In a report to Congress authored in April, and posted online earlier this week by Bloomberg News, the Defense Department has once again accused Iran of supporting the Taliban. The unclassified assessment, which is titled “Annual Report on Military Power of Iran,” makes it clear that the U.S. remains the primary focus of Iran’s military and clandestine designs.
“Iran’s grand strategy remains challenging U.S. influence while developing its domestic capabilities to become the dominant power in the Middle East,” the report reads. “Iran’s security strategy remains focused on deterring an attack, and it continues to support governments and groups that oppose U.S. interests.”
Iran does this by “expanding ties with regional actors while advocating Islamic solidarity.” This includes “solidarity” with the Taliban – Iran’s one-time foe.
Despite being on the verge of war with the Taliban in late 1990s after Mullah Omar’s regime slaughtered Shiites, including Iranian diplomats in Mazar-e-Sharif, Iran has found common cause with the group in their fight against American-led forces.
“Although Tehran’s support to the Taliban is inconsistent with their historic enmity,” the DoD points out, “it complements Iran’s strategy of backing many groups to maximize its influence while also undermining U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) objectives by fomenting violence.”
Iran sees the Taliban, along with the Lebanese Hezbollah and Iraqi Shia groups, as “tools” to be used to “increase its regional power.”
This isn’t the first time the Pentagon has pointed to Iran’s relationship of convenience with the Taliban. A 2010 DoD report to Congress contains similar language regarding Iran’s proxy war against America and its allies. That report noted that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps – Quds Force (IRGC-QF) – was delivering weapons “to Afghan militants,” including the Taliban. Tehran also works with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an ally of al Qaeda and the Taliban in post-9/11 Afghanistan, the DoD noted.
Other departments of the U.S. government have previously recognized the relationship between Iran and the Taliban as well. The Treasury Department has designated IRGC-QF commanders for their work with the Taliban. And the State Department has pointed to such collusion in its annual Country Reports on Terrorism.
Iran and the Taliban began working together in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Just weeks after the attacks, the Iranians “pledged to assist the Taliban in their war with the United States.” This revelation came from a current Guantanamo detainee named Khairullah Khairkhwa, who was the governor of the Taliban-controlled Herat province in western Afghanistan at the time.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.