The Sunday Times (UK) reported yesterday, based on Taliban sources, that the Iranians are paying bounties to the Taliban to kill American soldiers. (The Times's account is behind a pay wall, but summaries of the story can be found elsewhere in the press.) We learn that the going rate is $1,000 per dead American and $6,000 for each American vehicle that is destroyed.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard of Iran paying out rewards for dead Americans. When WikiLeaks released tens of thousands of U.S. military documents earlier this year, a number of intelligence reports pointing to collusion between Iran and the Taliban (as well as al Qaeda) came to light.
One of the WikiLeaks documents was an ISAF report dated February 19, 2005. The report noted that a group of Taliban commanders consisting of “eight main leaders, all of whom travel into [Afghanistan] to recruit soldiers” was expected to orchestrate attacks against U.S. forces in the Helmand and Uruzgan provinces. “This Joint Group currently resides in Iran,” the document notes, and the “Iranian government has offered each member of the group 100,000 Rupees ($1,740) for any [Afghan] soldier killed and 200,000 Rupees ($3,481) for any [Government of Afghanistan] official.”
So Iran was, according to an ISAF intelligence report, paying bounties for dead Americans in 2005. And in 2010 nothing has changed – except the price ($1,740 vs. $1,000). Throughout much of this time, we’ve heard over and over again that Iran could never, ever work with the Taliban because the two hate each other and theological differences preclude collusion. That has never been true. Their hatred of America trumps their animosity for each other.
“We don’t care who we get money from,” a source described as a “Taliban treasurer” told the Times. The Taliban’s relationship with Iran is “marriage of convenience,” this same source said, and “Iran will never stop funding us because Americans are dangerous for them as well. I think the hatred is the same from both us and Iran. The money we get is not dirty. It is for jihad.”
(Interestingly, this Taliban treasurer picks up proceeds from Iran via an Iranian front company that operates in Kabul.)
Another Taliban commander had this to say: “Our religions and histories are different, but the goal is the same. We both want to kill Americans.”
It is just that simple. Iran will work with anyone to kill Americans and so will the Taliban.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard that the two former foes are collaborating.
And it won’t be the last.
The only real question is this: What is America’s and the Obama administration’s plan for countering this unholy alliance? The administration certainly knows this is occurring.
President Obama’s first director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, noted it in written testimony given to the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2009. U.S. military officials have noted it time and again, including in General Stanley McChrystal’s report on Afghanistan last year. The State Department has repeatedly reported on this collaboration in its Country Reports on Terrorism, including in the most recent edition of that report.
So, again: What is the game plan for countering Iran’s collaboration with the Taliban?
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.