General Samiullah Qatrah said on Aug. 3 that Taliban fighters recently captured by security forces admitted that Iran is backing the network, which has killed 11 policemen, soldiers, civilians, and two Finnish aid workers in Herat over the past 11 days. The two female Finnish aid workers were employed by a Christian charity and were gunned down while traveling in a taxi.
“In their confessions, they [six captured Taliban fighters] have said that the network is funded by Iran,” Qatrah said, TOLONews reported. He said documents seized by security personnel provide evidence of Iran’s involvement in the attacks.
The attacks were planned inside Iran, Qatrah said, and he also noted that Taliban commanders are transiting between Iran and Afghanistan “unimpeded.”
Accusations by Afghan officials that Iran is backing the Taliban are not uncommon. Similarly, Afghan officials routinely accuse Pakistan of providing covert support for the Taliban’s operations in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s military and the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate are known to back the Taliban’s jihad in Afghanistan and to provide safe havens for Taliban leaders and fighters inside Pakistan.
Iranian Qods Force commanders, Ansar Corps support the Taliban in Afghanistan
Iran’s support of the Taliban is well documented. In August 2010, the Ansar Corps, a sub-branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force, was identified by the US Treasury Department as supporting Iranian operations inside Afghanistan.
In the same designation that added Ansar Corps to the United States’ list of global terrorist entities, General Hossein Musavi, the commander of Qods Force’s Ansar Corps, “whose responsibilities include IRGC-QF activities in Afghanistan,” was added to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists. “As Ansar Corps Commander, Musavi has provided financial and material support to the Taliban,” the designation stated. [See LWJ report, Iranian Qods Force commanders linked to Taliban: US Treasury.]
Colonel Mortezavi, who was designated the same day as General Musavi, was described by Treasury as a senior Qods Force officer who “provides financial and material support to the Taliban.”
More recently, General Gholamreza Baghbani, the head of Qods Force’s branch in the Iranian city of Zahedan, was added to the US’ list of Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers on March 7, 2012, for supporting heroin and opium smuggling in Iran and Afghanistan “as part of a broader scheme to support terrorism.” The Iranian general supported the drug smugglers in order to arm the Taliban in Afghanistan.
And seven months later, on Nov. 16, 2012, the US added Mullah Naim Barich, the Taliban’s leader for the southern Afghan province of Helmand, to the list of Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers. While the designation did not directly link Barich to Baghbani, the Taliban commander was involved in smuggling heroin to Iran.
ISAF has targeted Iran’s network in the past
In the past, Taliban commanders based in western Afghanistan have stated that they have received weapons, cash, and training from Iranian forces. [See LWJ report, Taliban leader, police link Iran to attacks in Afghanistan.] Taliban commanders and units train inside Iran to conduct attacks against NATO and Afghan forces. In addition, al Qaeda operatives are also known to receive support from the Ansar Corps; the Iranian city of Mashhad is a transit point for al Qaeda operatives en route to Afghanistan.
US military commanders, including Generals David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal, have accused Iran of directly supporting the Taliban.
The International Security Assistance Force has targeted Iranian-supported Taliban commanders in at least 14 raids, in the provinces of Farah, Nimroz, Herat, Ghor, Kandahar, and Kunduz between June 2009 and February 2011, according to Coalition press releases compiled by The Long War Journal. In one such raid, on Dec. 18, 2010 in the Zhari district in Kandahar province, ISAF said it captured a Qods Force officer, but later retracted the claim.
In early February 2011, ISAF inexplicably stopped reporting on raids against Iranian-supported Taliban and al Qaeda commanders. When The Long War Journal inquired about the sudden halt in reports on Qods Force-linked commanders in the Afghan west, ISAF claimed it does not discuss issues related to Iran.
“As policy, IJC [ISAF Joint Command] does not discuss Iran,” Lieutenant Commander Katie Kendrick, an ISAF Public Affairs Officer, told The Long War Journal in February 2011, despite the fact that ISAF had indeed mentioned the Qods Force in its press releases as well as in followup inquiries. Further inquiries to ISAF about the sudden change in policy on discussing Iran’s links to terror activities in Afghanistan have gone unanswered.
While ISAF refuses to discuss Iranian operations in Afghanistan, Qods Force continues its activities in the country.