US and partner nations seek to disrupt Iran-Taliban nexus

The US Treasury Department released this graphic in 2012.

The Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (TFTC) has designated nine men who are undermining the Afghan government. The TFTC is comprised of the US and six partner nations: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Some of these same countries have hosted jihadist fundraisers working for the Taliban and its allies, as well as other extremists.

The move is intended to disrupt the relationship between Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Taliban.

Despite animosity between the two sides in the late 1990s, the IRGC and the Taliban have colluded against their common enemies in Afghanistan since 2001.

Six of the designated individuals work for the Taliban in leadership roles, either as part of its parallel governance structure or in other capacities. Three of these Taliban figures have served as either the shadow governor or deputy shadow governor for the group in the Herat, Farah and Helmand provinces. Herat and Farah are located in western Afghanistan, on the border with Iran.

Two of the newly-designated men are officials in the IRGC-Qods Force, which has a long history of supporting the Taliban’s operations.

The ninth individual listed today is an alleged “Pakistan-based narcotics trafficker” who travels around the globe and provides funds to the Taliban’s Quetta shura council.

This isn’t the first time that the US government has exposed the IRGC-Taliban nexus. For years, both the Treasury and State Departments have repeatedly pointed to the relationship in official terrorist designations and other statements. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Analysis: Iran has supported the Taliban’s insurgency since late 2001.]

The US Treasury Department’s statement provides specific details concerning how both the IRGC and the Taliban are structured. As in past designations, today’s move also highlights how illicit drug trafficking is used to fund the Afghan insurgency.

Two IRGC officials

Mohammad Ebrahim Owhadi and Esma’il Razavi, both of whom have been based in Birjand, Iran, are the two IRGC-Qods Force commanders designated today. Birjand, which is not far from the Afghan border in eastern Iran, hosts a training camp for Taliban fighters.

Owhadi, “an IRGC-QF officer,” struck a deal with Abdullah Samad Faroqui (Samad), the Taliban’s deputy shadow governor for Herat Province. The two discussed “Iranian support to the Taliban,” including a compound that was “built in Iran to house Taliban fighters and their families that had been injured or killed.”

As part of their accord, which was brokered in Birjand, the IRGC-QF provides Samad’s men “with military and financial assistance in return for Samad’s forces attacking the Afghan government in Herat.” At “training facilities near Birjand,” the IRGC-QF provides “a basic military training program for Samad’s forces.” Treasury says the arrangement was in effect as of the middle of 2017, as “both parties appeared to be honoring their commitments.”

Treasury offers some brief biographical details for Owhadi, saying that as of 2014 he served as the “second deputy at the IRGC-QF base in Birjand, Iran, and was in charge of providing weapons and ammunition to opponents of the Afghan Government.” Years earlier, circa 2008, he was stationed at “an IRGC base in Nehbandan, Iran, where several youth between the ages of twelve and fifteen years old were being trained in terrorist and suicide attacks.” The IRGC officials at Nehbandan “were subordinate to IRGC officials in Birjand.”

Samad, the deputy shadow governor for Herat who was designated today, isn’t the first Taliban official in Herat to come to terms with the Iranians.

Khairullah Khairkhwa was the Taliban’s governor in Herat prior to the 9/11 attacks. He was captured by the Americans, detained at Guantanamo and eventually included in the exchange that freed Bowe Bergdahl. Khairkhwa repeatedly admitted during his time in US custody that he served as a senior Taliban liaison in meetings with the Iranians. During these meetings, which took place shortly after the 9/11 hijackings, Iran agreed to assist the Taliban in its fight against the Americans and possibly provide anti-aircraft weapons. [For more, see FDD’s Long War Journal reports, DC district court denies former Taliban governor’s habeas petition and Iran and the Taliban, allies against America.]

Years after Khairkhwa’s deal was negotiated, the IRGC was still willing to work with the Taliban’s leadership in western Afghanistan. Treasury mentions additional dealings in 2006. Early that year, Samad and other Taliban leaders met with “Iranian intelligence officials” in Zahedan, Iran — a known hub for the Sunni jihadists. Samad reportedly represented Mullah Obaidullah, the former Taliban defense minister.

The “Iranian officials gave money and equipment to the group of Taliban leaders, who agreed to carry out terrorist attacks targeting reconstruction efforts in western Afghanistan,” the US says of the 2006 encounter.

Razavi, the second IRGC-QF official designated by the TFTC today, has been “in charge of the training center at the IRGC-QF base in Birjand, Iran.” As of 2014, according to Treasury’s statement, this Iranian facility “provided training, intelligence, and weapons to Taliban forces in Farah, Ghor, Badhis, and Helmand Provinces, Afghanistan.” I

Razavi has allegedly played an active role in the fighting on the Afghan side of the border. Last year, in Farah province, he “encouraged the Taliban to conduct attacks in the border region.”

The language used by Treasury to describe Razavi’s role puts him in the driver’s seat, as he has apparently “ordered” Taliban figures to carry out certain duties. Razavi “ordered a Taliban commander to disrupt the ongoing construction of a dam in western Afghanistan.” And he “appointed Mohammad Daoud Muzzamil,” one of the newly-designated Taliban officials, “to find two suicide bombers to assassinate someone working on behalf of the Afghan government in the southwestern provinces of Afghanistan.”

Razavi a veteran of the Iran-Taliban nexus, has also provided “anti-aircraft weapons” to Abdul Rahim Manan, the Taliban’s shadow governor in Helmand, who was also included in the new designation listing.

Taliban shadow governors and other leaders

The six designated Taliban leaders are: Abdullah Samad Faroqui (“Samad”), the aforementioned Taliban deputy shadow governor for Herat; Mohammad Daoud Muzzamil (“Daoud”), the former Taliban deputy shadow governor for Helmand who was subsequently appointed as the shadow governor for Farah and “leader of the Taliban’s Quetta Military Commission”; Abdul Rahim Manan (“Rahim”), the Taliban’s Shadow Governor for Helmand; Naim Barich (“Barich”), the Taliban’s “shadow minister of foreign affairs”; Sadr Ibrahim (“Ibrahim”), the leader of the Taliban’s Military Commission; and Hafiz Majid (“Majid”), a member of the Taliban’s senior shura council and military commission.

The designation announcement includes additional details concerning how these senior Taliban figures have worked with Iran.

Abdullah Samad Faroqui (“Samad”) has been been “one of several Taliban officials maintaining a relationship with IRGC-QF officials based in Birjand in order to accept weapons and military aid from Iran for the Taliban.” This aid included “thousands of kilograms of explosives” (which Samad intended to give to “Taliban commanders” in Herat), Iranian “funds” (used to pay the families of fighters), and training. Samad personally visited the Birjand facility, “where the IRGC was training Taliban fighters to attack a proposed pipeline that would run through Afghanistan.”

Rahim, the shadow governor for Helmand, has worked with the IRGC since at least 2007, when he “oversaw the logistics of lethal aid transfers from the IRGC-QF to the Taliban.” He has also “worked with Iran’s primary interlocutor with the Taliban to request supplies and coordinate lethal aid shipments.” Treasury says that, “as of early 2018,” Rahim was a “Taliban leader responsible for coordinating and organizing Taliban operations in Afghanistan” and had “ties to the IRGC.”

Mullah Naim Barich

In his role as the Taliban’s “shadow minister for foreign affairs,” Barich has “managed Taliban relations with Iran.” The IRGC-QF has “provided weapons to Barich” since 2006, if not earlier, according to Treasury.

Barich has been tracked by US officials for years. He was first designated under the narcotics “Kingpin Act” in 2012. At the time, Barich was serving as the Taliban’s shadow governor in Helmand province. That role is now filled by Abdul Rahim Manan, who was included on the new designation list.

In 2015, Treasury designated another senior Taliban member, Maulawi Abdul Rashid Baluch. Rashid has served as a liaison between the Taliban and al Qaeda, while also working with Barich in the narcotics trade. [For more on Barich and Rashid, see FDD’s Long War Journal reports, US adds Taliban shadow governor of Helmand to narcotics kingpin list and Treasury designates Taliban liaison to al Qaeda.]

Ibrahim, the leader of the Taliban’s military commission, has been working with Iran as well. As recently as this year, according to Treasury, “Iranian officials agreed to provide Ibrahim with monetary support and individualized training in order to prevent a possible tracing back to Iran.” The “Iranian trainers would help build Taliban tactical and combat capabilities.”

Senior Taliban leaders in Pakistan

Although the TFTC announcement focuses on Iran’s support for the Taliban’s operations, some of those listed are based in Pakistan. It is likely that Pakistani officials are turning a blind eye to their activities — at a minimum.

Yet, the US government hasn’t targeted any Pakistani officials for the assistance they provide to the Sunni jihadists, although they may very well qualify for designation. The State Department recently confirmed that there has been no change in the Pakistanis’ behavior, as they continue to provide safe haven for the Taliban’s senior leadership.

Today’s designation mentions that some of the nefarious activities take place on Pakistani soil. For example, Abdul Aziz is “a Pakistan-based narcotics trafficker” who has “narcotics processing facilities” in Helmand. Aziz allegedly works with Taliban commanders, who protect and facilitate his drug trade, which stretches into Europe, Africa, and East Asia.

The Taliban has profited from Aziz’s illicit deals. The US says he “smuggled precious gemstones from Afghanistan for international sale and donated a large portion of these profits to Taliban senior leadership in Pakistan.” He has provided other “financial support to Taliban senior leadership in Pakistan,” including covering the “travel expenses for Taliban commanders.”

One line in Treasury’s announcement, in particular, emphasizes the centrality of Pakistan for the Taliban’s operations: “Aziz provides funds to the Taliban’s Quetta Shura every year and travels to the Gulf to collect money from other international narcotics dealers to provide to the Taliban Quetta Shura.”

The US has long known that the Taliban operates a senior council in Quetta, yet the Pakistanis haven’t taken serious action against its members.

The TFTC offers some other intriguing details from Aziz’s dossier, saying he was eyeing China as the home for a business that is “probably related to a marble quarrying venture in Pakistan.” He had also planned to bring different colors of onyx with him on a trip to the UAE, presumably to sell.

Others on the TFTC list have taken advantage of the Pakistani safe havens as well.

Sadr Ibrahim, who worked for the Taliban’s defense ministry prior to the US-led invasion in 2001, has “served on the Taliban’s Peshawar Military Commission” in the past. The Peshawar Military Commission works with al Qaeda and other Pakistani jihadist groups, too. Ibrahim has served on the Taliban’s Military Commission for the past four years.

Hafiz Majid was once “an advisor” to Taliban founder Mullah Omar and was “the Taliban’s security chief (Chief of Police) for Kandahar Province” prior to the initial toppling of the Taliban regime. Today, Majid is “a Taliban senior Shura and Military Commission Member, and oversees all suicide attacks in Afghanistan.” The identifying information provided by Treasury places Majid in Pakistan.

As of earlu 2017, Mohammad Daoud Muzzamil (“Daoud”) was “appointed as leader of the Taliban’s Quetta Military Commission,” meaning he worked in Pakistan at the time.

US seeking a “negotiated peace settlement”

The US Treasury Department’s announcement says the TFTC “will continue to actively target those providing financial support to the Taliban until there is a negotiated peace settlement.”

But the latest moves underscore why such a settlement will be difficult to achieve. Although some have portrayed the Iranians as a possible ally in Afghanistan, the Iranians are fueling the Taliban-led insurgency against the Afghan government. Pakistan continues to harbor the Taliban’s senior leadership, which colludes with the IRGC and profits from a worldwide narcotics trafficking network.

All the while, the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is running a shadow government, which is preparing to rule over more ground in the future.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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