Herat police chief accuses Iran of ramping up attacks in western Afghanistan

The chief of police for Herat has accused Iran of supporting a network that is stepping up attacks in the western Afghan province.

General Samiullah Qatrah said on Aug. 3 that Taliban fighters recently captured by security forces admitted that Iran is backing the network, which has killed 11 policemen, soldiers, civilians, and two Finnish aid workers in Herat over the past 11 days. The two female Finnish aid workers were employed by a Christian charity and were gunned down while traveling in a taxi.

“In their confessions, they [six captured Taliban fighters] have said that the network is funded by Iran,” Qatrah said, TOLONews reported. He said documents seized by security personnel provide evidence of Iran’s involvement in the attacks.

The attacks were planned inside Iran, Qatrah said, and he also noted that Taliban commanders are transiting between Iran and Afghanistan “unimpeded.”

Accusations by Afghan officials that Iran is backing the Taliban are not uncommon. Similarly, Afghan officials routinely accuse Pakistan of providing covert support for the Taliban’s operations in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s military and the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate are known to back the Taliban’s jihad in Afghanistan and to provide safe havens for Taliban leaders and fighters inside Pakistan.

Iranian Qods Force commanders, Ansar Corps support the Taliban in Afghanistan

Iran’s support of the Taliban is well documented. In August 2010, the Ansar Corps, a sub-branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force, was identified by the US Treasury Department as supporting Iranian operations inside Afghanistan.

In the same designation that added Ansar Corps to the United States’ list of global terrorist entities, General Hossein Musavi, the commander of Qods Force’s Ansar Corps, “whose responsibilities include IRGC-QF activities in Afghanistan,” was added to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists. “As Ansar Corps Commander, Musavi has provided financial and material support to the Taliban,” the designation stated. [See LWJ report, Iranian Qods Force commanders linked to Taliban: US Treasury.]

Colonel Mortezavi, who was designated the same day as General Musavi, was described by Treasury as a senior Qods Force officer who “provides financial and material support to the Taliban.”

More recently, General Gholamreza Baghbani, the head of Qods Force’s branch in the Iranian city of Zahedan, was added to the US’ list of Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers on March 7, 2012, for supporting heroin and opium smuggling in Iran and Afghanistan “as part of a broader scheme to support terrorism.” The Iranian general supported the drug smugglers in order to arm the Taliban in Afghanistan.

And seven months later, on Nov. 16, 2012, the US added Mullah Naim Barich, the Taliban’s leader for the southern Afghan province of Helmand, to the list of Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers. While the designation did not directly link Barich to Baghbani, the Taliban commander was involved in smuggling heroin to Iran.

ISAF has targeted Iran’s network in the past

In the past, Taliban commanders based in western Afghanistan have stated that they have received weapons, cash, and training from Iranian forces. [See LWJ report, Taliban leader, police link Iran to attacks in Afghanistan.] Taliban commanders and units train inside Iran to conduct attacks against NATO and Afghan forces. In addition, al Qaeda operatives are also known to receive support from the Ansar Corps; the Iranian city of Mashhad is a transit point for al Qaeda operatives en route to Afghanistan.

US military commanders, including Generals David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal, have accused Iran of directly supporting the Taliban.

The International Security Assistance Force has targeted Iranian-supported Taliban commanders in at least 14 raids, in the provinces of Farah, Nimroz, Herat, Ghor, Kandahar, and Kunduz between June 2009 and February 2011, according to Coalition press releases compiled by The Long War Journal. In one such raid, on Dec. 18, 2010 in the Zhari district in Kandahar province, ISAF said it captured a Qods Force officer, but later retracted the claim.

In early February 2011, ISAF inexplicably stopped reporting on raids against Iranian-supported Taliban and al Qaeda commanders. When The Long War Journal inquired about the sudden halt in reports on Qods Force-linked commanders in the Afghan west, ISAF claimed it does not discuss issues related to Iran.

“As policy, IJC [ISAF Joint Command] does not discuss Iran,” Lieutenant Commander Katie Kendrick, an ISAF Public Affairs Officer, told The Long War Journal in February 2011, despite the fact that ISAF had indeed mentioned the Qods Force in its press releases as well as in followup inquiries. Further inquiries to ISAF about the sudden change in policy on discussing Iran’s links to terror activities in Afghanistan have gone unanswered.

While ISAF refuses to discuss Iranian operations in Afghanistan, Qods Force continues its activities in the country.

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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  • Farhad says:

    ISAF refusing to discuss Iranian operations in Afghanistan is not a bit surprising and we all know why.
    Iran’s role in international terrorism is probably the least reported and talked about issue since 9/11. And speaking of 9/11, if the American people knew the role that Iran played in the attacks, they would have asked, “so why are we going after Saddam??”
    Iran is the Nazi Germany of Islamic terrorism. It arms, funds, supports more terrorists than any other government, including Al-Qeada. Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons is a side issue, almost a distraction.
    Until that regime is taken down, there will be no peace or stability in all of Mid-East. Thank you, George Bush.

  • Dan says:

    If my mind serves me correctly, we were pulling Iranian operatives from very close to the Pakistani border in 2001/02. Iran has always interfered in Afghanistan. Pakistan has always interfered in Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia has always interfered in Afghanistan. The list goes on. As a land-locked country, it is penile to suspect Afghanistan will never be interfered with. And since we are currently in Afghanistan, we should expect it.
    But what exactly are we doing about it? Yep – bugger all.
    We will just continue interfering in Syria, Iraq etc..
    (Sorry for the sarcasm. The LWJ’s ability to track and publish AQ/TB and other Islamist Groups is second to none. I’m just a little aware that we also massively interfere with a lot of countries as well. And so do they…)

  • Jack Brown says:

    This has been an occasional and disappointing bit of misinformation here at LWJ. People who actually understand Islamist politics laugh openly at the idea of “Iranian-supported al-Qaeda units.” The only way Iranian intelligence would be supporting Sunni jihadi outfits would be via some kind of limited and very complex double agent scheme, or as false-flag operations.
    Read up on Sunni takfirism, Bill. There are incompatible religious ideologies in play here. The Herat police chief is blowing smoke, and so is commenter “Farhad.”

  • Michael says:

    What reasons does Iran have for supporting the Taliban?
    I thought that they have historically fought against the Taliban, as well as al Qaeda.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Those of us who study the actual relationships laugh openly at those who claim to “actually understand Islamist politics.”
    We are well aware of the common trope that Shia Iran would never, ever help Sunni jihadist groups. You’ll have to explain away numerous reports to the contrary. I’ve laid out the designations, you can choose to ignore them if you wish. There are others, including one that describes a “special deal” between Iran and al Qaeda. There is a slew of other reporting on the subject. Also try reading the 9-11 commission report. Or not.

  • Greg Leichty says:

    The support by Iran even though incompatible ideologically could easily be explained by the principle that my enemy’s enemy is my friend (Any enemy of the U.S. is a friend of us.)

  • jack brown says:

    Islamist politics isn’t really that difficult if you’ve got the research background. Plenty of outsiders study it for a living. Most of the ones who don’t have a dog in the fight would tell you that linking Tehran and al-Qaeda smells like disinformation and very little else.
    To the extent that Tehran has “links to the Taliban” in Afghanistan, you are probably seeing the broader category of “afghan anti-regime guerrilla” being elided with the subset “Taliban”: that’s probably what Qatrah is doing.
    I’ve read your previous reports suggesting these links, with sources like McChrystal, apparent gulf arab sources (hah!) and the US treasury. Unconvincing.
    Iran is definitely an important regional adversary for the US. Accusing them of such improbable alliances as these just confuses policy, which should always seek to use all the important players to advance US interests. Iran is in my opinion an underutilized asset as well as an adversary; that’s my dog in this fight, if you will.

  • Farhad says:

    Please do your research and homework. The relationship between Iran and Al-Qeada goes back to the 90’s. The idea that Iran and Sunni’s would never join against a common enemy (the Great Satan) just shows the lack of knowledge in regards to the nature of the enemy we face, namely Islamic Totalitarianism.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    If you want to accuse the US Treasury and State departments of fixing their designations for the purpose of “misinformation” then feel free to do so. They name names and list activities. It is your choice to ignore information that doesn’t fit your worldview.
    What we have on one side is multiple streams of information – US State & Treasury, US military, Afghan officials, Taliban commanders (yup they admit to it too), and even al Qaeda (who note they often pass through Iran with ease), all pointing to the relationship.
    On the other side, we have people telling us that Shia Iran and Sunni jihadists can’t possibly work together because of their theories on political Islam, and who choose to ignore evidence to the contrary.

  • Colin says:

    The Taliban and Iranians clashed many years ago and I recall Iran help somewhat with the fall of the Taliban, likely in hope of gaining control/influence in and around Herat and with the new Afghan government. when things were not going their way, it seems they switched to supporting the Taliban. Likely in the hope that the Taliban will hurt or drive out the US, while wounding itself in the process, what’s not to love watching your 2 enemies claw themselves to death while safely eating pistachio’s. With the drawdown of ISAF troops, the government of Afghanistan might be persuaded to find common cause with Iran, at which point the Iranians will give up their Taliban friends.


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