WikiLeaks, the website that offers up pilfered military, government and corporate information for all the world to see, recently scored a coup when it posted online 77,000 documents (a further 15,000 in the possession of WikiLeaks have not yet been released), obtained by means unknown from the U.S. military and relating to the Afghan war. The sheer quantity of the documents means that it will be some time before they can be fully digested, but their raw data have shook governments throughout NATO. President Obama himself has expressed his concern at the risk such leaks pose to the national security of the United States and the safety of troops overseas.
Much of the media’s initial focus was on how the war in Afghanistan is going, in the eyes of the soldiers fighting it. The answer was self-evident — war is hell, the going is tough, the Taliban are a fearsome, determined enemy and victory is far from certain. Such information is readily available to anyone who reads a newspaper, and did not require a sensationalized leak. Nor is the fact that Pakistan’s military intelligence agency, the ISI, is deeply involved in supporting the Taliban surprising in any way, having already been well covered. What is becoming clear, however, is that despite the continued desire of the Administration to find an accommodation with Iran on issues concerning Israel and Iran’s nuclear program, Tehran continues to actively work against America and its allies and is directly complicit in attacks that have claimed the lives of unknowable numbers of allied soldiers.
The sheer quantity of documents released makes it impossible for there to be a full understanding so early on of what it is they reveal. Despite the initial buzz, much of the reaction to the documents thus far suggests that they are a letdown, or as John Barry wrote in Newsweek, “There is less to the documents than meets the eye.” They reveal little that was not already known to observers of the war, and the documents, mostly unedited battlefield reports, reflect the inaccuracies of documents written in haste. (In one telling example, it was suggested that the loss of four Canadian soldiers to friendly fire was covered up. In fact, friendly fire was initially suspected before it could be confirmed that it was indeed Taliban fire that killed the Canadians, not an errant American bomb, which landed nearby but did not detonate.)
All the same, what has been revealed about Iranian meddling in Afghanistan is interesting, especially given that it’s a topic that both the Bush and Obama administrations chose not to overly publicize while diplomatic efforts to contain the Iranian atomic program continued (as they still do). Iran is reported to offer safe haven to Taliban leaders, to support the training of Taliban soldiers on Iranian soil and to supply insurgent forces inside Afghanistan with weapons and explosives that are in turn used against the allies and Afghan forces. Bounties are offered for Afghan troops and politicians, particularly pro-Western reformists, and bribes offered to government officials. Pro-Iranian thugs are put into positions of authority and used as conduits for supplies and men, as well as for influence, to advocate a pro-Iranian agenda and to provide intelligence for Tehran. Suicide vests have been directly linked back to Iran by forensic evidence.
This entire agenda is aimed not at expanding Iranian territory into Afghanistan, but merely in keeping it unstable and thereby tying down enormous quantities of American military manpower and materiel. It is a low-risk, high-reward way of enhancing Iran’s power, especially when one considers that the most oft-cited reason given by critics of any proposed military action against Iran is that America, given its current troop commitments in Afghanistan, simply cannot afford to go to war in Iran. Thus, for Iran, supporting anti-coalition militants in Afghanistan has virtually no downside risk. Even when caught supplying weapons, the West chooses not to make an issue of it for fear of derailing diplomatic efforts, which Tehran has shown itself more than capable of dragging out indefinitely as they continue to work on their atomic program.
The fact that Iran is working against America’s interests in Afghanistan, while frustrating, should not come as a surprise. Iran was long reported to be working against American interests in Iraq in a similar fashion, supplying men, leadership and weapons to Iraqi insurgents, tying down the American military there just as it is doing in Afghanistan today (and, indeed, is still reported to be doing even as American forces there prepare to withdraw). Iran also operates in a similar way on Israel’s borders, supporting and arming Hezbollah and Hamas, keeping Israel under permanent attack, on permanent alert and constantly under the microscope of the world’s clueless media.
Even setting aside these precedents, of course Iran is destabilizing Afghanistan. It is the classic geopolitical gambit, and whatever one might think of the Iranian regime, it has shown itself to be more than capable of plotting and moving against America in a rational way. Meddling in Afghanistan offers them an easy way to hurt their greatest enemy while inviting little response. Until America’s stance on Iran hardens and military action becomes a viable option, Iran will continue to support anti-Israeli and American terrorists. It simply makes too much sense for Iran. They will not stop until they are made to.
Ironically, while America and its allies studiously do their best to pretend that Iran is not killing our soldiers, Iran has wasted no time, denying any reports of inappropriate involvement in Afghanistan. It also blocked access to the WikiLeak site over a year ago, prompting a bizarre response from WikiLeaks, where they almost sounded hurt to have been so slighted by Tehran.
The leaked documents will prove a treasure trove to historians and journalists and will provide ammunition to critics of the war eager to see Afghanistan abandoned to its fate. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that it will do much to spur productive discussion in the areas most needing of attention by the West — that no war in Afghanistan can be won until the Taliban’s benefactors in Pakistan and Iran have been dealt with first. Sadly, given the current goals of the Administration, that is very likely to mean that the war in Afghanistan will not be won any time soon.
Matt Gurney is an editor at the National Post, a Canadian national newspaper, and writes and speaks on military and geopolitical issues. He can be reached at [email protected].
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