By embedding itself throughout Afghanistan’s government and cultivating networks of assassins and spies, Iran is “working quietly and relentlessly to spread its influence … following the withdrawal of the United States,” The New York Times reported Saturday.

While Iran was once at odds with the Sunni terrorist group, it now sees the Taliban as a “loyal proxy” that can be exploited to “keep the country destabilized, without tipping it over.”

Iran’s growing ties with the Taliban emerged after a United States airstrike in Pakistan last year, which killed Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour. Mansour died shortly after returning from a trip to Iran, where he met with top Iranian and Russian officials.

While Iran had originally fought the Taliban, it later supported it in order to raise the cost of American intervention in Afghanistan, with an eye towards getting the United States to retreat. Iran has increasingly come to view the Taliban as a “useful proxy force,” the Times reported.

While these ties were denied by Mohammad Reza Bahrami, Iran’s ambassador to Afghanistan, the Times described Iran’s diplomatic priorities as complementing those of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps—“the first openly sowing economic and cultural influence, and the second aggressively exerting subversive force behind the scenes.”

“Iran has sent squads of assassins, secretly nurtured spies and infiltrated police ranks and government departments, especially in western provinces,” the Times reported, citing Afghan officials.

Afghan police say that they have arrested 2,000 people over the past three years in counterterrorism operations in the western Herat province, which borders Iran. Many of the suspects are either criminals or rebels who live in Iran and cross the border to attack security or government facilities.

A former mayor of Herat, the capital city of the province, told the Times that the local Iranian consulate disseminates propaganda and is also “devising terrorist activities.”

In the past year, Iran-backed Taliban forces have twice attacked Farah, the capital of another western province. Mohammad Asif Rahimi, the governor of Herat, said that had the Taliban been successful in capturing the city, all of western Afghanistan would have come under the sway of the Taliban.

Timor Sharan, an Afghan government official, attributed the Taliban’s boldness to the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

“The fact is that America created this void,” Sharan told the Times. “This vacuum encouraged countries to get involved. The Syria issue gave confidence to Iran and Russia, and now that confidence is playing out in Afghanistan.”

While it may seem counter-intuitive for Shiite Iran to support a Sunni group, Iran’s record has shown that it prioritizes its imperial ambitions over sectarian differences.

Iran has backed al-Qaeda and still harbors senior members of the terrorist group, and the backing it gave al-Qaeda Iraq (AQI) was crucial in the formation of ISIS, which evolved from AQI.

Senior officials of the Sunni terrorist group Hamas were also received by top Iranian authorities over the weekend in Tehran, where they attended the inauguration of President Hassan Rouhani.

Source » thetower