its 1,550 troops, the largest force provided by any country outside NATO, by the end of 2014, the same timetable as the planned withdrawal of U.S. combat troops.

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