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Table of Contents:

Afghanistan is a Graveyard for Foreign Invaders — Iran Included: Baria Alamuddin, Arab News, July 5, 2020

What Iran Wants in Afghanistan and What U.S. Withdrawal Means for Tehran:  Colin P. Clarke and Ariane M. Tabatabai, Foreign Affairs, July 8, 2020

 As U.S. Moves to Exit Afghanistan, Rivals Prepare to Swoop In:  Frud Bezhan, Radio Free Europe, July 12, 2020

The US-Taliban Deal and Its Impact on Iran-Pakistan Relations:  Niranjan Marjani, The CACI Analyst, July 23, 2020

 ______________________________________________________Afghanistan is a Graveyard for Foreign Invaders — Iran Included
Baria Alamuddin
Arab News, July 5, 2020Last week’s news was dominated by reports that the US president had ignored intelligence indicating that Russia offered bounties to the Taliban to murder American troops. The world should not overlook the fact that Iran has long been doing the same: As far back as 2010, Taliban fighters were collecting more than $1,000 each from Iran for each US soldier they killed, and The Sunday Times identified five Iranian front companies in Kabul clandestinely distributing funds to the militants.

Britain’s ambassador to Afghanistan at the time, William Patey, said his government was aware that Iran was “supporting the Taliban against our troops … logistically and with money,” which he described as “sickening” given the Taliban’s viciously anti-Shiite ideology.

Although Iran and the Taliban were then nominal enemies, Tehran was exporting weapons for militants to attack NATO forces in western Afghanistan, notably roadside bombs that had proved so deadly in Iraq.

This relationship became considerably warmer from 2015 as Daesh in Afghanistan came to be regarded as a greater threat to Iranian interests. Iran sent squads of assassins and spies, and infiltrated the police and civil service, with far-western Herat a hub for these clandestine activities.

Iran began holding substantive talks with senior Taliban officials about strategic alignment. In 2016 a US drone killed Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour as he returned from Iran after discussions with Iranian and Russian security officials.

A major Taliban assault on Afghan cities throughout autumn 2016 was largely at Tehran’s instigation. Taliban fighters were recruited from refugee populations in Iran, primarily from Shiite Hazara communities (similar demographics were drawn on for Iran-funded militias in Syria). Dead and wounded Taliban from these campaigns were transferred back to Iran, along with the bodies of four senior Iranian commandos killed in the fighting.

Incentives offered to Afghan recruits for Tehran’s overseas paramilitary adventures include Iranian nationality. However, all but the most desperate refugees have been increasingly reluctant to be deployed as Syrian cannon fodder, particularly after families of the deceased often failed to receive promised compensation.

Iran has forcibly repatriated hundreds of thousands of the three million Afghan refugees inside its territory. Many have suffered extreme brutality by Iranian border guards. In the past couple of months, dozens drowned after being beaten, tortured and forced back into a river along the border. Others were burnt to death after their vehicle was fired on by border guards.

With Tehran offering arms and training for Iran-affiliated Taliban elements in western Afghanistan, Farah province governor Mohammed Arif Shah Jehan (a former intelligence official) observed that “the strongest Taliban here are Iranian Taliban.” Nevertheless, Iran’s ambitions beyond the western provinces are somewhat constrained, given that Hazara and Tajik communities tend to be wary and suspicious of Tehran, while Pashtun footsoldiers of the Taliban are often nakedly hostile. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

What Iran Wants in Afghanistan And What U.S. Withdrawal Means for Tehran
Colin P. Clarke and Ariane M. Tabatabai
Foreign Affairs, July 8, 2020

Negotiations to end the long-running war between Afghanistan’s central government and the Taliban slowly inch along, punctuated by spasms of violence. The Taliban and the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) often lash out with attacks on the Afghan security forces and civilians, with the ISKP frequently targeting Shiite communities. Any settlement will likely require the United States to withdraw most combat troops from the country. U.S. President Donald Trump is eager to leave Afghanistan after nearly two decades and plans to review several options for drawing down troop levels, something that could easily happen by the end of the year.
A reduced American presence could provide Iran with an opening to expand its influence in Afghanistan. Tehran has long been wary of instability in its eastern neighbor—decades of conflict have driven hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees into Iran—and so far has refrained from taking the kinds of intrusive actions there that it has in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen where its proxies operate. But Iran will now have more room for maneuver and might be tempted to intervene in Afghan affairs more forcefully, both to protect its own domestic interests and to undermine those of the United States.
Tehran and Washington have butted heads in many parts of the Middle East, but they share common objectives in Afghanistan. Iran supported U.S. efforts following the invasion in late 2001, helping build the coalition that would replace the Taliban in Kabul. In early negotiations after the invasion, Iranian officials insisted on the importance of holding democratic elections in the post-Taliban era. Today, neither Iran nor the United States has any desire to see ISKP grow stronger in the country.
Iran requires stability in Afghanistan. The two countries share a porous border, and the consequences of turmoil in Afghanistan often spill over into Iranian territory. Iran is home to hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees; it is also a key avenue for the smuggling of opioids to Europe. The two countries came to the brink of war at the height of the Taliban’s rule in the late 1990s when, in September 1998, the Taliban killed several Iranian diplomats in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif. Iran’s leaders vowed revenge and deployed thousands of troops to the border region. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

As U.S. Moves to Exit Afghanistan, Rival Prepare to Swoop In
Frud Bezhan

Radio Free Europe, July 12, 2020
The U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 was backed by most countries in the region, who shared the goal of ousting the extremist Taliban regime and eliminating the allied Al-Qaeda terrorist network.

The governments in Tehran, Moscow, and Islamabad readily helped the United States fight the extremist groups. Iran provided crucial intelligence to support U.S. special forces and CIA teams orchestrating the invasion. Russia supplied Soviet-era maps and intelligence and later allowed the U.S. military to send supplies to Afghanistan through its territory. Even Pakistan, the chief backer of the Taliban, offered its assistance in helping hunt down Al-Qaeda militants and became the main supply line for NATO forces.

But in the intervening 19 years, the regional consensus favoring the U.S. troops in Afghanistan has eroded. Though the U.S. military swiftly overthrew the Taliban and eliminated Al-Qaeda safe havens in Afghanistan, many feel it got bogged down in mission creep. Meanwhile, Washington’s ties with many regional players — including Pakistan, Iran, and Russia — became toxic.

With U.S. forces scheduled to exit Afghanistan next year as part of a framework peace deal with the Taliban, Washington’s rivals see an opportunity to step in and expand their footprint in the war-torn country.

Those efforts have intensified since the United States and the Taliban signed a deal in February aimed at negotiating an end to the war, which began way back in 2001. Under that agreement, U.S. forces will withdraw from Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which has pledged to negotiate a permanent cease-fire and power-sharing deal with the Kabul government.

The delayed intra-Afghan peace talks are expected to be complex and protracted, and will likely take years.  Impatient to end the costly and unpopular war, President Donald Trump is considering fast-tracking the exit of American troops ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November, according to U.S. media reports. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

The US-Taliban Deal and its Impact on Iran-Pakistan Relations
Niranjan Marjani
The CACI Analyst, July 23, 2020

BACKGROUND: On February 29, the U.S. and the Taliban entered into an agreement to end the war that has been going on for 18 years. The agreement was designed to restore peace in Afghanistan and to facilitate the withdrawal of U.S. troops. Among the important implications of the deal are Pakistan’s increasing importance in Afghanistan, the sidelining of the Afghan government and the increasing political prominence of the Taliban.

Pakistan has played a crucial role in the negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban. Pakistan has supported the Taliban and called for a dialogue with the organization ever since the U.S. attacked Afghanistan in 2001. The eventual U.S. concession to talk to the Taliban has vindicated Pakistan’s stand. This has also raised Pakistan’s stature with the Taliban and in Afghanistan. Due to its role in reaching the deal and its enhanced status with the U.S. and the Taliban, Pakistan has gained the upper hand over the Afghan government.

The withdrawal of U.S. forces and support from Pakistan will only make the Taliban stronger and its hold over Afghanistan firmer. A major role for the Taliban in Afghanistan will also affect Iran-Pakistan relations. Iran has built closer contacts with the Taliban since 2003, against the backdrop of its deepening conflict with the U.S. Meanwhile, Iran’s relations with Pakistan are strained. Several cross border skirmishes have occurred and their bilateral interaction is also affected by their relations with other players, particularly the U.S. and India.
The major driver of Iran’s interest in Afghanistan and the Taliban is to counter the U.S. Since Pakistan will remain a key actor in Afghanistan, Iran’s increased role in the country will depend largely on improving its relations with Pakistan. Therefore, the rise of the Taliban could provide a positive catalyst for Iran-Pakistan relations.

IMPLICATIONS: Iran has taken a long-term interest in developments in Afghanistan and has participated in them to a degree. In the 1990s, Iran supported the Afghan forces fighting the Taliban, as did the U.S.

However, as the U.S. declared Iran part of the Axis of Evil in 2003, Iran took a more favorable stand towards the Taliban and started developing ties with the group from 2005. In 2012, the Taliban opened an office in Mashhad, Iran. Taliban leaders have also visited Tehran from time to time. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

For Further Reference:

Iranian Links: New Taliban Splinter Group Emerges That Opposes U.S. Peace Deal: Frud Bezhan, Radio Free Europe, June 9, 2020 — A new breakaway Afghan Taliban faction that has close ties to neighboring Iran and opposes efforts aimed at ending the 18-year insurgency in Afghanistan has emerged.
How Russia Built a Channel to the Taliban, Once an Enemy Mujib Mashal and Michael Schwirtz, NYTimes, July 13, 2020 –– During one of the most violent stretches of fighting in northern Afghanistan, as the Taliban scored victories that had eluded them since the beginning of the conflict, the top American commander went public with a suspicion that had nagged for years: Russia was aiding the insurgents.
We Still Have More Questions Than Answers on Russian Bounties:  Thomas Joscelyn, FDD, July 1, 2020 — On June 26, the New York Times reported that American intelligence officials “have concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan—including targeting American troops—amid the peace talks to end the long-running war there.”
An Afghan Perspective: A New Phase in Afghanistan-Iran Relations:  Michael Rubin, AEI, July 1, 2020 — Iran-Afghanistan relations are historically fraught. Much of Western Afghanistan—the Herat, Nimruz, and Farah provinces—were Iranian territory until the settlement ending the 1856-1857 Anglo-Persian War assigned them to Afghanistan.


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