Taliban commander linked to Iran, al Qaeda targeted in western Afghanistan

Coalition and Afghan special forces teams killed six Taliban fighters and three civilians during a raid yesterday that targeted a known Taliban commander who is linked to senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders and aids foreign fighters entering Afghanistan from Iran.

The raid took place in the district of Pusht-e Rod in Farah province, along the border with Iran. The target was a “a Taliban foreign fighter facilitator” who is “known to traffic foreign fighters and weapons from Iran and associate with senior Taliban and Al Qaeda leadership,” ISAF stated in a press release. Afghan police claimed that Taliban leaders Mullah Malik and Mullah Joma Khan were killed in the fighting.

The combined special forces teams tracked a vehicle carrying Taliban fighters in the district and engaged the fighters as they dismounted. An air weapons team engaged the Taliban fighters, which caused the truck, which appears to have been carrying homemade explosives, to detonate. Six Taliban fighters were killed and an unknown number were captured by the ground team. A woman and two children were also reported killed during the fighting.

Earlier, on Aug. 5, ISAF and Afghan forces killed Sabayar Saheb, another “Taliban logistics and foreign fighter facilitator,” during a raid in Pusht-e Rod. The combined force found an AK-47 and Iranian money on Saheb.

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 Pusht-e Rod, Balu Barak, and Gulistan; or three of Farah’s 11 districts, according to an investigation by The Long War Journal. ISAF has reported on five raids in Farah against al Qaeda-linked cells this year.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps – Qods Force has tasked the Ansar Corps 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.

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.]

Background on Iran’s covert support for 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.

Background on known Taliban commanders who work with Iran’s Qods Force

In recent years, the US military has targeted several Taliban commanders in western Afghanistan who are known to receive support from the Qods Force.

On July 16, US and Afghan forces killed Mullah Akhtar, a Taliban commander in Farah province, and several of his fighters, during a raid on a training camp used by foreign fighters. Akhtar “had close ties with Taliban and al Qaeda senior leaders,” ISAF stated in a press release. He “was responsible for arranging training for foreign fighters from Iran and helped resolve disputes between militant networks.” Intelligence officials also told The Long War Journal that Akhtar was closely tied to the Qods Force.

Another Iranian-linked Taliban 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, but Mustafa later spoke to the media and denied reports of his death.

Ghlam Yahya Akbari is yet another Taliban commander who has worked closely with the Qods Force. He served as 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 into Afghanistan.

Prior to the fall of Mullah Omar’s regime in late 2001, 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. 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 also 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.


Security Force Targets Taliban Foreign Fighter Facilitator in Farah, ISAF press release

Afghan and coalition force kills Taliban facilitator, additional insurgent in Farah, ISAF press release

Iranian Qods Force commanders linked to Taliban: US Treasury, The Long War Journal

Return to Jihad, The Long War Journal

Iran’s Ramazan Corps and the ratlines into Iraq, The Long War Journal

Taliban commander linked to al Qaeda, Iran, killed in US strike in western Afghanistan, The Long War Journal

Al Qaeda-linked Taliban commander killed in western Afghanistan, The Long War Journal

General McChrystal says Afghan insurgents trained in Iran, Reuters

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.

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