Archive for the ‘Iran and Taliban’ category

The Odd Couple: Why Iran is Backing the Taliban

March 8, 2018

Stratfor Worldview March 8, 2018

Source Link: The Odd Couple: Why Iran is Backing the Taliban

{The friend of my enemy is my enemy. – LS}

In the conflict in Afghanistan, there are few stranger bedfellows than Iran and the Taliban. The former is the spiritual hub of Shiite Islam, while the latter is a vociferously anti-Shiite Sunni fundamentalist movement. Changing circumstances, however, have brought the onetime foes into a kind of partnership. Whatever its ideological differences with the insurgent outfit, Tehran has every reason to maintain its tactical partnership with the Taliban — while also keeping its ties to the Afghan government.

Kabul’s New Coast

As a regional heavyweight, Iran has long been involved in Afghan affairs. The Islamic republic, for instance, has recruited fighters from Afghanistan’s Shiite Hazara community and from its own 3 million-strong Afghan refugee population to fill out the Fatemiyoun Brigade it has fighting alongside government forces in Syria. Tehran and Kabul also have pursued extensive economic cooperation, especially on the Chabahar port on Iran’s Arabian Sea coast. In May 2016, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani signed an agreement with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to develop the port, a $31 billion project.

For Iran, Chabahar is critical to diversifying the country’s port access beyond Bandar Abbas, which currently processes 85 percent of its seaborne traffic. For landlocked Afghanistan, the venture represents an opportunity to break its reliance on Pakistani ports. India, meanwhile, wants to use Chabahar to ease its economic inroads into Central Asia by bypassing archrival Pakistan. Rouhani, flanked by Afghan and Indian officials, formally inaugurated the first phase of the project — which has languished in developmental limbo for many years — in December 2017, two months after the first Indian shipment arrived there.

The Enemy of My Enemy

But even as Iran’s leaders work with their counterparts in Kabul over Chabahar, Tehran is also reportedly offering clandestine support to the Afghan government’s most potent enemy, the Taliban. The main reason for Iran’s backing is the rise of the Islamic State’s Khorasan chapter in Afghanistan. Unlike the Taliban, whose chief aim is to reconquer Kabul, the Khorasan group is part of a transnational jihadist movement that threatens Iran, too. (An Islamic State cell, in fact, carried out the coordinated attacks in the country’s capital that killed 17 people in June 2017.) The Islamic State has been active in Afghanistan since 2015. And while it maintains a presence in 30 of Afghanistan’s 399 districts, mainly in the country’s eastern Nangarhar province, the group has yet to seize control of any territory. The Taliban have clashed with the newcomers in the past few months in Nangarhar and northern Jowzjan province.

In addition, the Taliban are currently staging around two attacks a week in three districts of Farah province, along the border with Iran, according to a recent BBC study. Although direct evidence of Iranian support for the attacks hasn’t surfaced, previous cross-border attacks in Farah suggest that Tehran may be backing the latest offensives there. In October 2016, for example, the Afghan military fought off a three-week Taliban siege in the province, during which they killed four alleged Iranian commandos who were battling alongside the group. Iran reportedly also provides the insurgents arms, including AK-47 assault rifles, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.

The Taliban, in turn, have demonstrated an interest in cultivating deeper ties with the Islamic republic as well. In 2016, the group’s leader at the time, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, visited Iran allegedly in an effort to diversify his group’s sources of support. Mansoor was killed in a U.S. drone strike after he crossed into Pakistan’s Balochistan province in May of that year. But five months later, the Taliban appointed an envoy to Iran in a further sign of its increasing engagement with Tehran.

Iran Hedges Its Bets

Supporting the Taliban offers Iran a way to counter the Islamic State’s expansion to its east, and Tehran will feel justified in backing the insurgents so long as the transnational jihadist group has a presence in Afghanistan. Beyond counterterrorism, though, Iran wants to maintain contact with the Taliban to be in their good graces if they eventually assume a role in the Afghan government. Even the United States, which has been battling the Taliban for more than a decade and a half, has admitted that a power-sharing deal in Afghanistan likely would involve the Taliban. In that case, Iran will be well-placed to expand its reach in the South Asian country, having kept its ties with both the Taliban and the government’s NATO-backed components.

Iran isn’t the only regional power following this strategy. Countries such as Pakistan and Russia also have intervened in the war-torn state to safeguard their interests. While Islamabad continues to support the Taliban’s leaders, Moscow reportedly has sent fuel shipments by way of Uzbekistan’s Hairatan border crossing for the group to resell. (Russia’s alleged support for the group is a remarkable policy reversal given that the Taliban are the descendants of the mujahideen who fought the Soviets in their 1979 invasion.)

Though there’s no love lost between Iran and the Taliban, the circumstances of the day oblige Tehran to act pragmatically to ward off the Islamic State. The jihadist group’s activity in the country, moreover, provides Iran with a useful pretext to maintain a presence in its long-unstable eastern neighbor. As Iran and other foreign powers use the Taliban to their own ends, the group will keep up its violent insurgency, making it hard for the United States to withdraw from Afghanistan after more than 16 years of war.

Pentagon Chief James Mattis: Iran, Russia Still Arming Afghan Taliban

September 29, 2017

Pentagon Chief James Mattis: Iran, Russia Still Arming Afghan Taliban, BreitbartEdwin Mora, September 29, 2017

Getty Images

The Trump plan to end the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan is “determined” to force the Taliban to the peace negotiation table, said Gen. Nicholson.

Moreover, Trump’s plan is expected to pressure Pakistan to no longer harbor terrorist groups fighting and killing Americans in Afghanistan, including the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and their ally the Haqqani Network, among others.

Unlike the failed policy of the previous administration, conditions on the ground will drive Trump’s strategy rather than arbitrary timelines.

In other words, the Trump administration has not set any timetables to draw down its forces, choosing to wait until it accomplishes its goals instead.

************************************

Russia and U.S.-designated state sponsor of terrorism Iran continue to provide weapons and other military aid to Taliban jihadists in Afghanistan, reiterates United States Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, repeating accusations made by the United States armed forces.

During his first visit to Afghanistan since U.S. President Donald Trump unveiled a new South Asia strategy last month, Secretary Mattis discussed the ongoing 16-year-old war in Afghanistan with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, and American Gen. John Nicholson, the top commander of U.S. and international troops in the conflict-ridden nation.

The Pentagon chief blasted Russia and Iran’s continued support to Taliban jihadists, echoing concerns previously expressed by U.S. officials, including Gen. Nicholson, who has also noted that Pakistan is assisting the terrorist group as well.

“Those two countries have suffered losses to terrorism, so I think it would be extremely unwise if they think they can somehow support terrorism in another country and not have it come back to haunt them,” declared Mattis, referring to Iran and Russia, reports the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). 

Support from Russia and Iran is strengthening the Taliban and lending legitimacy to the jihadist organization, notes the newspaper, citing unnamed U.S. military officials.

“That’s a lot more dangerous right now than what they’re providing in terms of material,” a military official told the WSJ. 

Russia and Iran have conceded sharing information with the Taliban to fight their mutual enemy, the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), but both countries deny providing military assistance to the group.

Afghanistan’s neighbor Iran, which the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) recently said “remains the foremost state sponsor of terrorism,” has also dismissed accusations that it is providing sanctuary to the Taliban.

In December 2016, Gen. Nicholson told Pentagon reporters that the United States is concerned about the “malign influence of external actors” in Afghanistan, such as “Pakistan, Russia, and Iran,” noting that the countries are assisting the Taliban.

The general explained:

Russia has overtly lent legitimacy to the Taliban. And their narrative goes something like this: that the Taliban are the ones fighting Islamic State, not the [U.S.-backed] Afghan government… this public legitimacy that Russia lends to the Taliban is not based on fact, but it is used as a way to essentially undermine the Afghan government and the NATO effort and bolster the belligerents.

Soon after the top U.S. general made those remarks, Reuters learned from unnamed Taliban fighters that the jihadist group had maintained “significant contacts” with Russia since at least 2007, long before ISIS came into the scene.

An anonymous senior Taliban fighter told Reuters that the “sole purpose” of their cooperation with Russia is to push the U.S. military and their allies out of Afghanistan.

The Taliban alleges that Russia’s support is only “political.”

As part of President Trump’s new South Asia strategy, the United States has authorized the deployment of 3,000 additional American troops, bringing the total in Afghanistan to 14,000.

The Trump plan to end the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan is “determined” to force the Taliban to the peace negotiation table, said Gen. Nicholson.

Moreover, Trump’s plan is expected to pressure Pakistan to no longer harbor terrorist groups fighting and killing Americans in Afghanistan, including the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and their ally the Haqqani Network, among others.

Unlike the failed policy of the previous administration, conditions on the ground will drive Trump’s strategy rather than arbitrary timelines.

In other words, the Trump administration has not set any timetables to draw down its forces, choosing to wait until it accomplishes its goals instead.

Gen. Nicholson has welcomed the changes, recently telling reporters the Taliban leadership has “atomized” as a result, reveals the WSJ. 

“For years, they thought we were leaving,” he added, noting that new U.S. and NATO commitments have eliminated that notion.

Although the Taliban remains the most prominent terrorist group in Afghanistan, ISIS has strengthened its reach and influence in the country in recent months.

The Taliban contests or controls 45 percent of Afghanistan, reported the Long War Journal this week, echoing assessment by the U.S. military and the terrorist group itself.

Terrorists launched a rocket attack on the Kabul international airport soon after Mattis landed in Afghanistan on Wednesday, allegedly targeting the Pentagon chief.

The incident is a testament to the deteriorating security conditions Trump inherited from his predecessor.

Both the Taliban and its alleged rival ISIS have reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack.

Tillerson and Saudi Foreign Minister hold briefing

May 20, 2017

Tillerson and Saudi Foreign Minister hold briefing, PBS via YouTube, May 20, 2017

 

The Legacy of the Taliban: Sunni Allies of Tehran

April 20, 2017

The Legacy of the Taliban: Sunni Allies of Tehran, The Jerusalem Center via YouTube, April 20, 2017

(Please see also Taliban Decry ‘Detriments for the Environment’ from U.S. MOAB Explosion. — DM)

The blurb beneath the video states,

The West must not allow terror sanctuaries to grow, thrive, and be used to plan attacks against the West.

The U.S. decision to drop an 11-ton bomb, known as the “mother of all bombs,” in Afghanistan against an ISIS target brought back into focus that entire war and the fact that, aside from the problem of ISIS, there has still been a problem in Afghanistan of the Taliban.

How did the Taliban become so significant over the last number of years since the 9/11 attacks? It’s important to remember that the Taliban are as much a problem as the terror organizations that have congregated on Afghan soil. Taliban policies since the late 1990s involved a number of acts which they undertook which have undermined not just the security of the Middle East but also the security of the world. Of course it was the Taliban who gave sanctuary to Osama bin Laden and to al-Qaeda prior to the 9/11 attacks. They were originally located or protected by the regime in Sudan, but then in the mid-90s, bin Laden moved to Afghanistan where the Taliban had taken control and offered him a location for his training camps. It was there that bin Laden planned and implemented the horrible attack on the United States – against New York and against Washington, D.C.

One thing we’ve learned from this entire experience is that the West must not allow terror sanctuaries to grow, to thrive, and to be used to plan attacks against the West. That is the first lesson from the experience the West has had with the Taliban.

There’s a second experience with the Taliban that should be recalled. In March 2001, the Taliban decided to dynamite Buddhist statues in the Bamiyan Valley in Afghanistan that were 2,000 years old. These statues were located along the Silk Route and they were treasured by adherents of Buddhism, but all of a sudden the Taliban decided to attack these religious sites. The Taliban attack actually induced a debate in many radical Islamic circles about whether it was the right thing to do. At first, for example, the spiritual head of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi , thought it would be a mistake for the Taliban to attack the Buddhas because it would set up Muslims to be assaulted in Buddhist countries. Later, later Qaradawi and others said, “You know what? The attack on these pre-Islamic sites was the right thing to do” and there was even a discussion about destroying pre-Islamic sites in Egypt like the pyramids and the Sphinx.

It isn’t surprising that the derivatives of al-Qaeda that have grown, like ISIS, have been attacking pre-Islamic religious sites all over the Middle East, destroying the heritage of mankind in tens of cities that were once manned and lived in by ancient empires – the Persians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians. This tendency to attack religious sites of other faiths is a very dangerous trend that really had its first modern example with the attacks of the Taliban, and they remind us of a disastrous effects of the Taliban in the years that came afterward.

A third feature of the Taliban presence in Afghanistan is an opportunity we have to learn what are the exact relations between Shiites and Sunnis. Taliban, of course, are radical Sunnis and almost everybody who starts learning about the Middle East begins thinking that Sunnis are at war with Shiites, and that’s how you understand the politics of the Middle East. But it doesn’t always work that way because the Taliban today are equipped and even trained by Iranian forces. Iran is an essential ally of the Taliban despite the fact that the Taliban are radical Sunnis and the Iranians are radical Shiites.

So if there are those who think that they could allow Iran to expand its influence around the area of the Middle East and South Asia and it won’t affect them because their enemies are essentially Sunni, they’re making a big mistake, because an expanded Iran will also enhance radical Sunnism as it has with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Ambassador Dore Gold has served as President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs since 2000. From June 2015 until October 2016 he served as Director-General of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Previously he served as Foreign Policy Advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN (1997-1999), and as an advisor to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.