In his op-ed for the Washington Post this morning, David Ignatius writes (emphasis added):
I hope the administration will open a U.S.-Iranian channel on Afghanistan soon, before the morass there gets any worse. It's one of the best ways I can think of to undermine the Taliban's morale -- and bring all the key regional powers into a process that could allow an eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops. The only way to find out if Iranian signals are for real is to start testing them.
What is Ignatius talking about? For the umpteenth time, Iran is not on our side in Afghanistan. They are currently allied with the Taliban, the mullahs’ one-time enemy. Iran is not going to help us “undermine the Taliban.” They are working with the Taliban to undermine the U.S.-led coalition.
This is not a secret, so why does Ignatius neglect to mention it?
Here is just a small sample of the publicly-available reporting on Iran’s collusion with the Taliban.
In this year’s Country Reports on Terrorism, the State Department reports (as it has in years prior as well):
Iran’s Qods Force provided training to the Taliban in Afghanistan on small unit tactics, small arms, explosives, and indirect fire weapons. Since at least 2006, Iran has arranged arms shipments to select Taliban members, including small arms and associated ammunition, rocket propelled grenades, mortar rounds, 107mm rockets, and plastic explosives.
In written testimony given to the Senate Select Intelligence Committee in February 2009, then Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair explained (emphasis added):
Iran's policy calculation in Afghanistan currently emphasizes lethal support to the Taliban, even though revelation of this activity could threaten its future relationship with the Afghan government and its historic allies within Afghanistan.
Iran is covertly supplying arms to Afghan insurgents while publicly posing as supportive of the Afghan government. Shipments typically include small arms, mines, rocket propelled grenades (RPGs), rockets, mortars, and plastic explosives. Taliban commanders have publicly credited Iranian support for their successful operations against Coalition forces.
General David Petraeus, in written testimony given to the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this year, wrote that “the Iranian regime appears to have hedged its longstanding public support for the Karzai government by providing opportunistic support to the Taliban.” Petraeus also wrote that “al-Qaeda continues to use Iran as a key facilitation hub, where facilitators connect al-Qaeda’s senior leadership to regional affiliates.”
General Stanley McChrystal downplayed the impact of collusion between Iran and the Taliban in his report on Afghanistan last year. Nonetheless, he noted (emphasis added):
Iran plays an ambiguous role in Afghanistan, providing developmental assistance and political support to [Government of Afghanistan] while the Iranian Qods Force is reportedly training fighters for certain Taliban groups and providing other forms of military assistance to insurgents. Iran's current policies and actions do not pose a short-term threat to the mission, but Iran has the capability to threaten the mission in the future.
U.S. military leaders downplay the significance of Iran’s actions because they undoubtedly understand that Iran’s “lethal support” is an act of war. (U.S. intelligence officials have told me as much.) There are dead Americans to prove it.
Iran even pays bounties to the Taliban for each dead American. This reporting is based on Taliban sources, as well as ISAF intelligence reports leaked by WikiLeaks.
It is easy to cite dozens of other similar reports. It is obvious that Iran is on the Taliban’s side in the war against the U.S.-led coalition.
If David Ignatius believes there is a window of opportunity for negotiations with Iran concerning Afghanistan, then fine. The evidence he cites for this proposition is thin, at best, and the notion that Iranian president Ahmadinejad “has been, in Iranian terms, an advocate of engagement with the West” is absurd.
But let’s play along. If we can actually have some meaningful negotiations with the mullahs, then America can begin by demanding that Iran stop killing Americans in Afghanistan (and Iraq). It makes no sense to pretend, as Ignatius does, that Iran “wants to join regional efforts to stabilize Afghanistan” while the Iranians are helping the Taliban kill Americans and Afghans.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.