The State Department released its Country Reports on Terrorism for 2009 on Thursday. The analysis, which details terrorist events in the previous calendar year, was supposed to be provided to Congress by April 30. But this year the report was not published until August.
As expected, Iran “remained the most active state sponsor of terrorism” in 2009. In particular, Tehran continues to sponsor terrorists who kill American servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan.
According to the State Department, Iran trains and arms the Taliban, does the same for Iraqi militants targeting US forces, and provides safe haven for al Qaeda members. The State Department does not use the term ‘safe haven’ to describe Iran’s sheltering of al Qaeda leaders and members, however.
Much of the State Department’s reporting on Iran remained unchanged from the year before — with one noteworthy difference. Only in its reporting on the relationship between the Iranian regime and al Qaeda did this year’s report differ substantively from last year’s analysis.
Iran’s Qods Force, which is part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), is “the regime’s primary mechanism for cultivating and supporting terrorists abroad,” the State Department noted. Among other terrorist organizations, the Qods Force continues to support the Taliban. This year’s report states:
Iran’s Qods Force provided training to the Taliban in Afghanistan on small unit tactics, small arms, explosives, and indirect fire weapons. Since at least 2006, Iran has arranged arms shipments to select Taliban members, including small arms and associated ammunition, rocket propelled grenades, mortar rounds, 107mm rockets, and plastic explosives.
This language is nearly identical to that which appeared in the report for 2008. What the State Department didn’t say is that Iran also allows the Taliban to move foreign fighters through Iran to Afghanistan, where they fight Coalition forces. There is also evidence that the Iranians are helping the Taliban and al Qaeda execute suicide attacks by, among other things, providing explosives and other components used in suicide vests.
There was a change in the State Department’s language regarding the nexus between Iran and al Qaeda, however. Here is how the State Department’s latest report describes the relationship (emphasis added):
Iran remained unwilling to bring to justice senior al-Qa’ida (AQ) members it continued to detain, and refused to publicly identify those senior members in its custody. Iran has repeatedly resisted numerous calls to transfer custody of its AQ detainees to their countries of origin or third countries for trial; it is reportedly holding Usama bin Ladin’s family members under house arrest.
Here is how the State Department summarized the relationship in its report on 2008 (emphasis added):
Iran remained unwilling to bring to justice senior al-Qa’ida members it has detained, and has refused to publicly identify those senior members in its custody. Iran has repeatedly resisted numerous calls to transfer custody of its al-Qa’ida detainees to their countries of origin or third countries for trial. Iran also continued to fail to control the activities of some al-Qa’ida members who fled to Iran following the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
Both descriptions are incomplete and do not reflect the totality of collusion between the Iranian regime and al Qaeda. But last year’s report noted that Iran “continued to fail to control the activities of some al-Qa’ida members” – that is, they are allowed to operate on Iranian soil.
This year, the State Department dropped that language and only noted that some of Osama bin Laden’s family members are “under house arrest.”
It is not clear what was behind the change. We do know that the Iranians did not hold all of Osama bin Laden’s family members under house arrest. Saad bin Laden, for example, left Iran for northern Pakistan in late 2008. Moreover, al Qaeda members supposedly under “house arrest” in Iran have continued to operate, holding planning meetings and engaging in various other nefarious activities.
The State Department avoided using the phrase ‘safe haven’ in either analysis. But by refusing to identify, transfer, or ‘bring to justice’ al Qaeda members, that is precisely what the Iranian regime is providing al Qaeda.
Finally, the State Department included a lengthy paragraph on Iran’s support for terrorists in Iraq. It is mostly unchanged from the year before (emphasis added):
Despite its pledge to support the stabilization of Iraq, Iranian authorities continued to provide lethal support, including weapons, training, funding, and guidance, to Iraqi Shia militant groups that targeted U.S. and Iraqi forces. The Qods Force continued to supply Iraqi militants with Iranian-produced advanced rockets, sniper rifles, automatic weapons, and mortars that have killed Iraqi and Coalition Forces, as well as civilians. Iran was responsible for the increased lethality of some attacks on U.S. forces by providing militants with the capability to assemble explosively formed penetrators that were designed to defeat armored vehicles. The Qods Force, in concert with Lebanese Hezbollah, provided training outside of Iraq and advisors inside Iraq for Shia militants in the construction and use of sophisticated improvised explosive device technology and other advanced weaponry.
There is one change in the paragraph above from the version that appeared in last year’s analysis. Last year, the State Department said that Iran was responsible for “some of the lethality of anti-Coalition attacks.” This year’s report says that Iran is “responsible for the increased lethality of some attacks on U.S. forces.” It is not clear what was driving the word change.
The bottom line is that Iran is still supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan and militants in Iraq in their attacks on civilians and US-led forces.