Coalition and Afghan special operations teams have captured a Taliban commander who is associated with Iran’s Qods Force and aided in the shipment of weapons from Iran into Afghanistan.
The Taliban commander, who was not named, was detained during a Dec. 18 raid in the Zhari district in Kandahar province, the International Security Assistance Force reported in a press release. ISAF and Afghan forces are currently working to secure Zhari and the neighboring districts of Panjwai and Arghandab from the Taliban.
“The joint security team specifically targeted the individual for facilitating the movement of weapons between Iran and Kandahar through Nimroz province,” ISAF stated. “The now-detained man was considered a Kandahar-based weapons facilitator with direct ties to other Taliban leaders in the province.”
In an initial inquiry by The Long War Journal, ISAF said that the target of the raid was a member of the Qods Force, the special operations branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
“According to intelligence reports, the targeted insurgent is a member of the Qods Force,” a public affairs official at the ISAF Joint Command press desk told The Long War Journal.
ISAF has since retracted the claim.
“The International Security Assistance Force has determined a cross-border weapons facilitator detained Dec. 18 is not a member of the Iranian Qods force, as was originally reported,” according to a press release issued on Dec. 24. “Initial intelligence reports led ISAF to believe he was a member of the force, but after gathering more information, it was determined that while the individual may be affiliated with several insurgent-related organizations, he is not a member of the Qods group.”
A senior US intelligence official contacted by The Long War Journal said the Taliban commander is linked to Qods Force and receives aid in shipping and transporting weapons from Iran to Afghanistan.
Background on Iran’s covert support for the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan
The Qods Force has tasked the Ansar Corps, a subcommand, with aiding the Taliban and other terror groups in Afghanistan. Based in Mashhad in northeastern Iran, the Ansar Corps operates much like the Ramazan Corps, which supports and directs Shia terror groups in Iraq. [See LWJ report, Iran’s Ramazan Corps and the ratlines into Iraq.]
On Aug. 6, 2010, General Hossein Musavi, the commander of the Ansar Corps, was one of two Qods Force commanders added to the US Treasury’s list of specially designated global terrorists, for directly providing support to the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.
ISAF and Afghan forces have targeted several Taliban commanders with known links to Iran’s Qods Force – Ansar Corps. [See LWJ report, Taliban commander linked to Iran, al Qaeda targeted in western Afghanistan.]
In addition to Taliban fighters entering from Iran, Al Qaeda is known to facilitate travel for its operatives moving into Afghanistan from Mashhad. Al Qaeda additionally uses the eastern cities of Tayyebat and Zahedan to move its operatives into Afghanistan. [See LWJ report, Return to Jihad.]
A Qods Force-supported al Qaeda network is currently operating in the western province of Farah, according to an investigation by The Long War Journal.
ISAF and Afghan special operations teams have been active in the remote province of Farah since early October. There have been five reported raids in Farah since the beginning of October, and 10 raids total since March 2010. In the course of the 10 raids, ISAF has killed three al Qaeda-linked commanders (Mullah Aktar, Sabayer Sahib, and Mullah Janan), and captured another. All of these commanders have been linked to Iran’s Ansar Corps.
ISAF has refused to comment to inquiries about this network. “Due to operation security concerns we are not able to go into further detail at this time,” an ISAF public affairs official told The Long War Journal at the end of November.
For years, ISAF has stated that the Qods Force has helped Taliban fighters conduct training inside Iran. As recently as May 30, 2010, former ISAF commander General Stanley McChrystal said that Iran is training Taliban fighters and providing them with weapons.
“The training that we have seen occurs inside Iran with fighters moving inside Iran,” McChrystal said at a press conference. “The weapons that we have received come from Iran into Afghanistan.”
In March of 2010, General David Petraeus, then the CENTCOM commander and now the ISAF commander, discussed al Qaeda’s presence in Iran in written testimony delivered to the Senate Armed Services Committee. Al Qaeda “continues to use Iran as a key facilitation hub, where facilitators connect al Qaeda’s senior leadership to regional affiliates,” Petraeus explained. “And although Iranian authorities do periodically disrupt this network by detaining select al Qaeda facilitators and operational planners, Tehran’s policy in this regard is often unpredictable.”
Iran has recently released several top al Qaeda leaders from protective custody, including Saif al Adel, al Qaeda’s top military commander and strategist; Sa’ad bin Laden, Osama’s son; and Sulaiman Abu Gaith, a top al Qaeda spokesman. [See LWJ report, Osama bin Laden’s spokesman freed by Iran.]
In March 2010, a Taliban commander admitted that Iran has been training teams of Taliban fighters in small unit tactics. “Our religions and our histories are different, but our target is the same – we both want to kill Americans,” the commander told The Sunday Times, rebutting the common analysis that Shia Iran and Sunni al Qaeda could not cooperate due to ideological differences.
Correction: this report initially stated that the Taliban commander was also a Qods Force operative. ISAF has retracted the claim, and the report has been updated to reflect this.