Coalition special operations forces and Afghan commandos have killed a wanted Taliban commander with links to al Qaeda and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, during a raid on a training camp in western Afghanistan.
Mullah Akhtar and an undisclosed number of Taliban fighters were killed in a combined special operations raid yesterday on a training camp used by foreign fighters in the Bala Boluk district in Farah province. The special operations teams had been hunting Akhtar for more than two months.
Some of the Taliban fighters were killed in the initial assault, while others were killed after opening fire on the combined force while retreating in a “a truck poorly disguised as an Afghan National Police vehicle,” the International Security Assistance Force stated in a press release. During the raid, the Coalition and Afghan force found “multiple automatic weapons, hand grenades, small-arms, IED-making components, two rocket propelled grenade launchers, and multiple RPG rockets” at the training camp and with the dead Taliban fighters.
Akhtar “was responsible for bringing foreign fighters from Iran into Afghanistan,” ISAF stated.
ISAF previously thought Akhtar was killed in a June 6 airstrike in the district of Gulistan in Farah. “Through local Afghan reflections following the June 6 precision air strike against Mullah Akhtar NATO felt comfortable announcing he had been killed but it was later determined that he survived the precision air strike,” Lieutenant Commander Katie Kendrick, a senior ISAF public affairs officer told The Long War Journal.
In a June 6 press release, ISAF stated that Akhtar “had close ties with Taliban and al Qaeda senior leaders.” It also said that he “was responsible for arranging training for foreign fighters from Iran and helped resolve disputes between militant networks.”
Akhtar also worked closely with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Qods Force. The IRGC is tasked with defending the Islamic Revolution inside Iran while exporting the radical ideology to neighboring countries and worldwide. Qods Force is the IRGC’s external special operations branch.
Iran covertly supports the Taliban
For years, ISAF has stated that Taliban fighters have conducted training inside Iran, with the aid of the Qods Force, the special operations branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. 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 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.
Known Taliban commanders who work with Iran’s Qods Force
Akhtar is one of several Taliban commanders who has worked closely with Iran, US military officials told The Long War Journal. One such commander is Mullah Mustafa, who operates in Ghor province. The US military said Mustafa commands more than 100 fighters and receives support from Iran’s Qods Force. ISAF thought it killed Mustafa in a June 9, 2009, airstrike in a rural area in Ghor. Mustafa later spoke to the media and denied reports of his death.
Another Taliban commander who has worked closely with the Qods Force is Ghulam Yahya Akbari, a commander in Herat province. Akbari, who was known as the “Tajik Taliban,” claimed to operate more than 20 bases in Herat and boasted of having more than 600 fighters under his command. He facilitated the movement of foreign fighters, or al Qaeda, from Iran into Afghanistan, and helped them transit to the battlefields in Helmand and Kandahar.
Akbari was killed in a special operations raid in Herat in October 2009. Samihullah, Akbari’s replacement, has even closer ties to al Qaeda and continues to facilitate the movement of al Qaeda fighters from Iran to Afghanistan.
Khirullah Said Wali Khairkhwa, the former Taliban governor of Herat province who is currently in US custody at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, served as the Taliban’s liaison to Iran prior to the fall of Mullah Omar’s regime in late 2001.
Khairkhwa “was present at a clandestine meeting in October of 2001 between Taliban and Iranian officials in which Iran pledged to assist the Taliban in their war with the United States,” according to documents from the US government’s unclassified files on Gitmo detainees. According to one document, he met with Hizb-i-Islami-Gulbuddin leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Ayman al Zawahiri.
Hekmatyar, who runs one of the three largest Taliban-linked insurgent groups in Afghanistan, is closely linked to Iran. He was backed by the Iranians during Afghanistan’s civil war in the 1990s, and sheltered inside Iran from 1996 to 2002, under the care of the IRGC.
• Taliban Commander, Insurgents Killed in Raid on Insurgent Training Camp, ISAF press release
• Al Qaeda-linked Taliban commander killed in western Afghanistan, The Long War Journal
• 68 Taliban surrender after commander killed in Herat, The Long War Journal
• Senior insurgent leader reported killed in Western Afghanistan, The Long War Journal
• Iran and the Taliban, allies against America, The Long War Journal
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.