ISAF captures Qods Force-linked Taliban leader in Afghan west

In a raid in western Afghanistan yesterday, Coalition and Afghan troops captured a senior Taliban leader who is associated with Iran’s Qods Force.

The Taliban leader, who was not named, “is definitely associated with Qods Force,” an International Security Assistance Force official told The Long War Journal.

“That is based on his acceptance of large sums of money and his facilitation of attacks against ISAF and Afghan forces,” the ISAF official said.

“It is not certain he is a member of Qods Force,” the official continued.

ISAF and Afghan forces captured the Taliban commander along with several fighters during a raid in the Gulistan district of Farah province, ISAF stated in a press release.

The Taliban leader was described as “the senior Taliban leader for Bakwah district” who “receives large sums of money from foreign fighter insurgent groups,” the ISAF press release continued. ISAF often uses the term ” foreign fighters” to describe al Qaeda and affiliated terror groups from outside Afghanistan.

During recent raids in the Afghan south and west, ISAF and Afghan forces have captured two Taliban commanders and targeted another linked to Iran’s Qods Force. In addition to the capture of the commander yesterday, on Dec. 18, 2010 a Qods Force-linked Taliban leader was captured in the Zhari district of Kandahar. ISAF told The Long War Journal the Taliban leader was a member of Qods Force, but retracted the claim two days later. ISAF would neither confirm nor deny that the Taliban commander was linked to Qods Force in follow-up inquiries.

But senior US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal said the Taliban commander detained in Zhari is linked to Qods Force and receives aid in shipping and transporting weapons from Iran to Afghanistan.

During a raid in Nimroz on Jan. 2, Coalition and Afghan forces targeted a Taliban leader who is “involved with the facilitation of suicide bombers into Afghanistan and leads subordinate Taliban insurgents operating in the Gulistan and Bakwa districts of Farah province.” Several US military and intelligence officials told The Long War Journal that the commander was linked to Qods Force, but ISAF would not comment on his status.

Farah province is a hub for al Qaeda’s operations in the Afghan west

A Qods Force-supported Taliban and al Qaeda network is currently operating in the remote western province of Farah, according to an investigation by The Long War Journal.

Farah province is a known haven for al Qaeda and allied terror groups, and is a main transit point for foreign fighters and Iranian aid flowing into Afghanistan. The presence of al Qaeda cells has been detected in the districts of Bakwah, Balu Barak, Farah, Gulistan, and Pusht-e Rod; or five of Farah’s 11 districts.

ISAF and Afghan special operations teams have intensified their activity in the province of Farah since October 2010. There have been seven reported raids in Farah, and one in Nimroz targeting a commander who operates in Farah, since the beginning of October, and 13 raids total since March 2010. In the course of the 13 raids, ISAF has killed three al Qaeda-linked commanders; Mullah Aktar, Sabayer Saheb, and Mullah Janan, and captured three more leaders, all who have not been named. All of these commanders have been linked to Iran’s Ansar Corps.

ISAF has been hesitant to comment on the scope of 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 2010. In a follow-up inquiry today, ISAF again would not comment.

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.]

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.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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1 Comment

  • Sean says:

    Nothing drastically new here, CENTCOM has been suggesting this for awhile now. Hopefully the increased Special Ops raids will mitigate their presence.

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