The attention on Iran is always about the “red line” its nuclear program cannot be permitted to cross, but there’s another “red line” it is crossing with impunity: The deliberate murder of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. Americans are quick to say they “support the troops” but in Afghanistan, their Iranian murderers are rarely mentioned in the media or by officials.
In August, the Iranian regime brazenly permitted the Taliban to officially open an office in the eastern part of the country and to even operate in Tehran. About one month earlier, discussions about providing surface-to-air missiles began. In late May, a member of the Taliban’s Quetta Shura Council set up shop in the Al-Qaeda dwelling spot of Zahedan. The Taliban were also invited to a September conference in Tehran about the “Islamic Awakening,” the Islamist description of the Arab Spring.
This is nothing new. This has been allowed to go on for 11 years. According to a former Taliban governor, the Iranian regime met with their former Taliban enemies one month after the September 11, 2001 attacks to find out how they can help fight America. When U.S.-led forces invaded Afghanistan, 250 Taliban and Al-Qaeda members immediately fled to Iran in 50 vehicles. This relationship has blossomed over time.
“Since 2006, Iran has arranged arms shipments to select Taliban members, including small arms and associated ammunition, rocket-propelled grenades, mortar rounds, 107 mm rockets and plastic explosives. Iran has shipped a large number of weapons to Kandahar, Afghanistan, in particular, aiming to increase its influence in this key province,” the State Department says.
It was reported in 2010 that five Iranian companies were winning construction contracts in Afghanistan funded with foreign aid. The money was sent back to Iran via the underground hawala money transfer networks and was used to pay Taliban fighters $200 per month. If they kill a U.S. soldier, they get a $1,000 bonus and a $6,000 bonus for the destruction of a military vehicle. Bounties began being offered as early as February 2005, when a U.S. government document reported that Iran was offering $1,470 for the killing of Afghan soldiers and $3,841 for the death of Afghan officials.
Taliban and similar terrorists are also trained in Iran and are paid for their time. Hundreds go to Zahedan in the winter. The first month is focused on learning how to attack convoys without getting captured. Improvised explosive devices (IED) are the trade taught in the second month. In the last month, attacks on military outposts are simulated.
“Our religions and our histories are different, but our target is the same. We both want to kill Americans,” one insurgent commander said.
One top insurgent in Kunduz, Afghanistan, told The Telegraph that Iran’s help is becoming increasingly important. Terrorists in Pakistan are vulnerable to U.S. drones, and Pakistan sometimes cracks down on safe havens. The Pakistani government is far from an ally in fighting Islamist terrorism, but it has been forced to launch offensives in places like Swat Valley and South Waziristan against the Taliban and other terrorists.
Iran is also making aggressive use of soft power and is building ties to the Afghan government, even though it supports Islamist terrorists attacking it at the same time.
“This is much more dangerous than the suicide bombers coming from Pakistan. At least you can see them and fight them. But you can’t as easily see and fight Iran’s political and cultural influence,” said one senior official at the Afghan Presidential Palace in Kabul.
Iran has a natural advantage over the U.S. in the battle for influence in Afghanistan. About 20% of the population is Shiite and all are Muslim. They share a border. Half of Afghans speak a dialect of Persian. Iranian companies do business in western Afghanistan and millions of Afghans work in Iran. Iranian agents regularly infiltrate their neighbor posing as deported Afghan refugees.
Iran is estimated to spend about $100 million per year in Afghanistan on building Shiite religious schools, hospitals, roads, libraries, giving out loans for homes and even paying for weddings and the clothes for attendees. Some residents of Herat Province get monthly stipends of essential products like oil, medicine and sugar.
The key to Iran’s success is that the recipients know who it comes from. American money may provide services, but it’s often distributed through international programs or the Afghan government. The Iranian regime is also unafraid to leverage it. For example, an Iranian consulate threatened to cut funding to a library if it didn’t carry more of its propaganda, such as children’s books with flattering photos of Ayatollah Khamenei.
About one-third of the Afghan media is controlled by Iran, either through ownership or the providing of content. One employee of an Iranian-sponsored television station noticed that all of the analysts toe the Iranian line. The Iranian regime’s agents, presumably including media sources, tried to instigate riots after the story broke that U.S. soldiers accidentally burned a Quran. The New York Times says that the effort mostly failed, but Iran’s hand was seen behind a riot in Herat that killed seven and wounded 65.
Luckily, Iran’s propaganda has become so blatant and overwhelming that it is causing a backlash. Over the summer, Sunni and Shiite Afghans protested on the anniversary of Ayatollah Khomeini’s death, tearing down posters bearing his image promoting a pro-Iran demonstration. “This is Kabul, not Tehran,” is one chant that was heard. Sunni and Shiite Afghans have also protested Iran’s executions of Afghan refugees and fuel blockade.
Iran does not hesitate to bribe and coerce the Afghan government. One official said up to 44 of the 249 members of parliament are thought to have received Iranian money. It was earlier reported that Iran had spent $4 million buying the loyalty of 90 parliamentarians. Karzai admits that his office gets giant bags of cash, $700-975,000, once or twice every year. When asked what Iran wanted from the deal, Karzaid said “good relations” and “lots of other things.” The Iranian regime has also made deposits into his brother’s bank account.
Iran’s carrot-and-stick approach towards the Afghan government works. In April 2007, Karzai asked the U.S. to refrain from publicly disclosing Iranian arms shipments to terrorists in Afghanistan so he could “avoid additional friction with Afghanistan’s neighbors.” Karzai congratulated Ahmadinejad on his “re-election” in 2009. An adviser to Karzai explains that Iran gets Karzai and the government to bend to its will by threatening to deport tens of thousands of Afghan refugees and to cut off fuel sales to the country.
This is the same strategy Iran used in Iraq. It wasn’t that long ago when Iranian proxies battled the democratically elected Iraqi government. Today, the Iraqi government is working with Iran to save Syrian dictator Assad. Even now, Moqtada al-Sadr, now brandishing the title of an ayatollah from his education in Iran, is calling for an uprising.
If Iran succeeds in controlling Afghanistan as U.S. forces leave, the regime will not only have committed the unforgivable sin of murdering American soldiers, but will have stolen all they sacrificed for.
Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org's National Security Analyst and a fellow with the Clarion Fund. He is the founder of WorldThreats.com and is frequently interviewed on Fox News.