Qods Force-linked Taliban commander leads insurgency in central Afghanistan

A Taliban commander who was targeted by the US military in an airstrike nearly a decade ago and who has links to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp – Qods Force remains a key player in the insurgency in central Afghanistan. The Taliban commander, known as Mullah Mustafa, was instrumental in the Taliban’s takeover of Taiwara district in Ghor province several weeks ago. Afghan forces have retaken the district, but maintain a tenuous hold on it.

Taiwara district fell to the Taliban on July 23 after hundreds of fighters assaulted the district center and overran Afghan forces and the local militia and police forces. More than 700 Taliban fighters using “humvees and trucks stolen from Afghan forces in Helmand province” launched the assault, according to The New York Times. Out of a force of 50 Afghan commandos guarding the district, 12 were killed, more than 20 were wounded, and several more are missing. Afghan officials claimed that more than 200 Taliban fighters were killed during the fighting.

Mustafa, who The New York Times described as “a local facilitator of the Taliban,” had “played a major role in the recent offensive” to take Taiwara. He “has contacts in Iran” and “is protected by senior figures in Kabul, the capital, including those in Afghanistan’s peace council assigned to negotiate with the Taliban.”

FDD’s Long War Journal has tracked Mullah Mustafa since the US military targeted him in an airstrike in Ghor province on June 9, 2009. The US military initially believed they killed Mustafa and prematurely announced his death. Two days after the US military announced his death, Mustafa spoke to the media. Mustafa claimed he “never [has] been in the opposition to the [Afghan] government” but did not deny attacking US forces.

The US military said Mustafa commands more than 100 fighters in Ghor and is thought to receive support from Iran’s Qods Force, the external operations branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

“The commander of approximately 100 fighters in western Afghanistan, Mustafa had recently met with senior Taliban leaders, and reportedly had connections to Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Qods Force,” the US military stated when it wrongly announced his death.

When it retracted its initial report of his death, the US military said it will continue to target Mustafa.

“Mustafa is an enemy of Afghanistan, and we’re working with Afghan officials to pursue him until he is captured or confirmed killed,” Navy Lieutenant Commander Christine Sidenstricker said.

Eight years after the US military tried to kill Mustafa, he remains a key player in the Taliban’s growing insurgency in western and central Afghanistan.

Mustafa likely played a role in the Taliban’s takeover of Char Sada district in Ghor in July 2014. Before the district was overrun, the Taliban exerted significant influence there. In 2013, Mustafa was spotted along with Mullah Abdul Rahamn, the Taliban’s shadow district governor for Char Sada. The two Taliban leaders imposed the Taliban’s strict brand of sharia law when they ordered the public beating of a couple for having an affair.

Iran’s links to the Taliban, particularly in western and central Afghanistan, have been well established by the US military and government. In an Aug. 2010 designation of General Hossein Musavi and Colonel Hasan Mortezavi, both senior officers in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps – Qods Force, the US Treasury Department noted that the two provide “financial and material support to the Taliban.”

Musavi was the commander of the Ansar Corps, the IRGC command that is assigned to direct operations in Afghanistan. The Ansar Corps is based in Mashhad in northeastern Iran. [See Iranian Qods Force commanders linked to Taliban: US Treasury.]

The US military has targeted multiple Qods Force-linked Taliban leaders and operatives inside Afghanistan, while Taliban commanders have admitted to receiving support from Iran.

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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  • Nick Mastrovito says:

    Are we sure that the Qods Brigade and the Taliban are linked? Why would a quasi-Iranian military force that’s Shia link up with a radical Sunni terrorist group? What am I missing here?

  • Ted Hitchcock says:

    That helps put things into context. Thank you. I noted that you didn’t make the argument that the Islamic State was also involved in that attack, as the NY Times did on the 7th: “Officials in Ghor say the presence of both the Taliban and a faction that claims allegiance to the Islamic State is facilitated by two men with long criminal histories in the province. Qari Rahmatullah, a leader of the group that operates under the Islamic State flag, is also a longtime local commander who fought against the Soviets in the 1980s and has been affiliated with one of Afghanistan’s main political parties, Jamiat e Islami.” If true, that would be a very strange set of bedfellows. We’ve seen similar unconfirmed stories out of Sari Pul yesterday. Do you think that the Taliban is really realigning itself to stop fighting with IS and starting to collaborate with it?

  • Jeff says:

    Iran ostensibly can use the Taliban as a pawn to counter the foreign policy objectives of Pakistan (and, thus, Saudi Arabia). As much as we wish they didn’t matter, the Taliban still wield political influence in Afghanistan, so it behooves regional players to cater to them in an effort to achieve their own ends. For their part, the Taliban are willing to overlook sectarian differences if the price is right.


Islamic state



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