Five Iranian companies in Afghanistan are paying Taliban militants over $200 per month with bonuses of $1,000 for killing an American soldier and $6,000 for destroying a U.S. military vehicle. The ideological differences and past tension between Iran and the Taliban have not stopped them from allying against a common enemy, allowing the Iranian regime to help kill American soldiers with little consequence.
Most shockingly, the Iranian companies fund the Taliban using foreign aid. They win construction contracts and then place the money in corrupt Afghan banks, including one that is tied to President Karzai’s brother. The money then leaves Afghanistan for Tehran and Dubai and comes into the Taliban’s hands through the unregulated hawala networks. The Iranian financing is so large that one Taliban money-handler claims he alone has collected nearly $80,000 in the past six months. Iran’s bounties may not be a new development, as a U.S. government document released by WikiLeaks reported that Iran had a bounty of $1,740 for the death of every Afghan soldier and $3,841 for the death of every Afghan official in February 2005.
Pakistan’s offensives in the Swat Valley and South Waziristan have made the Taliban more reliant upon Iran for support. One “senior insurgent in Kunduz” told a British newspaper that “day by day the Iranian border becomes more important for us, especially now in Pakistan there are many problems for the Taliban.” Another commander admitted that they were working with the Iranians, saying “Our religions and our histories are different but our target is the same. We both want to kill Americans.”
Taliban commanders have also confirmed that Iran is running a training program for them. The Iranians pay for hundreds of Taliban fighters to make a wintertime trip to Iran’s camps in Zahedan, a location known to also be a safe haven for Al-Qaeda. For the first month, they learn how to attack convoys and escape capture. In the second, they are taught on how to do maximum damage with improvised explosive devices and in the third and final month, they are instructed on attacking military outposts. The State Department says that the Iranians have been training the Taliban since at least 2006.
In March, it was reported that over 10 tons of weapons had been seized coming into Afghanistan from Iran over the previous year. Iranian arms caches of RPGs, explosively-formed projectiles, C4 explosives, surface-to-air missiles, and all sorts of other weapons continue to be discovered throughout the country, much of which has the words “Made in Iran” brazenly imprinted on them. Some have argued that the Iranian weapons come from the black market and are not shipped on orders of the regime. Afghan intelligence estimates that 60 percent of the weapons it has seized from Iran are supplied directly by the government, putting that notion to rest. The real percentage is likely higher as the Iranians can use the black market to disguise their activity.
This partnership formed shortly after the September 11 attacks. According to a former Taliban governor, the Iranians offered to support the Taliban during a meeting the following month. When U.S. and allied forces invaded Afghanistan, about 250 members of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda escaped into Iran in 50 vehicles. Taliban commanders planned attacks from Mashhad and injured fighters received medical treatment until at least 2005. In March 2009, it is reported that 100 Taliban fighters left Iran to carry out attacks around Kabul. From the publicly available information, it appears that Iran has been consistently helping the Taliban without interruption since 2001.
The regime may even be playing a more direct role by inserting its operatives into Afghanistan. One report says that Iranian intelligence operatives were in Afghanistan to try to recruit locals in propaganda efforts and another asserts that in September 2008, four Revolutionary Guards operatives met with terrorists in Afghanistan to give them intelligence and help plan operations.
The U.S. and Afghan governments have long known about the Iranian sponsorship of the Taliban but have not punished the regime or even made it a major public issue. In April 2007, President Karzai asked the U.S. not to discuss the finding of Iranian weapons in the terrorists’ possession in order “to avoid additional friction with Afghanistan’s neighbors.” It seems that the Afghan government is too afraid, and perhaps too compromised by Iranian influence operations, to confront the regime.
An intelligence source that served two tours in Afghanistan over the past four years told FrontPage that Iran’s objective is not to return the Taliban to power, but to simply “keep us occupied and bloody us while they ultimately influence Afghan politics through Hazara, Turkmen, and Tajik agents.”
The Iranians have pursued a successful dual track towards Afghanistan, supporting the Taliban on one hand and investing in the country on the other. Iran has reportedly spent $4 million bribing about 90 members of Afghanistan’s parliament. As previously stated, the Iranians are laundering money through a bank tied to Karzai’s corrupt brother. President Karzai was among the first world leaders to congratulate Ahmadinejad on his re-election bid in 2009. The Afghan people, however, are increasingly hostile to Iran especially in the wake of the execution of 45 Afghans by the regime in May. Five anti-Iran protests were held in Jalalabad, Kabul and Herat.
Through a combination of destabilizing the country, fear, corruption and developing influence with investment, the Iranians have neutralized the Afghan government as an adversary. As U.S. troop levels reach their highest level yet in Afghanistan, more American blood has to be expected to fall on Iranian hands. Our soldiers deserve to know that we won’t turn the other way.
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