Who Was Jalaluddin Haqqani? 'Exemplary Warrior' Founded Afghan Haqqani Network

Afghan fighter Jalaluddin Haqqani, whose Haqqani militant network fought for decades against Soviet and NATO forces, has died after a long illness, the Afghan Taliban have announced.

Though rumours of his death have abounded for years, such reports were never confirmed. The Taliban, with whom Haqqani's group was allied, did not give any further information on the exact cause, date or place of the commander's death, the BBC said.

The SITE Intel Group carried the Taliban statement, which read, "Just as he endured great hardships for the religion of Allah during his youth and health, he also endured long illness during his later years."

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Jalaluddin Haqqani (R), is pictured during a visit to Islamabad, Pakistan, on October 19, 2001. The Taliban have confirmed the death of the veteran commander. REUTERS/Stringer

The group called Haqqani an "exemplary warrior...and among the great distinguished jihadi personalities of this era."

Born a son of a wealthy landowner in 1939, Haqqani undertook religious studies as a young man and eventually gained a doctorate. After the exile of King Zahir Shah and the rise to power of President Daoud Khan, the political situation in Afghanistan began to deteriorate.

Considered a threat to the new government, Haqqani went into exile across the border in Pakistan where he began to plot to overthrow Khan. After a communist coup against Khan led by the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan in 1978, Haqqani joined the Hezb-i Islami Islamist militant group.

Soviet troops arrived in Afghanistan in 1979 to help prop up the new communist government, turning the country into a vital Cold War battle ground. Haqqani, by then an influential figure in the burgeoning mujahideen network, was cultivated as a key asset of the CIA.

The agency gave him substantial funds to help his anti-Soviet activities, as did donors and governments from the Muslim world. The support allowed him to create his own group from 1980 onwards. During this time, he helped Osama bin Laden settle in Afghanistan and begin his own jihad against the Russians.

The Soviets withdrew in 1989, leaving Afghanistan to descend into the chaos of civil war. By around 1994, the Taliban emerged in the south of the country, eventually overrunning the feuding factions and taking control of Afghanistan in late 1996.

After their victory, Haqqani allied himself with the Taliban and became a minister for tribal affairs. When the government was overthrown by invading NATO forces after 9/11, his network took up arms again, fighting out of the tribal areas along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

The group—designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. in 2012—is believed to have been under the command of Jalaluddin's son Sirajuddin Haqqani since 2001, the BBC said. Sirajuddin currently serves as a deputy to Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhundzada. According to The Guardian, the elderly Haqqani had been paralyzed for the past 10 years and has not been heard from since 2012.

The Haqqani network has been one of the most troubling for NATO and government forces. In 2008, the group is believed to have been behind an assassination attempt on then-President Hamid Karzai, and a 2011 attack on the U.S. embassy and NATO installations in Kabul that lasted 19 hours and killed three coalition soldiers. The group also held Canadian-American couple Joshua Boyle and Caitlan Coleman prisoner for five years.

The network is believed to have been responsible for one of the most devastating attacks in the entire Afghanistan War, when a truck bomb exploded in Kabul in 2017 killing more than 150 people.