Wednesday, April 18, 2007

 

Iran and the Taliban

Andy McCarthy at NRO tips us off to a NY Times article, reporting a recent seizure of an Iranian arms shipment to the Taliban in Afghanistan.

In further commentary, McCarthy highlights a Thomas Joscelyn piece from a year ago that explored earlier evidence of Iranian cooperation with the Taliban:

Tom Joscelyn wrote this Weekly Standard piece a year ago about a high-ranking Taliban detainee at Gitmo who has acknowledged providing security for a meeting between Taliban leaders and Iranian officials in the weeks after 9/11, during which Iran pledged to help the Taliban in its war against the U.S.  As Tom details, there is great reason to believe Iran has made good on this pledge — including by letting Taliban and Qaeda fighters escape into Iran after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in October 2001.

Conventional wisdom from foreign affairs analysts and intelligence community types, of course, is that Iran despises the Taliban and, consequently, is likely to be “even more” helpful to us in Afghanistan than the Iraq Study Group farcically assumes it could be in Iraq.  Maybe we should reassess, no?

Needless to say, these kinds of analytic prejudices gravely degrade the quality of the analysis of these same “foreign affairs analysts and intelligence community types.” Oddly, said same prejudices are mandatory requirements for employment as a foreign policy advisor for the Democratic Party. (“Madame Speaker, your prejudice is showing.”)

Michael Gordon begins the Times report by revealing that Iranian Arms were seized, that they were bound for the Taliban, but the Pentagon’s top General remains reluctant to accuse the Government of Iran for official military support of the Taliban:

It was the first time that a senior American official had asserted that Iranian-made weapons were being supplied to the Taliban. But Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said it was not clear if the Iranian government had authorized the shipment.

“We have intercepted weapons in Afghanistan headed for the Taliban that were made in Iran,” General Pace told reporters. “It’s not as clear in Afghanistan which Iranian entity is responsible.”

The shipment involved mortars and plastic explosives and was seized within the past month near the southern Afghan city of Kandahar. Markings on the plastic explosive material indicated that it was produced in Iran, General Pace said.

Some experts will want to share GEN Pace’s reluctance to blame the Iranian Government directly, rather than non-state or internal miscreants. After all, as Gordon notes, Iran supported the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, and backed the choice of President Hamid Karzai. But times have changed since the fall of the Taliban, and Iranian interests have as well. Gordon captures two perspectives on the probable change in Iran’s intentions:

But as relations between Iran and the United States have become more confrontational, some intelligence reports have indicated that the Revolutionary Guards might arm the Taliban in order to weaken and tie down the American military in Afghanistan.

Bush administration officials have repeatedly argued that Iran has been seeking to become the dominant power in the Middle East. Some experts, however, assert that the Iranian strategy may be defensive.

“The overall Iranian role has been to work closely with us to bring Karzai into power,” said Barnett Rubin, an expert on Afghanistan at New York University. “However, the Iranians believe the No. 1 threat is an American attack to overthrow their government. They may do anything it takes to make the United States and its allies uncomfortable there.”

Gordon presents an interesting contrast of views. Whether one argues that Iran takes offensive steps against the US and coalition allies, or defensive steps to preclude US “aggression,” one can hardly argue that Iran seeks a peaceful outcome in either Afghanistan or Iraq. They mean to have their way in the region, and the US remains the primary obstacle to Iranian dreams of supremacy.

We have played it very, very safe in dealing with Iranian interference in both Iraq and Afghanistan. GEN Pace strives mightily, as quoted by Gordon, to maintain some semblance of military focus while avoiding what would seem to the rest of us as clear provocations by Iran:

 “I think we should continue to be aggressive inside of Iraq, and aggressive inside of Afghanistan, in attacking any element that’s attacking U.S. and coalition forces, regardless of where they come from,” General Pace said. He also said that the United States and other nations should use diplomacy with the Iranian government “to address Iranian interference.”

The notion that someone in Iran, or working with Iran, attempts to supply the Taliban without Iranian Government knowledge and approval is risible. To suggest the same about their interference in Iraq is outrageous. From Gordon’s sources:

According to American intelligence officials, the support to militant groups in Iraq is so systematic that it could not be carried out without the knowledge of some senior Iranian officials. “Based on our understanding of the Iranian system and the history of I.R.G.C. operations, the intelligence community assesses that activity this extensive on the part of the Quds Force would not be conducted without approval from top leaders in Iran,” a senior intelligence official said this year. The Quds Force is an elite unit of the Revolutionary Guards.

Earlier I mentioned a piece from last year by Thomas Joscelyn, mentioned by McCarthy. It’s quite the read, though somewhat hard to follow.

This looks like as good an excerpt as any:

Importantly, the government's allegations and the detainee's corroborating testimony are at odds with the intelligence community's conventional wisdom regarding Iran's relationship with the Taliban. After years of mutual animosity, it was assumed prior to the war in Afghanistan that the Iranian regime would celebrate the fall of the Taliban. Each government had supported the other's opposition and diplomatic tensions flared repeatedly throughout the last several years of the Taliban's reign.

But the recently released transcript corroborates earlier reporting on Iran's cooperation with the Taliban, as well as al Qaeda. Afghani opposition sources reported in early 2002 that the Iranians helped Taliban and al Qaeda members escape approaching U.S. forces through the Herat province.

(snip)

The importance of this allegation goes beyond understanding Iran's past behavior. Currently, some analysts assume that fear of U.S. retribution limits Iranian interference in Iraq and support for al Qaeda. But if Iran's leadership agreed to set aside its differences with the Taliban in order to stymie American operations against al Qaeda, then such assumptions are clearly no longer valid.

No longer valid, these assumptions, but retained by such luminaries as the authors of the Iraq Study Group. As I stated earlier, these kinds of analytic prejudices gravely degrade the quality of any analysis that follows.

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