Iran’s bounty program for killing U.S. troops began as early as 2010. In one instance, a report indicated that a Taliban messenger was dispatched from Kabul to Iran to pick up $18,000 to be distributed to Taliban cells in Wardak Province, Afghanistan. Pictured: US soldiers arrives at the site of a car bomb attack that targeted a NATO coalition convoy in Kabul, Afghanistan on September 24, 2017. (Photo by Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images)
Some U.S. media and politicians have been expressing their indignation of late over Russia’s alleged offers of bounty money to the Taliban for every American soldier it kills in Afghanistan. This unsubstantiated story is then expanded to include an insinuation that the Trump Administration has failed to take action against Russia.
These same journalists and political figures, however, never raise a similar accusation against the Islamic Republic of Iran, which has been offering the Taliban bounty money to kill American servicemen for years.
Iran’s bounty program for killing U.S. troops began as early as 2010. In one instance, a report indicated that a Taliban messenger was dispatched from Kabul to Iran to pick up $18,000 to be distributed to Taliban cells in Wardak Province, Afghanistan. The U.S. Treasury Department’s Terrorist Finance Targeting Center (TFTC) confirmed the relationship between the Taliban and its Iranian sponsors by sanctioning both parties. Money is passed from Iranian companies in Kabul to Taliban agents; Taliban offices in the Iranian cities of Mashhad, Yazd, and Kerman also help facilitate military and intelligence cooperation between Iran and the Taliban.
During the time when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, Shia Iran opposed Kabul’s radical Sunni regime. But after Al-Qaeda’s Afghanistan-based 9/11 attack on the United States, Iranian intelligence agencies began to open links both to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), for instance, issued Iranian passports to Al-Qaeda and presumably the Taliban.
After the U.S. overthrow of the Taliban government, Iran quickly moved to assist the Taliban with weapons, explosives, training, and sanctuary on Iranian territory. One extremely lethal Iranian weapon given to Taliban units is an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) called “The Dragon,” which is engineered to concentrate all of its explosive power after it penetrates U.S. armored vehicles in Afghanistan.
Iran’s Quds Force, which acts as the foreign expeditionary army of the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC), maintains a close training relationship with various Taliban elements. For instance, Quds Force operatives have improved Taliban combat skills in small unit tactics and indirect fire weapons such as artillery and mortars. British military detachments in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, also attest to the Taliban’s ties to Iranian military assistance. Iranian weapons have surfaced as well in Afghanistan’s Kandahar and Farah Provinces, both of which abut Iran’s more than 900-kilometer border with Afghanistan.
Perhaps one of Iran’s motivations in extending help to its erstwhile enemy, the Taliban, is to foil any U.S. effort to exercise influence in Afghanistan, which lies immediately to Iran’s east.
Iran also may be hoping to frustrate progress in armistice talks between U.S. and Taliban representatives currently being conducted in Qatar. Iran may well wish to maintain its own historical influence in the Afghan provinces adjacent to Iran. Iran seems to have allied itself with those Taliban cells opposed to the talks, and Iran’s Quds Force has hosted these radical Taliban groups in its eastern provinces bordering Afghanistan.
One Taliban splinter group so hosted by Iran is the Hezb-e Walayat-e Islami, made up of former Taliban commanders who reject the peace talks in Qatar. However, probably one of the most important Taliban allies of Iran is Abdul Zakir, the confidant of deceased Taliban founder Mullah Omar . Zakir’s close ties to Yakoub Omar, the son of the founder, also contributes to Iran’s influence inside the Taliban.
Iran sometimes maintains operational links to hard-line Taliban elements for reasons other than opposition to U.S. presence in Afghanistan. Tehran’s regime, for instance, is troubled by ethnic Baluchi separatist sentiment along its eastern border with Afghanistan. The Iranians would evidently like the Taliban to target Baluchi militia and the black market gangs who cross the border. Shia Iran probably hopes to persuade the Taliban to convince its ally, the radical Sunni Khorasan group, not to attack Shiite neighborhoods in Afghanistan.
Additionally, the Iranian regime most likely wants to maintain its historical hegemony in Afghanistan’s Herat Province.
Some Taliban cells, perhaps even among those favoring armistice talks in Qatar, may be supportive of the Taliban hard-liners’ friendly links with Iran. Hard-liner Taliban ties to Iran serve to reduce the risk of relying too heavily upon Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), whose primary loyalty is to Pakistan, not the Taliban.
In short, Iran’s animus against the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, along with its bounty rewards to Taliban militants who have killed American soldiers, is more long-lasting and extensive than the alleged Russian bounty program. The real issue here is why the U.S. media, journalists, and politicians remain silent about it.
Dr. Lawrence A. Franklin was the Iran Desk Officer for Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. He also served on active duty with the U.S. Army and as a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve.
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