WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The leaders of congressional intelligence committees, who recently returned from a trip to Afghanistan, urged Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday to immediately designate the militant Haqqani network as a "terrorist" group.
U.S. officials blame the al Qaeda-linked network for attacks in Afghanistan including assaults on embassies and the parliament in Kabul. The former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, called the Haqqani group a "veritable arm" of Pakistan's intelligence service.
The top Republican and Democrat on the Senate and House of Representatives intelligence committees, in a letter to Clinton, said their trip to Afghanistan last week reaffirmed concerns about the network.
"It was clear that the Haqqani Network continues to launch sensational and indiscriminate attacks against U.S. interests in Afghanistan and the group poses a continuing threat to innocent men, women, and children in the region," the letter said.
In the six months since the State Department said in November it was engaged in a final review, "the Haqqanis have continued to attack U.S. troops and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul," the lawmakers wrote.
The letter said the administration may have been reluctant to designate the network as a "terrorist" group while trying to negotiate a reconciliation agreement with the Taliban. But U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker told the lawmakers last week there have been no such talks since late last year and Afghan President Hamid Karzai has opposed their continuation.
The letter, signed by senators Dianne Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss and Representatives Mike Rogers and C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger, said there was no reason not to move forward on the designation.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the lawmakers' letter had been received, and that the review of the potential designation was still under way.
But she pointed out that many key Haqqani leaders had already been targeted by individual designations, freezing any U.S.-based assets they might have and barring any U.S. citizen from transactions with them.
"As we continue our review we consider it absolutely essential to designate individuals because that allows us to pursue the assets of individuals rather than have to sort of try to divine who might be covered by a blanket designation," Nuland said.
(Reporting By Tabassum Zakaria; additional reporting by Andrew Quinn; Editing by Jim Loney)