Coalition and Afghan forces kill Taliban commander linked to Iran, al Qaeda

Southwestern Afghanistan, including Farah province, and the Iranian border region. Click to view larger map.

Coalition and Afghan special operations forces killed a senior Taliban commander in western Afghanistan two days ago who was linked to both al Qaeda and Iran’s Qods Force.

Mullah Hafiz Janan, who served as the Taliban’s shadow governor for the Bakwah district in Farah province, and an aide were killed during a shootout on Nov. 20 “after brandishing weapons and threatening the security force,” the International Security Assistance Force stated in a press release.

Janan was described as “a key leader involved in foreign-fighter facilitation and networking” who “maintained ties with other senior Taliban leaders and supplied weapons and training to foreign fighters.” ISAF uses the term “foreign fighters” to describe al Qaeda operatives and members of allied terror groups operating in Afghanistan.

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, Gulistan, and Pusht-e Rod; or four of Farah’s 11 districts, according to an investigation by The Long War Journal.

Bakwah has become a flashpoint for al Qaeda operatives based in Farah. Janan is the second al Qaeda-linked Taliban leader killed or captured there this month. On Nov. 7, a special operations team captured another “Taliban foreign fighter facilitator,” who also doubled as an IED expert, during a raid in Bakwah. For operational security reasons, ISAF does not release the names of captured al Qaeda and Taliban leaders.

Already this year, ISAF has reported on seven raids in Farah against al Qaeda-linked cells. An Aug. 5 raid in the Pusht-e Rod district killed Sabayar Saheb, another “Taliban logistics and foreign fighter facilitator.” A July 16 raid on a training camp used by foreign fighters in the Balu Barak district killed Mullah Akhtar and several of his fighters. Akhtar had strong ties with Taliban and al Qaeda senior leaders, was responsible for the training of foreign fighters from Iran, helped resolve disputes between terror groups, and was closely associated with Iran Qods Force.

Background on Iran’s covert support for the Taliban

The Qods Force, which is the special operations branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, 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.

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.

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.]

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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