A captured Taliban commander confesses the dark role of the Islamic Republic.
As NATO coalition forces in Afghanistan prepare for the Taliban to launch its spring offensive, one that is expected to see a marked increase in suicide bombings, reports have surfaced that Iran is stepping up its ongoing efforts to arm, train and provide safe haven to both Taliban and al-Qaeda forces.
The reports of increased Iranian involvement in the Afghan conflict include a confession by a captured Taliban commander who claimed that Iran is arming and training his terror organization as well as reports that Iran is releasing top al-Qaeda terrorists from custody.
The captured Taliban commander, Mullah Gul Ahmad, claimed he was recruited by Iran’s special Qods Force in the eastern Iranian town of Zahedan. According to Ahmad, “I studied at a religious school in Iran where someone named Khaled provoked me to perform jihad against Americans.”
Whether Ahmad was provoked into waging jihad or not may be up for some debate. However, what isn’t at issue is that his story of terror training camps in Iran has been confirmed by other Islamic fighters. Sayed Mohammad Faqir Askar, a police chief in Afghanistan’s Farah province, says other insurgents have confessed “they are trained in how to use weapons and lay mines…in the Baluchistan area of Iran."
Ahmad’s confession came at the same time US Rear Admiral Gregory Smith blasted Iran for “offering support in training, financial support, and equipment to Afghan militants.”
Specifically, Iran’s Ansar Corps, a subunit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) elite Qods Force, is accused of providing training for Taliban and al Qaeda forces. Based in the northeastern Iranian cities of Mashad and Tayyebat, the Ansar Corps operates much like Iran’s Ramazan Corps, which trains and arms Shiite terror groups in Iraq.
The Ansar Corps is also accused of playing an even more participatory role in the Afghan conflict by staging combat operations in the remote western Afghan province of Farah, the main transit point for entrance of foreign fighters and Iranian aid to Afghanistan.
Added into all of these nefarious activities is the ominous news that Iran has since December 2010 been releasing top al Qaeda terrorists from jail so that they can rebuild the organization on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border
Among those reportedly released have been Saif al Adel, al Qaeda's top military commander; Sa'ad bin Laden, Osama bin Laden’s son; Sulaiman Abu Gaith, a top al Qaeda spokesman; and Abu Khayr al Masri, an aide to al Qaeda deputy leader, Ayman al Zawahiri.
Pakistani intelligence officials have even confirmed that al Adel has since been named as al Qaeda’s chief of operations for Afghanistan and Pakistan and has been responsible for organizing recent attacks on both sides of the border.
Of course, Iran has been quick to deny any and all of these allegations. Iranian President Ahmadinejad has emphatically stated, “We do not support any group. We just and only support the Afghan people. We support and we want to strengthen security in Afghanistan.”
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, has not only said the accusations are “baseless and unacceptable,” but has added, “What is worrying American officials is the wave of popular protests against the US presence in the region.” In reality, what is worrying Americans has been the exponential growth of Iranian involvement in funding efforts to destabilize Afghanistan and kill American soldiers.
While some American officials at first downplayed the extent of Iranian assistance to the insurgent forces in Afghanistan, calling it in the words of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, “pretty limited,” the depth and scope of Iranian assistance has actually been quite long, broad and deep.
Diplomatic cables from back in 2007 note Afghan President Hamid Karzai urging that Iran’s “lethal assistance to the Taliban must be stopped before it reaches the levels of similar assistance to insurgents in Iraq.”
In March 2010, General David Petraeus, then the CENTCOM commander and now the ISAF commander, claimed “Al Qaeda continues to use Iran as a key facilitation hub, where facilitators connect al Qaeda's senior leadership to regional affiliates.”
In May 2010, former ISAF General Stanley McChrystal said, "The training that we have seen occurs inside Iran with fighters moving inside Iran. The weapons that we have received come from Iran into Afghanistan."
Finally, in its August 2010 Country Reports on Terrorism, the US State Department reported that Iran was continuing to sponsor terrorist groups that are killing American soldiers in Afghanistan by “training and arming the Taliban and providing safe haven for al Qaeda members.”
Moreover, the report stated that Iran’s Qods Force is “the regime's primary mechanism for cultivating and supporting terrorists abroad,” and accomplishes that task by training and arranging arms shipments Taliban and al-Qaeda insurgents.
Unfortunately, Iranian efforts to kill US troops go far beyond just training, arming and providing safe haven to Taliban and al Qaeda fighters. Iran has also been found to be placing bounties on American soldiers.
Reports abound of Iran paying Taliban fighters $1,000 for each US soldier they kill in Afghanistan and $6,000 for the destruction of a US military vehicle. In fact, one man, known as a “Taliban treasurer” boasted he had collected $18,000 from an Iranian firm in the Afghan capital city of Kabul. In total, the man claimed to have collected $77,000 from the company and noted that there were at least five Kabul-based Iranian companies providing the same service.
Yet skeptics continue to dismiss claims of an Iranian-Taliban-Al Qaeda alliance primarily because of the ideological differences between Shiite Muslim--who make up most of Iran’s population--and Sunni Muslims who comprise the vast majority of both the Taliban and al Qaeda. Furthermore, they point out that Iran supported the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and participated in the conference that installed Kabul’s current government.
For others, however, finding partnership based on a common enemy trumps ideological differences. That view has been echoed by former British Prime Minister Tony when he said in January 2011 that one of the biggest lessons he drew from the Iraq war was the relationship between Iran and al Qaeda, a partnership which he felt was the main driver of the violence that engulfed Iraq after the ouster of Saddam Hussein.
As one Taliban fighter explained: “It is a marriage of convenience…because Americans are dangerous for them as well. I think the hatred is the same from both us and Iran.”
So, while US military commanders still remain optimistic that the tide has begun to turn against the insurgent groups, Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, the second in command in Afghanistan, still cautions: “We won’t know that until the spring.” Unfortunately, Iran—and its Taliban and al Qaeda proxies—are determined to provide an unwelcome response to that question.
Frank Crimi is a writer living in San Diego, California. You can read more of Frank's work at his blog, www.politicallyunbalanced.com.