From 'goodness personified' to deadly CIA attack suspect

Was the suicide bombing that killed seven CIA employees in eastern Afghanistan this week, sending shock waves through the US spy agency, masterminded by a warlord who was once one of the CIA's key allies?

Jalaluddin Haqqani, who visited the Reagan White House and was once described by Texas politician Charlie Wilson as "goodness personified", is believed by some US officials to have ordered the attack from his hideout in neighbouring Pakistan.

His suspected role in the deadliest incident for CIA forces in 25 years highlights both the shifting nature of alliances forged by Western involvement in the region, and the difficulty of telling friend from foe in today's conflict.

The Pakistani Taliban yesterday made the astonishing claim that it was behind the bombing in a bid to harm the CIA's ability to launch missile strikes inside Pakistan.

But Pentagon officials quoted by The New York Times suggested that the suicide bombing in Khost Province was a revenge strike for counter-insurgency operations led by the CIA against the so-called Haqqani network. "Those guys have recently been on a big Haqqani binge," said one Pentagon consultant. "I would be shocked if the bombing on Wednesday was not some kind of retaliation."

During the 1980s, Mr Haqqani was a respected commander battling, with Western support, against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. After they withdrew, he became a member of the US-approved coalition that formed the post-occupation government.

The alliance with the Cold War-era CIA was detailed in Charlie Wilson's War, the Tom Hanks film about Operation Cyclone, the covert US attempt to shore up the Mujahideen.

Mr Haqqani received thousands of dollars in financial support, arms shipments and provided the US with valuable intelligence. But after the Taliban seized power, he became more hostile to the West. After 9/11, Mr Haqqani, who had forged links with Osama bin Laden, was named number three on the hit-list of America's most wanted. Mr Wilson retained a fondness for him. Last year, he said: "I'd love to see him. I'd try to persuade him the Taliban was a force for destruction – which he definitely wasn't."

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