Possible Proof of Iranian Support for the Taliban

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by Joshua Foust on 3/18/2010 · 30 comments

For several years, U.S. officials have alleged that “Iranian weapons” were being supplied to Taliban militants, mostly in Farah and Herat but also elsewhere in the country. Most often, the official would make the charge in the passive voice, leaving it open to interpretation whether the arms shipments—assuming they were even identified correctly—were official Iranian policy or merely origination from other groups in Iran.

I’ve been a consistent critic of these charges (and the casual assumption of “Iranian-backed” to describe Taliban leaders we don’t like)—sure they might happen on a small scale, but does it really make sense for Iran to arm an immediate enemy against a more distant one?

A major reason I disbelieve these charges is Iran has a tremendous amount to gain from a prosperous Afghanistan, and their investments in Hazara and Tajik communities has been among the more successful foreign aid projects of the last eight years… and the Taliban will destabilize and destroy those areas should they gain the upper hand in the war. If they fund the Taliban, who then destroys hundreds of millions of dollars of Iranian investment, the regime has managed to embarrass the United States, true, but at a ludicrous cost that would leave it in the weak and borderline-unwinnable position it found itself in when the Taliban massacred its diplomats in Mazar-i Sharif in 1998. (In 2002, Iranian special forces collaborated with American special forces in the West to drive out Taliban units.)

Channel 4, however, claims to have acquired hard evidence that Iran is, in fact, doing something so astoundingly counterproductive.

The exclusive images and documents show, for the first time, the full extent of Iranian support for the Taliban in the shape of tonnes of weapons of the type being used against UK troops in Helmand province.

Despite the millions of dollars being spent by the international community to ensure cross-border security between Iran and Afghanistan, Channel 4 News has been shown vast hauls of weaponry which Afghan security services have told us are just a fraction of hardware intercepted from Iran on their way to the Taliban.

They claim it shows the true extent of direct support from the Iranian government for the insurgency.

This is enormously damaging, if true. It brings into question the close ties between Hamid Karzai and the Iranian government, as well as the entire nature of the security posture of NATO forces in the South. However, 13 paragraphs in we see:

Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which operates in Herat, said that they did believe there was “limited” Iranian support for the Taliban through weapons and training, however they did not believe that it was at a level that was “decisive” to the outcome of the anti-insurgency effort.

They go on to interview a Taliban commander in Kunduz who says the Iranian government is crucial support for his insurgency because of the pressure Pakistan has placed on militants. But even there, it doesn’t seem as open-and-closed: the commander, for example, says he and his men have to rely on “professional smugglers” to get weapons, money, and so on, which implies there probably isn’t widespread official endorsement of the activity. When they don’t use smugglers they personally carry these items. So where are they buying them in Iran?

Of course, just last month Frontline ran a high-larious story on the Taliban in Baghlan province, just south of Kunduz (they were really HiG, but whatever). Those guys were very obviously run and managed by Pashtuns and Arabs from Pakistan, not Iran.

So at least based on what they have posted online, it doesn’t seem like a slam-dunk case, to borrow a troubled phrase. It is a narrative that plays to American and British assumptions of Iranian perfidy, but despite the cache of weapons on display it doesn’t directly implicate the Iranian government in any of the smuggling—any more than the Taliban operating in Waziristan directly implicates the Pakistani government (that is to say: neither government is monolithic and certainly has factions that behave semi-autonomously). If, however, the Channel 4 documents actually involve official Iranian government in shipping arms to the Taliban as part of a deliberate strategy to “bog down” the U.S., then it would be the first time concrete evidence of their involvement has been shown. And if that actually happens, then we have a rather big deal on our hands.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1849 posts on Registan.net.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 30 comments }

Ian March 18, 2010 at 10:41 am

Arms flood across the border from Tajikistan too, but no one freaks out about “Tajikistan supports the insurgency OMG!” Until somebody comes up with some clearer evidence, the assumption has to be smugglers. Even if they are Iranian by nationality, that does not mean that it is the government.

A perfectly possible explanation is that individual IRGC members with access to suppliers and smugglers are cashing in on the war bonanza in Afghanistan (much like other non-state actors from other countries do there). That would look more like “government involvement,” but it still wouldn’t even be “government policy.”

Joshua Foust March 18, 2010 at 10:43 am

You’re onto something. (I forgot the Tajikistan angle!)

But U.S. policymakers DO freak out over the Tajik al Qaedas trying to ruin things. I’m thinking specifically about Tavildara last year, but there are other incidents as well. Tajik militants seem just barely behind Uzbeks (who are themselves barely behind Chechens) on the scary-scale.

Andy March 18, 2010 at 11:14 am

Joshua,

The Iranians are assisting some elements of the insurgency, but that support is purposely limited. The Iranians are very good at this (a lot better than we are) and they are specifically providing a level of support that sends a message (to the US) while not providing any kind of decisive advantage for the Taliban. This isn’t as astoundingly counterproductive as you may think. They get to be a thorn for the US with the assumption that the thorn can become much bigger should the US decided to attack Iran. The Iranians also build contacts and influence outside the Shia communities they can use when the US is gone. That’s pretty smart in my book.

Joshua Foust March 18, 2010 at 2:05 pm

I agree – a limited support only to spoil U.S. efforts would be smart. That’s certainly how the ISAF officials they interviewed portray it, even if their take is that such support is much more widespread.

A.E. March 18, 2010 at 2:37 pm

I agree with this. The Iranians are hedging their bets.

Andy March 18, 2010 at 3:33 pm

You can also look at Iranian involvement in Iraq. Iranian weapons weren’t only sent to the Shia factions, for example. These weapons killed some Americans but the support there was purposely calculated to send a message.

anan March 18, 2010 at 5:03 pm

Andy, have you talked to many Iraqis about this? Have you talked to any Sadrists about this?

Iran’s policy in Iraq was so stupid; that stupid squared won’t cover it. In fact, the Iranian policy in Iraq was so insane; even a two year old could have done ten times better. Iran is hated across the entire Iraqi political spectrum more intensely today than in 1988, let alone in the early 2000s when Iran’s soft power peaked. Even Muqtada and Amar al Hakim have to frequently denounce Iran harshly.

Iran did get some goodwill by their loyal support for the Iraqi resistance against Saddam 1980-2003. Granted there was a lot of animosity towards Iran due to the 1980-88 war. But Iran had recouped some of that by helping the Iraqis overthrow Saddam; and having Iraq’s leaders in 2003 and 2004 publicly thank Iran for its important role.

All of this was squandered and then some by Iran’s brain dead policy.

Andy, check adds run by Hakim’s 24 hour news channel from late 2007. They were so anti-Iranian . . . you would think the Iraqi resistance (I mean post 2003 resistance or “sunni arab militias” to be more precise) were running them.

Even Hakim would imply that Iran was backing Al Qaeda and behind the terrorist attacks that mass murdered tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians. To remind everyone, the Hakims [ISCI and Badr Corps] were advised, funded, trained and equipped by the IRGC Kuds from 1979 on. In fact, many called them a wing of the IRGC Kuds similar to Hezbollah.

Muqtada was almost completely dependent on Iranian advisors, trainers, equipment and funding. So much so; he had little effective C2 (command and control) over his own militia. Muqtada lived in Iran and was studying Shia theology under respected Iranian clerics. This same Muqtada publicly on many occasions accused Iran of backing Al Qaeda inside Iraq while living inside Iran.

Andy, it is very hard for Americans to understand the degree to which Iran’s close Iraqi allies of 2003 now revile Khamenei. [Noticed how Maliki and the Najaf Marjeya refused to congratulate Ahmeninijad on his electoral victory.]

Having highly popular and respected Generals of the Iraqi Army going on public TV and blast Iran repeatedly . . . for all of our (America’s) many mistakes . . . we never did anything that incredibly dumb. You should look back at some of the briefings by LTG Othman in 2006-2008 about Iran. LTG Othman (even though he is named after the 3rd rightly guided caliph Uthman (honored by Sunnis), he is a nonsectarian, nonpartisan, patriotic Shiite) created 8th IAD almost from scratch in 2004. It was the first Iraqi Army Division to stand up (at the division level); and for many years arguably the best in the entire IA. [LTG Othman's personal gravitas, diction and "smartness"--can't quite put another word to it--is also quite remarkable.] Uthman controlled 5 of the 18 Iraqi Provinces; or the entire upper South. The PR damage of LTG Uthman going after Iran . . . is difficult to overstate.

I use to watch statements by popular IA generals and Iraqi politicians bashing Iran . . . in dumb astonishment at how Khamenei could be so incredibly stupid. It didn’t have to be this way. Many Iraqi Shiites and Kurds wanted good relations with Iran in 2003.

If you noticed Andy, 10 out of 12 Grand Ayatollahs (Marjas) in Quom came out against Khamenei. Only 1 was openly supportive of Khamenei. I don’t know the position of 1 Marja in Quom. [Now one of the 12 or Montezeri has died. So there are 11 left.]

Khamenei has almost no legitimacy or support among the clerics of Quom (Iran’s Vatican to oversimplify it.)

Part of how this happened was Khamenei’s brain dead policy of backing Al Qaeda terrorists that mass murdered tens of thousands of Shiites, including many of Shiite islam’s most respected clerics.

Now the global Shiite leadership hates Khamenei (I mean in Najaf, Quom, India, Pakistan.) Hillary publicly said she thinks Khamenei has lost power and Iran has become a military dictatorship.

This is in part because of what Khamenei did in Iraq. If Khamenei could be linked to aiding the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan too . . . you can imagine the consequences. The Afghan Hazara and Iranian people will want Khamenei’s head. And given how deeply unpopular and weakened Khamenei is among Iranians; they just might get it.

Andy, have you ever heard any Iraqi praise the competence of Iran in Iraq?

Joshua, any involvement by Iran in attacks against the ANA would be incredibly counterproductive. It would cause a large backlash by Afghan Hazara Shiites, Uzbeks, Turkmen, Tajiks and Pashtuns against Iran. Could you imagine the PR damage that would come from multiple clips of ANA generals bashing Iran in public in Dari and Pashtu?

Dafydd:
“The Iranians claim to have some proof of US support for Jundullah, this could be a response to that.” Backing Jundullah is like backing Osama Bin Laden. Is America supporting Neptune against Venus too?

I haven’t yet found any clear evidence of Iranian support for the Taliban or AQ linked networks in Pakistan and/or Afghanistan. I’ll look forward to what channel 4 actually produces.

Bobby March 19, 2010 at 7:54 am

Anan,

I pretty much agree with the gist (if not the actual wording) of everything in your comment, but I would note that you’re taking issue with something that Andy hasn’t actually said. Andy merely stated that Iran’s policy of providing material support to encourage violence in Iraq was designed to send a message to the US; this is correct. You have countered that the policy has backfired (quite badly, in fact) on Iran and has caused them to squander much of the influence they might otherwise enjoy right now; this is correct, as well.

Dafydd March 18, 2010 at 12:33 pm

Doubtless there are large amounts of arms supplied to the Afghan government that end up in Taliban hands.

Does that mean the Afghan government supports the Taliban. It is the US that supplies the Afghan government, need I go on?

There are a whole load of possible angles.

The Iranians claim to have some proof of US support for Jundullah, this could be a response to that.

Alternatively some weaponry might have been destined for Jundullah but they are now unable to take the shipment, hence it leaks over to Herat.

I am not sure what the Persian writing proves. I don’t read Persian, and even if I did, I don’t know how (un)likely it is someone else put that writing there.

Channel 4 is pretty reliable and independent. I will watch them with interest this evening. Like you I find the basic idea of offical Iran supporting the Taliban to any great extent difficult to believe. Frankly I don’t buy the US supporting Jundullah to any great extent, and that is somehow less unbelieveable. My initial thought is that Channel 4 have been stung.

If there is any kind of solid proof, this would look very bad back home & in Iraq for the Iranians. The Taliban are keen on the total elimination of all Shia.

William O. Beeman March 18, 2010 at 9:56 pm

I appreciate these comments. Herat, and indeed all of Western Afghanistan is Persian speaking. The idea that “Persian markings” appear on weaponry is proof of nothing. Indeed, if you don’t know the scripts, Pashto and Urdu also use Arabic script with some different letters. The absurdity of the idea that Iran is supporting the Taliban is underscored when one realizes that the extreme conservative Sunni Taliban consider Shi’ism a heresy. They approve of killing Shi’a believers. This is why the Shi’a Hazara in Afghanistan have been under such siege for so long. As I said, this is an extreme position that few Sunnis in the world share (however, al-Qaeda is of the same opinion). Iran is implacably opposed to Taliban rule. The more likely scenario is that Sunni Jundullah forces are supplying the arms to the Taliban–and these arms may in fact be Iranian standard issue military arms. Jundullah are Baluchi, operating in Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. They can enter places like Helmand Province with no difficulty. Look at a map.

Fabius Maximus March 18, 2010 at 10:06 pm

This “iranian aid” story was a staple of the Iraq War as well. After all, how could we be having so much trouble with a ragtag insurgency, if they were not supplied by a nation-state?

The rebuttal is spelled MANPADS. When those appear, we’ll know that the insurgents recieve serious outside aid.

anan March 18, 2010 at 10:16 pm

Fabius, are you accusing LTG Uthman, LTG Deputy Chief of Joint Forces Staff for Operations and IGFC commanding Gaidhan, and other Staff commanding generals of the IA (Iraqi Army) of lying? If you are, that is a serious charge.

You are also accusing the commanding generals of MNF-I, and MNC-I of lying under oath to the US Senate; or high treason. Do you have any data to back up your serious allegations?

Why don’t you ask Iraqi Army officers directly about Iranian involvement in attacks against them circa 2006-2008? Have an Arabic friend translate the conversation for you.

Ask Muqtada. Ask Amar al Hakim. Why don’t you trust Iraqis?

Fabius Maximus March 19, 2010 at 11:26 am

There is strong evidence of past Iranian support for the Shiite insugents in Iraq. There is evidence of past low-level Iran contact with the Sunni insurgents, and indications of low-level support. From memory, the hot stories of massive aid tended to pan out upon examination.

Does anyone know of any comprehensive study of this issue?

There have been frequent warnings during the past few years that Iran was providing MANPADS to insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, an obvious step if they were seriously involved. That would be a game-changer, and obviously has not happened (yet) on any significant scale.

Andy March 19, 2010 at 12:10 am

Fabius,

Manpads would be a red line. Explosives, guns, ammunition is one thing and are common enough to provide plausible deniability. Manpads are something else.

M Shannon March 18, 2010 at 11:06 pm

Anan. Did you just ask if it was possible a government official was lying?

We would all be better off to assume anything coming from government was always spun, often intentionally misleading and often a lie. Is this cynical- yes 100%- but it is the only sensible response to the years of lies and corruption that have gotten us into the mess we’re now mired in.

anan March 19, 2010 at 12:44 am

Shannon, politicians might lie. But uniformed militaries are held to a higher standard. For a uniformed member of the military to lie to the Senate is high treason and an impeachable offense. Can you please indicate one time since 1787 that the uniformed US military has ever lied to the Senate? Just one example?

It isn’t just the US military, it is other militaries as well.

And the proof about Iran’s involvement in attacks against the GoI and ISF and MNF-I is very extensive. Do you realize what it takes for Sayyed Muqtada and Sayyed Amar al Hakim to publicly accuse Iran of this very thing in harsh language on many occasions?

That is like Jerry Falwell attacking the religious right movement. Shannon, you know something about Afghanistan.

M Shannon March 19, 2010 at 2:53 am

Anan: Do you mean like testimony on how the Viet Nam War was going? Or what happened at Tonkin Gulf? Or the cover-up of civilian deaths or prisoner abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan. Or Oly North and Iran Contra? Or the current inquiry in Canada to see if the testimony on prisoner abuse by generals was accurate? Or Powell’s testimony on Iraqi chemical weapons? How about reports on the success of ANSF development?

The actual question is does the military tell the public the lies the pols want them to tell? Most of the time I’d say yes and when a general actually gives the truth- see Shinseki for an example.

DePetris March 19, 2010 at 3:15 am

I’m not exactly surprised by this news. There has always been a hidden assumption among U.S. Military higher-ups that the Iranian Government is trying to “bog down” American efforts in the Middle East and South Asia. They have done so (and continue to do so) in Iraq, where Iranian-manufactured weapons are funneled directly to Shia militia groups sympathetic to Tehran. The vast portion of IED casualties are from weapons of Iranian origin, which shows how far the IRGC will go to kill and humiliate American (and western) troops on Muslim soil.

So the breaking story that Iran is providing some weapons to a former enemy in the Taliban (although not fully disclosed as of yet) is not that new to the U.S. command structure. This is just an extension of their current policy. The Iranian Government cannot fight the United States in a direct one-on-one conventional confrontation, but what they can do is fight using proxies and asymmetrical tactics.

anan March 19, 2010 at 3:24 am

DePetris, Khamenei paid a huge price for his complicity in attacks against the Iraqi Government, Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police (all the while publicly proclaiming himself as their best friend.) It is one reason he is widely viewed as illegitimate and dishonored by the Quom Maryjeya and Iranian public.

Why do you think Khamenei would make the same mistake in Afghanistan? How can having Afghanistan’s leaders, ANA Generals and ANP leaders bashing Iran in public be beneficial to Iran?

This is one reason why I am skeptical about reports that Iran is supporting the Taliban.

DePetris March 19, 2010 at 3:33 am

Anan, who is to say that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei actually ordered or even sponsored these attacks? I understand that he technically has the final say in Iran’s foreign and defense policy, but the country hasn’t been exactly under his control for the past year. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. is growing in both significance and power, especially via an Iranian economy that still relies on oil for most of its revenue. Construction is largely monopolized by the IRGC, and the generals are increasingly challenging the religious principles that have traditionally dominated since 1979. Heck, they even have Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as their puppet.

I’m not saying that this is a “slam dunk” case. What I am saying is that this type of covert activity could have been approved without the Supreme Leader’s permission.

anan March 19, 2010 at 4:00 am

DePetris,

I fear this very thing.

Khamenei may have lost control last summer, when 10 of the 12 grand Marjas in Quom, all the grand Marjas of Najaf and probably almost all the grand Marjas of India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan (my suspicion is that the Lebanese Grand Marja may have stayed loyal to Khamenei, although I don’t know this) turned on Khamenei.

If a faction of the IRGC now rules Iran; then their actions are unpredictable. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad might well be a puppet of this faction. Never since 1979, to my knowledge, has a sitting president publicly disagreed with the supreme leader of the Revolution the way Ahmadinejad has.

Lets see what channel 4 comes up with.

anan March 19, 2010 at 3:19 am

Shannon, I have read over a score books on the Vietnam war, some of them by South Vietnamese authors. Please clearly state when the US military lied to the Senate about the Vietnam war. I am not aware of a single time.

On the Gulf of Tonkin; did the US Navy ever knowingly mislead the Senate? If you want I can research this with some navy guys.

“Or the cover-up of civilian deaths or prisoner abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan.” If you are talking about Iraq; you have no idea what you are talking about. If you are talking about Afghanistan; please be specific?

Are you bringing up the charges against Dostum from 2001? If you are; note that Dostum had advisers from Turkey, Russia, Iran, the US, possibly other NATO countries (and probably India although there is no confirmation of this) when this happened. However, only Dostum was responsible for his actions; no other country. Even the Northern Alliance President Rabbani had little influence over him.

In any case what were many thousands of non Afghan foreign fighters doing up near Mazar e Sharif anyway? What were so many Uighars doing in Afghanistan fighting under Lashkar e Taiyba’s bannar? Still, however aweful Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Omar’s minions were [and they aren't angels], Dostum should have treated the prisoners better.

What exactly do you mean by prisoner abuse in Afghanistan? Do you mean prisoner abuse by the NDS and ANP? If so; you probably know better than me that many Afghans would like the NDS and ANSF to take the gloves off; and are sick of the foreigners getting in the way to protect the Taliban.

“Or Oly North and Iran Contra?” Please be specific. Israel backed Khomeini against Saddam 1980-1988. One of the channels Israel used for this was Oliver North. Thank God for all of us that Israel did this. If Israel hadn’t, Saddam would have probably defeated Iran. In any case, your example is irrelevant since the CIA was involved. Note, I don’t defend the CIA; who are far less competent, valuable and honorable than the uniformed services. Again, where did the uniformed military lie to the Senate? One example?

“Or the current inquiry in Canada to see if the testimony on prisoner abuse by generals was accurate?” If you want to we can take this offline. I would need to consult some Canadians. Right now I don’t see anything that the Canadians did wrong; except getting in the way between the NDS/ANSF and the Taliban. The NDS know what needs to be done. Let them do their jobs.

“Or Powell’s testimony on Iraqi chemical weapons?” Please report one lie from that? Everything Powell said; he believed. [This example does not relate to the uniformed military.] I would challenge you to prove otherwise. Or else, I would ask you to apologize to General Powell.

Perhaps one source of your confusion, Shannon, is that someone can firmly believe that something is true without it being true. But is saying what you firmly and truly believe a lie?

“How about reports on the success of ANSF development?” On this, I can answer you with a fair degree of confidence. I am not aware of a single lie. Please note, I am talking about the Section 1230 and Section 1231 reports to the Congress and briefings by flag staff officers from the US military.

“The actual question is does the military tell the public the lies the pols want them to tell?” The answer is no they don’t. If you remember the military brass stuck up for Shinseki since he was answering a question to the Congress that he was required by law to answer. The US military reports to the Senate, and take an oath to the Senate.

Please review all the transcripts of military briefings before the Congress if you want.

Again, please differentiate between politicians, CIA, State Department; and the uniformed military. The former lie; the latter don’t. That is why you should always verify the source of your information.

afghanatheist March 19, 2010 at 3:31 am

“Iran has a tremendous amount to gain from a prosperous Afghanistan, and their investments in Hazara and Tajik communities has been among the more successful foreign aid projects of the last eight years”

I disagree. A “prosperous” Afghanistan will very likely be US friendly and not-so friendly or even hostile to the Islamic Republic. With permanent US military presence in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzistan and (very likely) a few in Pakistan and then the recent green uprising at home, the Ayatollahs would be feeling the noose tightening around their necks. Iran would rather have the Taliban threat next door than a US one.

Iran has been host to Hekmatyar and Bind Laden children for many years, for Iran a HIG card means a larger sphere of influence than the one possible through any of the northern factions or even the Northern Alliance altogether.

Dafydd March 19, 2010 at 5:57 am

Well, after having watched Channel 4, I am as completely convinced as before that Iran is not trying to secure victory for the Taliban.

On the other hand some degree of high level complicity in supply to the Taliban does seem a little more likely.

I will make the same mistake as everyone else and compare to some other war. In the thirties Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia both supplied different sides in the Spanish civil war with the express idea of preventing defeat for either side. Hitler wanted to keep Mussolini busy (who was more committed in his support of Francos Nationalists/Fascists). Stalin bargained the West would never allow a leftist victory, but didn’t want a nationalist victory either.

Perhaps the Iranians, like Hitler, want to keep the US too busy enough to make a campaign against Iran that much more difficult.

I thought the interview with the supposed ‘Taliban’ from the east was interesting. This guy claimed Iranian support was vital. Not what I would have expected a female journo to wear for that assignment. So far as that bit goes, C4 may well have got stung. Any trouble the Taliban can make for the Shia, they will.

Tim March 19, 2010 at 10:04 am

My enemy’s enemy…

Interesting discussion but I am little confused. I think we should stop talking as if the Iranian regime was a 100% rational actor on the question of Afghanistan, US and the Taliban. Particularly when there are demonstrably significant other interest groups involved in the country. We should also recognise that, simplistically, Iran has two main “enemies” operating in Afghanistan at present – the US and the Taliban. In purely pragmatic terms, I can completely understand why they might like to see both parties being bloodied and bruised over the next five years or so. It seems their economic investments are still coming on apace in western Afghanistan, regardless.

Conversely, it also seems logical that UK and US governments, amongst others, should fire political “warning shots” with public statements that weapons/IEDs etc are coming over from Iran, without ratcheting tension up to the nth degree by directly accusing the Iranian regime of being responsible. They may actually not be.

So all the political actors are doing what all political actors usually do in a confrontation situation – they start to mark out their “red lines” of acceptable vs unacceptable behaviour. Hey, it might even be an attempt by US/UK to alert the Iranian regime to stuff they may not fully know about.

But surely “Persian” lettering on weapons doesn’t mean anything conclusive? It could represent a spectacularly stupid regime or a very clever info op or just a coincidental fact of life, given weapons have been bouncing back and forth across all borders in this region for 20-30 years…

Grant March 24, 2010 at 7:43 pm

A good point on rationality. Something my classmates at college never really got in my opinion was the phrase “Never mistake for malice what can be explained by stupidity”*. While stupidity is not the exact point, all current actors are humans and will have certain human inclinations.
On the weapons, that depends on what kind. If they are fairly modern or of a specialized type then it would be suspicious. Also you would expect more Russian and Chinese than Persian from the past thirty years.
*Paraphrased

Toryalay Shirzay March 19, 2010 at 1:01 pm

Andy,afghanatheist, and Tim, your explanations are more plausible.It is true Iran has 2 deadly enemies fighting each other in Afghanistan and so being the ultra crafty players the Iranians are,they will try their best to keep the Taliban and the Americans busy killing each other.As their enemies are kept fighting each other,the Iranians buy valuble time to build their nuclear arms which if sufficiently built will be a much better deterrent than small allies here and there.

DE Teodoru March 19, 2010 at 8:35 pm

BRAVO! You said it all….Now how do we make you Secretary of Defense?

I hope you’re young so I can die confident that a guy with brains will lead my grandkids in security policy!

Grant March 24, 2010 at 7:39 pm

We shouldn’t just see this in terms of Iran’s relations with Afghanistan. We should also try to see this in terms of Iran’s relations with the U.S, with the Taliban, with Pakistan, and with many other variables that defy easy identification. All of these (in theory) influence a leaders decisions.
If we assume that Iran is indeed shipping weapons to militant groups then here are some possible reasons.
1. Iran feels that the Afghan Taliban are more likely to win the war, and wants them to be more reliant on Iran for aid than Pakistan.
2. Iran is backing both sides in different ways in the knowledge that, regardless of who wins, either side will need to keep good ties to Iran in the future.
3. Iran may want to drag down the U.S in Afghanistan as it attempted* to in Iraq. It is entirely possible that Iran has divorced its policies on the Afghan government from its policies on how to use groups in proxy wars with the U.S.
4. Iran could be using this as a very secretive card in negotiations in the future, either increasing or decreasing aid as negotiations demand.
Please note that all of these are making assumptions. Guesswork is all I have at the moment.

*Whether it succeeded or not is subjective at this time.

Realist Writer March 27, 2010 at 1:13 am

I find it hilarous how people automatically wonder WHY the Iranians are giving weapons to the Taliban…and not caring IF it is the Iranian government itself providing the weapons, or just Iranian smugglers.

Until you actually find this out, the entire discussion just appears to become nothing more than a hotbed of conspiracy theories…And conspiracy theories just don’t seem to go well with me.

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