The US Treasury department has added four Iranian Qods Force commanders to its list of specially designated global terrorists, two of whom are charged with directly providing support for the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.
General Hossein Musavi and Colonel Hasan Mortezavi, both senior officers in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps – Qods Force, were designated on Aug. 3 as terrorists under Executive Order 13224 “for their roles in the IRGC-QF’s support of terrorism” and for providing “financial and material support to the Taliban.”
On the same day, the Treasury department also designated Hushang Allahdad for aiding Hezbollah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad; and Mohammad Reza Zahedi, the Qods Force commander in Lebanon, for acting as a “liaison to Hezbollah and Syrian intelligence services” as well as “guaranteeing weapons shipments” to Hezbollah.
The IRGC is tasked with defending the Islamic Revolution inside Iran while exporting the radical ideology to neighboring countries and worldwide. Qods Force is the IRGC’s external special operations branch.
General Hossein Musavi is the commander of Qods Force’s Ansar Corps, “whose responsibilities include IRGC-QF activities in Afghanistan,” the Treasury stated. “As Ansar Corps Commander, Musavi has provided financial and material support to the Taliban.”
Colonel Hasan Mortezavi is described as a senior Qods Force officer who “provides financial and material support to the Taliban.”
Qods Forces’ Ansar Corps is the command that is assigned to direct operations in Afghanistan. The Ansar Corps is based in Mashhad in northeastern Iran. Ansar Corps operates much like the Ramazan Corps, which supports and directs Shia terror groups in Iraq. [See LWJ report, Iran’s Ramazan Corps and the ratlines into Iraq.]
Al Qaeda is also known to facilitate travel for its operatives moving into Afghanistan from Mashhad. Al Qaeda additionally uses the eastern cities of Tayyebat and Zahedan to move its operatives into Afghanistan. [See LWJ report, Return to Jihad]
Background on Iran’s covert support for the Taliban
For years, ISAF has stated that Taliban fighters have conducted training inside Iran, with the aid of the Qods Force, the special operations branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. As recently as May 30, 2010, former ISAF commander General Stanley McChrystal said that Iran is training Taliban fighters and providing them with weapons.
“The training that we have seen occurs inside Iran with fighters moving inside Iran,” McChrystal said at a press conference. “The weapons that we have received come from Iran into Afghanistan.”
In March 2010, a Taliban commander admitted that Iran has been training teams of Taliban fighters in small unit tactics. “Our religions and our histories are different, but our target is the same – we both want to kill Americans,” the commander told The Sunday Times, rebutting the common analysis that Shia Iran and Sunni al Qaeda could not cooperate due to ideological differences.
Background on known Taliban commanders who work with Iran’s Qods Force
In recent years, the US military has targeted several Taliban commanders in western Afghanistan who are known to receive support from the Qods Force.
On July 16, US and Afghan forces killed Mullah Akhtar, a Taliban commander in Farah province, and several of his fighters, during a raid on a training camp used by foreign fighters. Akhtar “had close ties with Taliban and al Qaeda senior leaders,” ISAF stated in a press release. He “was responsible for arranging training for foreign fighters from Iran and helped resolve disputes between militant networks.” Intelligence officials also told The Long War Journal that Akhtar was closely tied to the Qods Force.
Another Iranian-linked Taliban commander is Mullah Mustafa, who operates in Ghor province. The US military said Mustafa commands more than 100 fighters and receives support from Iran’s Qods Force. ISAF thought it killed Mustafa in a June 9, 2009, airstrike in a rural area in Ghor, but Mustafa later spoke to the media and denied reports of his death.
Ghlam Yahya Akbari is yet another Taliban commander who has worked closely with the Qods Force. He served as a commander in Herat province. Akbari, who was known as the “Tajik Taliban,” claimed to operate more than 20 bases in Herat and boasted of having more than 600 fighters under his command. He facilitated the movement of foreign fighters, or al Qaeda, from Iran into Afghanistan, and helped them transit to the battlefields in Helmand and Kandahar. Akbari was killed in a special operations raid in Herat in October 2009. Samihullah, Akbari’s replacement, has even closer ties to al Qaeda and continues to facilitate the movement of al Qaeda fighters from Iran into Afghanistan.
Prior to the fall of Mullah Omar’s regime in late 2001, Khirullah Said Wali Khairkhwa, the former Taliban governor of Herat province who is currently in US custody at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, served as the Taliban’s liaison to Iran. Khairkhwa “was present at a clandestine meeting in October of 2001 between Taliban and Iranian officials in which Iran pledged to assist the Taliban in their war with the United States,” according to documents from the US government’s unclassified files on Gitmo detainees. According to one document, he met with Hizb-i-Islami-Gulbuddin leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Ayman al Zawahiri.
Hekmatyar, who runs one of the three largest Taliban-linked insurgent groups in Afghanistan, is also closely linked to Iran. He was backed by the Iranians during Afghanistan’s civil war in the 1990s, and sheltered inside Iran from 1996 to 2002, under the care of the IRGC.