Newly released documents provide evidence of Iranian collaboration with the Taliban in October of 2001.
6:31 PM, Mar 8, 2006 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
Iran secretly agreed to assist the Taliban in its war against U.S. forces in October 2001, according to the transcript of a high-level Taliban official's tribunal session at Guatanamo Bay, Cuba. The seven-page transcript, as well as thousands of pages of similar documents, was released by the Pentagon on March 3 in response to litigation brought by the Associated Press.
The detainee is not named in the transcript released by the Pentagon, but, according to allegations brought by the U.S. government, the detainee was "the governor of Herat Province in Afghanistan from 1999 to 2001." As governor of Herat, which is the westernmost province in Afghanistan and is situated on the Iranian border, he "worked for Mullah Omar" and "had control over police and military functions in Herat to include the administration of the Taliban's two largest divisions." (According to a list of former Taliban officials prepared by the United Nations, the governor of Herat was a man named Maulavi Khair Mohammad Khairkhwah.)
The detainee admitted that he was the governor of Herat, but denied that he worked solely for Mullah Omar or that he oversaw any aspect of the Taliban's military.
The government also alleges that he at one time served as "the Taliban spokesperson for the BBC and Voice of America;" a charge the detainee did not deny. Nor did he deny a third, more astonishing allegation:
In response to this allegation, the former governor of Herat admitted:
Upon further questioning the detainee explained his role in setting up security for the meeting:
Later, the detainee reiterated that the Taliban sent representatives from the central government:
There is no information in the transcript identifying the Iranian representatives at the meeting. Nor is there any information on what actual support the Iranians provided, if 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. For example, Time Magazine reported:
There is no evidence in the newly released transcript that al Qaeda representatives attended the meeting in October 2001 in Herat. And the deposed governor pleads with the tribunal to "not accuse any of the Taliban as being al Qaeda." He also denies that there was any significant al Qaeda presence in Herat adding, "we would not do anything for al Qaeda."
But the detainee's denials ring hallow. Given what we know about al Qaeda's intimate relationship with the Taliban, Abu Musab al Zarqawi's training camps in Herat, and al Qaeda's history with Iran, it would behoove U.S. officials to press for additional information on the meeting, if they haven't already.
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.
Thomas Joscelyn is an economist and writer living in New York.