ISLAMABAD – A U.S. soldier held by Afghan militants will not be harmed despite the Obama administration's decision to declare his alleged captors a terrorist group, a senior member of the Pakistan-based Haqqani network told The Associated Press on Saturday. However, the United States and NATO can expect stepped up attacks, he said.
The commander, who spoke by telephone from an undisclosed location, denied that the Haqqanis held the only American prisoner of war of the Afghan conflict, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, as the U.S. believes. He did however say that Bergdahl was a captive of another branch of the Taliban, and denied earlier reports that the 26-year-old soldier from Hailey, Idaho, was in danger.
"I deny the remarks . . . that this will endanger the life of the American soldier," the commander said, speaking on condition he not be identified because field commanders fear being targeted if their identities are known.
"We are not cowards and we consider it as coward to harm prisoners," he said.
The U.S. says that Bergdahl has been held by the Pakistan-based Haqqanis since 2009. However, the commander suggested he was with militants on the other side of the Afghan-Pakistan border.
"The American soldier is with the Emirate center (a reference to Taliban based inside Afghanistan) . . . The Americans also know it."
He said the Taliban leadership council previously issued instructions to its commanders, including those belonging to the Haqqani network, not to harm prisoners.
From his home in Idaho, the soldier's father Bob Bergdahl welcomed the assurances but was cautious.
"That's great news, but we're very careful about the information we digest," he told the AP. "I'll have to validate that and check that."
The elder Bergdahl said the commander's promise not to mistreat prisoners "was the position of the Emirate even before my son was taken prisoner."
Yet the Haqqani commander said the network is planning a series of retaliatory attacks against U.S. and NATO soldiers in Afghanistan.
Sirajuddin Haqqani, the organization's military commander, is seeking permission from Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar to stage a blitzkrieg of attacks against U.S. forces in Afghanistan, he said.
"He (Sirajuddin Haqqani) wants to carry out 80 to 100 attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan and 20 attacks on other NATO members," said the commander in retaliation for the designation. He repeated earlier statements that the Haqqani network answered to Mullah Omar and was not separate from the Taliban organization.
But once Mullah Omar signs off on the actions, the commander said, "we have our consultative and military council which plans attacks."
The commander claimed that the Obama administration had been in touch with the Haqqani network last year as part of its efforts to broker a peace deal ahead of the withdrawal of U.S. military troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
"(U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham) Clinton should have the courage to tell the Americans about their contacts and even talks with us," he said.
Congress insisted Clinton deliver a report on whether the Haqqanis should be designated a terrorist organization by Sunday after a string of high profile attacks on U.S. and NATO troops.
The U.S. had resisted the terrorist designation because of fears it could jeopardize reconciliation efforts between the U.S. government and insurgents in Afghanistan.
AP reporter Keith Ridler contributed to this report from Boise, Idaho.
Kathy Gannon is The AP Special Regional Correspondent for Afghanistan and Pakistan. She can be reached at www.twitter.com/kathygannon