Iran is reportedly providing special forces training to the Taliban within its borders and arming the group with Russian-made weapons, the Times learned from Taliban and Afghan officials this week.
The Times further reveals:
Hundreds of Taliban fighters are receiving advanced training from special forces at military academies in Iran as part of a significant escalation of support for the insurgents, Taliban and Afghan officials have told The Times.
The scale, quality, and length of the training is unprecedented and marks not only a shift in the proxy conflict between the US and Iran inside Afghanistan but also a potential change in Iran’s ability and will to affect the outcome of the Afghan war.
Talks between Tehran and the Taliban to have Iranian special forces train the terrorists began when U.S. President Donald Trump was preparing to withdraw from the controversial nuclear deal reached between Iran and U.S.-led world powers in 2015, a political adviser to the Taliban told the Times.
It appears that Iran has stepped up its support to the Afghan Taliban in retaliation for the U.S.’s pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, drawing the ire of Tehran. Days after Trump pulled out of the deal, Iran reportedly assisted the Taliban in briefly seizing an area along the border it shares with Afghanistan, marking the second time the narco-terrorists seized a major urban area since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.
The political adviser speaking to the Times, a former bomb maker from Helmand province, declared, “The Iranian offer of training came with two demands: that we should put more focus on attacking American and NATO interests in Afghanistan, and devote more forces to attacking the Daesh [ISIS].”
An unnamed deputy corps commander of the Afghan National Army (ANA) told the Times that Iran’s support for the Taliban might soon exceed that of Pakistan, which for years has been considered the region’s top supporter of the group.
The Afghan soldier told the Times:
Every day the Taliban get stronger, and the land they affect gets bigger. Yet at the same time the influence of Pakistan on the Taliban is weakening. Pakistan plays both sides and is short of trust. It is Iranian backing of the Taliban that has made the most recent impact. It is not just the weapons they give — usually Russian-made and [a] new generation — but the training and advice. So far Iran has chosen not to really push things, but already their effect is big.
The report of Iran’s enhanced support for the Taliban comes amid the ongoing U.S.-backed efforts by the Afghan government to convince the Taliban to accept a ceasefire and official recognition as a political group, a proposal that the terrorist group has repeatedly rejected.
U.S. Gen. John Nicholson, the top commander of American and NATO troops in Afghanistan, has long accused Russia, its ally in Syria Iran, and Pakistan of lending support to Taliban.
All three of the accused countries cite the Taliban’s fight against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) as the main reason for supporting the Taliban.
Amid the U.S. efforts towards reconciliation between Kabul an the Taliban, some American officials argue that Russia, Iran, and Pakistan have an important role to play in bringing the jihadist group to the table, given their leverage over the group.
A 25-year-old Taliban commander who goes by the alias Nawheed reportedly estimated that “there are between 500 and 600 of [them] in different stages of training” in Iran.
“We learn everything from tactics, leadership skills, recruitment, to bomb-making and weapons training,” he added. “The instructors are all Iranian special forces, although many seem able to speak Pashto as a second language. They wear mixed uniform and treat us very well.”