In April of this year, the Swedish-based whistleblower website WikiLeaks released classified video of an American helicopter attack in Baghdad in 2007 in which several civilians were killed. Military sources protested that the video was taken out of context, but WikiLeaks’ intent was plain enough: to undermine support for the U.S. military effort in Iraq. Now WikiLeaks is attempting to repeat the ploy for Afghanistan. This week it released over 90,000 secret documents with the goal of casting U.S. military efforts in the country in a negative light.
But just as the earlier video triggered a backlash from the military challenging WikiLeaks’ credibility, the new leaks also may not serve the website’s antiwar agenda. Indeed, some of the documents — already being hailed in media quarters as the successor to the Pentagon Papers — could backfire on WikiLeaks because they expose the Taliban’s close alliances with Iran, Pakistan and Al-Qaeda and thus bolster a key rationale for the war in Afghanistan – that the U.S. military is fighting terrorists abroad so that we do not have to face them at home.
Documents released this week make nonsense of the antiwar Left’s claim that the Taliban are really nationalists fighting against occupation. They reveal them instead as radical Islamists acting as proxies for foreign elements, including al-Qaeda. The documents also show why U.S. military commanders accuse Iran of supporting the Taliban with arms, including advanced improvised explosive devices, and training. Although the two nearly went to war in 1999 after the Taliban murdered eight Iranian diplomats, they reconciled shortly after the 9/11 attacks. The alliance is tighter and has existed much longer than one would conclude from the recent statements by American and Afghan officials.
It is impossible to confirm the information contained in each individual leaked document, but together they paint a clear picture of close collaboration between Iran and the Taliban. In 2005, the Revolutionary Guards delivered over $200,000 to Hezb-e-Islami-Gulbuddin (HIG), an Islamist militant group fighting in Afghanistan. Eight Taliban leaders with seven bodyguards were also reported to be in Iran planning attacks on non-governmental organizations, Afghan government officials, and U.S. forces. The Iranian regime was said to be offering $1,740 for every Afghan soldier killed and $3,841 for each government official. Taliban commanders also planned attacks from Mashhad, an area that has been previously fingered as an al-Qaeda transit point and even as a hiding spot for Osama Bin Laden.
At least two reports confirm that the Taliban receives bomb components from Iran. A human intelligence report from June 2006 says that the Iranians were training the Taliban and HIG and sending explosives and vehicles for attacks into Afghanistan. Another document reveals the names and descriptions of two Iranian “secret service” operatives in Parwan Province that were trying to enlist the support of locals in creating propaganda against the Afghan government and international forces. The Iranians also arranged the travel for injured Taliban militants to Tehran for medical treatment, it is alleged.
The documents indicate that Iranian support for the Taliban has been extensive and consistent up until today. In February 2007, Afghans in Helmand Province reported that the Iranians had supplied the Taliban with poison for assassinations. Al-Qaeda was also said to have been “helped by Iran” that year in acquiring 72 air-to-air missiles from Algeria which were then stockpiled in Zahedan, another area known to house Al-Qaeda. The following year, another report said that Iran provided the group with components for 20 IEDs that would be used to kill British soldiers. In September 2008, four Revolutionary Guards personnel in Herat Province met with terrorists, including one tied to Al-Qaeda, to help coordinate anti-government operations and provide intelligence. In March of last year, it is reported that over 100 Taliban members were dispatched to Afghanistan from Iran to carry out suicide attacks. As late as September 2009, rocket-propelled grenade launchers with “Made in Iran” written on them were being used by the Taliban to target helicopters.
The reason Iran’s meddling in Afghanistan hasn’t been made public is explained in one file. President Karzai requested that the U.S. not publicize the finding of Iranian weapons in Kandahar, so as not to jeopardize an upcoming visit by Ahmadinejad. An April 2007 file says that he wanted “to avoid additional friction with Afghanistan’s neighbors.” The documents also show that Afghan and U.S. officials were having trouble thinking up ways to counter Iran’s efforts to influence political parties through bribery, spending $4 million on 90 parliamentarians. It appears that fear has caused the Afghan government not to expose Iran’s terrorism connections.