The influence of state sponsor of terrorism Iran is growing in Afghanistan, where mutual disdain towards the United States has brought together the Shiite Islamic Republic and the Sunni Taliban, two unlikely bedfellows.
“As the [U.S.-backed] NATO mission in Afghanistan expanded, the Iranians quietly began supporting the Taliban to bleed the Americans and their allies by raising the cost of the intervention so that they would leave,” reports the New York Times (NYT). “Iran has come to see the Taliban not only as the lesser of its enemies but also as a useful proxy force,” it adds.
“The regional politics have changed,” Mohammed Arif Shah Jehan, a former senior intelligence official who now serves as the governor of Farah province,” told NYT. “The strongest Taliban here are Iranian Taliban.”
Farah, located in western Afghanistan, sits along the Iranian border.
Citing Afghan officials, the Times reveals that “Iran has sent [to Afghanistan] squads of assassins, secretly nurtured spies and infiltrated police ranks and government departments, especially in western [Afghan] provinces.”
“Iran has conducted an intensifying covert intervention, much of which is only now coming to light,” adds the Times. “It is providing local Taliban insurgents with weapons, money, and training. It has offered Taliban commanders sanctuary and fuel for their trucks. It has padded Taliban ranks by recruiting among Afghan Sunni refugees in Iran, according to Afghan and Western officials.”
Some Iranian commanders were among the Taliban fatalities from a battle in Farah province last year.
“Four senior Iranian commandos were among the scores of dead, Afghan intelligence officials said, noting their funerals in Iran,” reports NYT, referring to the October 2016 Taliban assault in Farah.
“Many of the Taliban dead and wounded were also taken back across the nearby border with Iran, where the insurgents had been recruited and trained, village elders told Afghan provincial officials,” it adds.
The Taliban coordinated the Farah offensive with attacks in other major cities, reportedly marking the terrorist group’s most ambitious attempt to regain power since 2001.
“It was also a piece of an accelerating Iranian campaign to step into a vacuum left by departing American forces—Iran’s biggest push into Afghanistan in decades,” notes the Times, alluding to the assault.
Mutual hate towards the Sunni Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) has reportedly driven Iran and the Taliban closer together.
Nevertheless, the Islamic Republic, like its ally Russia, denies lending support to the Taliban terrorists.
Iran has “facilitated” the relationship between Russia and the Taliban, “securing funds and weapons from Moscow for the insurgents” with the direct knowledge of Pakistan, reports NYT.
A former Taliban commander told the Times on condition of anonymity that former Taliban leader Mullah [Akhtar Muhammad] “Mansour’s cultivation of Iran for weapons was done with the full knowledge of Pakistan.”
Haji Agha Lalai, a presidential adviser who also serves as the deputy governor of Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, later told NYT that Pakistan, eager to share the financial burden of backing the Taliban, has encouraged the terrorist group to strengthen its ties with Iran.
Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, the birthplace of the Taliban, lies on the Pakistan border.
The Taliban, Iran, and Russia, as well as Pakistan, appear to be pushing for the same outcome: the withdrawal of the United States from the Afghanistan region.
U.S. and Afghan officials have long accused Pakistan of assisting the Taliban.
Mutual disapproval of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan was the original reason behind Iran and Afghanistan coming together.
“They [Iran] really don’t want American troops and influence in Afghanistan. They see it as their backyard. But they are also calculating; they want proxy forces that are loyal to them or at least controlled by them, that they have some leverage over,” Carlotta Gall, the author of the NYT article, told PBS Newshour. “So, that’s the calculation to help some of the Taliban that are local along their area. They also really want to hurt America, and that’s their ultimate aim — to bleed them, as we wrote, and to push them out eventually.”
A Taliban member told Reuters on condition of anonymity that the “sole” reason behind cooperation between Russia and the Taliban is to expel the United States from Afghanistan.
The U.S. military has warned against the Taliban’s relationship with Iran, Russia, and Pakistan.