CATF Reports Jun. 15, 2016, 4:18pm


In 1998, Iran sent more than 70,000 troops to the Afghan border and warned of imminent invasion. While Iran threatened to destroy the Taliban in 24 hours, in retaliation for the murder of more than 8 Iranian diplomats, the United Nations intervened to broker a cease fire. Animosity between the two rivals continued until well after the U.S. overthrew the Taliban in 2001. Indeed, Iran provided material support to the Northern Alliance in an effort to facilitate a speedy end to the Taliban’s reign in Afghanistan.  

But enemies only remain adversaries until a bigger menace comes along who threatens them both. At the first sign of ISIS, Tehran began issuing olive branches. In 2013, Shia Iran invited the Sunni Taliban to a religious conference. And by May of 2015, during the height of ISIS insurgency, the Taliban and Tehran mended fences as the Taliban political officers in Qatar travelled to Iran to discuss mutual concerns: their shared desire to oust the U.S. from Afghanistan, the emergence of ISIS on the Afghan/Pakistan border, and general issues facing Islam.   

By June of 2015, despite non-violent agreements between the two groups, a vicious battle broke out between the Afghan Taliban and ISIS. Members of the Taliban snuck up on an unsuspecting ISIS camp and killed 13 people. This event showed the not only the strength but also the complexity of the Iranian/Taliban alliance. While the Taliban and ISIS allegedly agreed not to kill each other, the Taliban broke that pact and, according to one ISIS convert, the attacks were coordinated by Tehran.

It might appear strange that a Sunni militant group like the Taliban would attack another Sunni militant group at the behest of an ideologically opposed Shia country like Iran. But Iran, it seems, had recently smuggled $3 Million over the Afghan border and pledged an additional 3,000 arms and 40 trucks for the Taliban.

In 2015, less than 20 years after Iran pledged to annihilate the Taliban, the tides turned. Now, after the rise of ISIS and according to Western diplomats, “Iran is betting on the re-emergence of the Taliban.” What a difference a trans-national terror group makes! Indeed, according to one Taliban commander, “Iran supplies us with whatever we need.” Not surprisingly, with a looming deadline for the implementation of the U.S./Iranian nuclear deal, both Iran and the political Taliban office in Qatar denied financial backing.

Again last month the Taliban/Tehran alliance took center stage when the Taliban leader Mullah Mansour was hit by a U.S. drone on the main highway leading away from the Iranian border.  Mansour, it is alleged, was in Iran for two months prior to his death. Little is known about what Mansour was doing inside of Iran during that time; though there are unconfirmed rumors he was either in Iran for medical treatment or that he was visiting family.

A recent Foreign Policy article suggests, however, that the long visit might have something to do with a new Afghan buffer zone, designed to keep ISIS at bay, along the 572-mile border between Afghanistan and Iran. It is now rumored that Tehran provides money, machine guns, ammunition, and rocket-propelled grenades to Taliban in exchange for border protection. Indeed, U.S. officials claim that there are up to 3,000 ISIS fighters currently inside Afghanistan. Iran wants to keep those fighters from crossing the border.  

Many U.S. representatives are worried that Iranian ammunitions and money will be used not only against ISIS but also against U.S. troops in Afghanistan. State Department spokesperson John Kirby admonished Tehran for working with the Taliban and argued that they should be working with the Afghan government to expel ISIS fighters from Afghanistan. “No government should be providing the Taliban material support,” Kirby added.

But Kirby’s proposed alternative seems highly unlikely given that both the Taliban and Iran resent America’s presence in the region. That is, Iran and the Taliban have more in common at this time than Iran has with the U.S. And it seems that Iran is transforming the Taliban into mercenaries along the border. It is doubtful the Afghan government would offer such a service to Iran. So what does the U.S. plan to do about this unholy alliance between Tehran and the Taliban? Public reprimands are a far cry from imposing new economic sanctions. To the contrary, it seems that, for as long as ISIS remains the larger regional threat, loud public scolding, and the piecemeal sanctioning of Quds-Force straw-men, might be as far at the U.S. government is willing to go in dealing with Iran’s terror finance.

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