Iran's Support for the Taliban Is No Surprise

The weapons shipments to the Taliban cannot be shrugged off. In 2009, over 10 tons of weapons were intercepted on the Iranian border. An anonymous “counterterrorism official” says that the assistance has reached "very troubling” levels. On August 29, 2009, a stockpile of EFPs, 107 BM-1 rockets, and dozens of blocks of C4 explosives manufactured in Iran was found in Herat. Surface-to-air missiles have even been provided. Afghan intelligence believes that 60% of the Iranian arms used by the Taliban come directly from the regime, and the rest from the black market. The percentage is probably even higher as the regime is probably using the black market to increase deniability.

Taliban commanders are becoming more open about their alliance with Iran. One told the British press, “Our religions and our histories are different but our target is the same. We both want to kill Americans.” Another commander in Kunduz describes the Iranian border as becoming increasingly vital for their operations due to the Pakistani crackdown.

The commanders say that the Iranians pay Taliban militants to go to Zahedan and train for three months in the winter. The first month focuses on attacking convoys, the second month centers on the use of IEDs, and the last month finishes with learning how to attack bases and military posts. It’s also been reported that the Iranians have taught the Taliban how to secure their communications, making it more difficult for the U.S., Afghan, and Pakistani forces to prevent ambushes and other attacks.

The Iranian strategy for Afghanistan is more sophisticated than simply backing one side. The regime is supportive of the post-Taliban government, and Ahmadinejad has met with Karzai. The Iranians are investing in the country as a way of building influence and ties with the local and central governments.

This strategy of dual alignment shows the sophistication of Iran’s covert maneuvering. The Iranians do not hide the fact that the Taliban’s weapons are made in Iran so as to remind the West that they hold the keys to stability. At the same time, Iran co-opts the Taliban by turning their weaknesses into dependency that creates influence. The misguided belief that extremists of different beliefs don’t cooperate actually encourages such alliances.

State sponsors of terrorism know that as long as they deny the West rock-solid proof that would change the stubborn minds of proponents of that theory, they can escape retribution. Because the alliance seems unnatural, it bolsters the position of those who argue that any arrangement is fragile and is only created by an overly aggressive U.S. posture. This is a perception that benefits the regime’s interests, and you can bet they are taking advantage of it.