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Iran and the Taliban: A tactical alliance?

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Iran and the Taliban A tactical alliance

However, the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan, the fear of a resurgent ISIS in Afghanistan, and water issues have prompted Tehran to ramp up its engagement with the Taliban. This tactical alliance will enable Iran to further expand its influence in Afghanistan.

Iran and the Taliban have long had their ups and downs. In 1998, the two sides nearly came to a direct clash when Taliban forces killed Iranian diplomats, though the incident ended without a major conflict. However, the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan, the fear of a resurgent ISIS in Afghanistan, and water issues have prompted Tehran to ramp up its engagement with the Taliban. This tactical alliance will enable Iran to further expand its influence in Afghanistan.

Iran has had covert contacts with the Taliban, the most dangerous terror group in Afghanistan, for many years. But recently, Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), went public with the relationship, claiming that contacts had been made with the aim of “curbing the security problems in Afghanistan.”

The announcement came as a surprise not because the public was unaware of Iran’s secret relations with the Taliban, but because Tehran has always tried to keep its ties to terror groups an “open secret” in an attempt to maintain plausible deniability. Why did Tehran decide to go public about the Taliban connection now?

A review of the relationship’s history may help to explain the mullahs’ thinking. Relations between Iran and the Taliban have long had their ups and downs. During the period of Taliban rule, Iran saw the group as a threat to its interests. The two sides almost came to a direct clash in September 1998, when Taliban forces kidnapped and killed nine Iranian diplomats and one journalist in the Iranian consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) vowed revenge and prepared to launch an all-out attack. But the crisis ended without a major clash, perhaps due to the fear that Islamabad would retaliate in support of the Taliban or that Afghanistan might become a quagmire for Iranian forces similar to that experienced by the Soviet Union in 1979-89.

The 2001 US-led military operation that led to the collapse of Taliban rule prompted the Iranian leadership to reconsider its original calculation and recalibrate its approach. It welcomed high-level Taliban figures who escaped to Iran (e.g., Abdul Qayum Zakir and Mullah Naim Barich) and began extending support to Taliban fighters.

While the two sides are on different ends of the religious spectrum, Tehran views the Taliban as a useful point of leverage against the US. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), a NATO force composed of American, British, Canadian, and other troops, was created by the UN in 2002 and tasked with training the fledgling Afghan army and protecting the government of Hamid Karzai and his successor, Ashraf Ghani. The Iranian regime viewed the ISAF with concern, as it feared the US might use Afghanistan as a base from which to launch a kinetic attack on Iran. The Taliban insurgency thus became viewed by Tehran as a tool with which to keep American forces preoccupied.

To assist in the Taliban’s fighting of the ISAF, Iran allowed the Afghan terror group to open an office in Tehran and invited its leaders to attend a two-day International Islamic Unity Conference held by the World Forum for Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought in Tehran.

Iran’s support for the Taliban did not terminate even when President Barack Obama assured the mullahs that the military option was no longer official US policy towards Iran. Intelligence reports indicate that Tehran’s military and financial support for the Taliban has in fact escalated ever since. Afghan military officials have accused the Revolutionary Guards of providing military, financial, and logistical support to the terror group, to the extent that Tehran’s support enabled the Taliban to capture districts in western Afghanistan, including the provinces of Farah and Ghor, and the Taywara district. There are also reports indicating that Quds Force operatives had a “physical presence” in Ghor assisting Taliban fighters in their offensive against the central government.

Fighting ISAF was only one of the goals of the Quds Force in Afghanistan. Drug smuggling from Afghanistan to Iran has been a profitable business for the Quds Force, which is known for its extensive ties to drug cartels in South America. In 2012, the US Department of the Treasury (DOT) designated Brig. Gen. Gholamreza Baghbani, the chief of the Quds Force in the Zahedan office, a narcotics trafficker. The DOT document noted that in return for Iranian business, Afghan traffickers moved weapons to the Taliban.

Financial incentives aside, the emergence of ISIS in Afghanistan – especially in provinces that border Iran, such as Herat, Farah, and Nimruz – rattled the Iranian regime, prompting the leadership to ramp up its engagement with the Taliban. Unlike al Qaeda and the more malleable Taliban, the radical anti-Shiite ISIS poses a real threat to Iran’s interests in Afghanistan. Providing better training for the Taliban was thus not only a way to undermine the American-led ISAF, but a barrier to a new ISIS caliphate across the Afghan border.

Various reports indicate that the IRGC created a training camp in South Khorasan province (Khorasan Jonobi) to train Taliban fighters, providing them with weapons and explosives. The Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation (Komite Emdad Imam Khomeini) in the same province is said to be donating untold amounts of capital to the terror group in addition to calling for volunteers to fight alongside Taliban forces.

Some observers have directly linked improvements in the Taliban’s performance, and ISIS’s consequent inability to establish a strong foothold in Afghanistan, to Iranian support. Since mid-2017, Taliban and ISIS forces have regularly clashed in eastern Nangarhar province, with the Taliban easily defeating ISIS thanks to the military support it has received from the Quds Force. As one commentator put it, the “scale, quality, and length of training is unprecedented and marks not only a shift in the proxy war between the United States and Iran in Afghanistan but also a potential change in Iran’s ability and will to affect the outcome of the Afghan war.”

Other commentators have noted that Iran’s backing of the Taliban’s assaults on government forces were linked to water issues. Iran has been attempting to enable the Taliban to derail energy projects that are currently under construction, namely the Poze Lich Hydropower plant in Ghor, and the Bakhshabad and Salma dams in the neighboring province of Farah and Herat, respectively. The construction of these dams, which would massively boost local energy and water supplies, is not acceptable to Iran. On July 5, 2017, President Hassan Rouhani declared that Iran “cannot remain indifferent to the issue [water dams], which will damage our environment.” According to Rouhani, “construction of several dams in Afghanistan would affect Khorasan and Sistan-Baluchistan provinces,” and Tehran “is not going to stand idly by.”

It is worthy of note that the publicizing by Iran of its ties to the Taliban came days after reports appeared on talks between the US and the Taliban over proposals for a ceasefire in Afghanistan. Iran is sending a message to Washington and Kabul that if its concerns are not addressed, it can sabotage any attempt at a permanent peace in Afghanistan. Certainly, given Iran’s ties to the Taliban and the new regional arrangements (i.e., Trump’s decision to withdraw half of US forces from Afghanistan), Iran will be able to further expand its political, economic, and sectarian influence in that country.

Dr. Farhad Rezaei is a member of the  Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA) in Washington, DC and the co-author of Iran, Israel, and the United States: The Politics of Counter-Proliferation Intelligence (Rowman & Littlefield, NY). @Farhadrezaeii


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Foreign Affairs

A Japanese F-35 is missing and that’s a very big deal!

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A Japanese F-35 is missing and thats a very big deal

While America’s elected officials of both political parties obsess over a nothingburger political scandal, meanwhile on the other side of the Pacific Ocean our warfighting capabilities and that of our allies are seriously threatened. A Japanese F-35A fighter aircraft has gone missing!

Media coverage has predominantly been from sources in the Asia-Pacific Theater. Following are excerpts regarding the disappearance and analyses of the significance.

The US and Japan still can’t find a missing F-35, and its ‘secrets’ may be in danger

One week has passed since a Japanese Air Self-Defense Force F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter mysteriously disappeared.

Japanese authorities believe the fifth-generation stealth fighter crashed in the Pacific.

A Japan Air Self-Defense Force F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter flown by 41-year-old Maj. Akinori Hosomi disappeared from radar last Tuesday, April 9.

No distress signal was sent out as the aircraft vanished roughly 85 miles east of Misawa Air Base.

The F-35A is an airplane that contains a significant amount of secrets that need to be protected.

Tom Moore, a former senior professional staff member with the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, tweeted recently, “There is no price too high in this world for China and Russia to pay to get Japan’s missing F-35.”

US scrambles to keep F-35’s secrets safe from Russia and China

Japan’s F-35A that went missing is believed to be able to act like a high-performance radar in the air.

The U.S. has placed a never-before-seen level of priority on this crash. That is likely because the F-35A is expected to play a crucial role in the future of modern warfare.

U.S. has suspended delivery of F-35 equipment to NATO ally Turkey because of Ankara’s decision to purchase Russian-made missile systems with Washington citing an intelligence risk.

Any information on the technology in the F-35s is in high demand. China has reportedly already acquired parts of the F-35 blueprint through cybertheft. It has been advancing its own stealth fighter program, deploying its own J-20 jet to rival the F-35.

…[B]eing able to touch and analyze the actual material or radar-absorbing stealth paint used for the F-35 will boost its understanding to a new level….

It is not hard to imagine that the military and intelligence brass in Beijing and Moscow are salivating at the idea of an F-35A in the sea.

The fact that the U.S. military has taken the unusual step of sending a B-52 bomber to the crash area is a stern message that it will not allow anyone to touch the plane.

The F-35A that crashed into the Pacific this time is thought to be sunk on the seabed about 1,500 meters deep.

The crash site is roughly 150 km off Japan’s Aomori Prefecture and within Japan’s exclusive economic zone. China and Russia cannot conduct search or salvage operations without Tokyo’s permission. But it is not entirely impossible that the China’s People’s Liberation Army or the Russian military will deploy submarines or underwater drones to attempt to reach the F-35A.

The fate of the sunken F-35A has the potential of altering the air power balance between the major powers.

********

China has to be the prime concern that they be prevented from obtaining the technology of the F-35 and reverse engineering it for their own military advantage.

It is pertinent to look at the variants of the F-35 and the role they play in military actions.

********

F-35 VARIANTS

Three Variants, Common Capability

The F-35 family includes three variants – all single-seat jets: the F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant, the F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variant, and the F-35C carrier variant (CV).

The U.S. Air Force as well as the majority of our allied air forces and Foreign Military Sales (FMS) nations will operate the F-35A.

The F-35B model short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variant is designed to operate from austere, short-field bases and a range of air-capable ships operating near front-line combat zones. [Used by U.S. Marine Corps.]

The F-35C carrier variant (CV) is the Navy’s first stealth fighter and the world’s only 5th Generation, long-range stealth strike fighter designed and built explicitly for aircraft carrier operations.

********

Japan says its F-35A stealth fighters made seven precautionary landings before crash

Marine Corps F-35B, capable of short takeoffs and landings….

The downed aircraft, which was the first F-35A put together in Japan….

Commanders have not set a time limit on the search for Hosomi and the missing aircraft.

Unfortunately, one pilot on board is still missing as of now and the location of the aircraft has not been identified but we will do our best to find them as soon as possible.

All Japanese F-35As have been grounded since the incident.

Though U.S. search and rescue efforts have ended, we will continue to coordinate with our Japanese partners on efforts to locate and recover the missing aircraft.

Japanese crash investigators will seek U.S. support since the F-35A has a special fuselage and contains classified information.

Carl Baker, executive director of Pacific Forum in Hawaii, said searchers would use sonar to try to find the aircraft. It’s stealth capabilities, which make it virtually invisible to radar, won’t be a factor underwater.

However, the size of the search area and the lack of precise coordinates could mean a long search.

********

Let’s take a moment to look at the vital role that American F-35s play in the daily standoff in the Middle East between Israel and all its hostile neighbors.

********

Stealth on Steroids: Meet Israel’s F-35I Adir (An F-35 Like No Other)

F-35I Adir — or “Mighty Ones” — will be the only F-35 variant to enter service heavily tailored to a foreign country’s specifications.

F-35I stealth fighters had flown on two combat missions on “different fronts”.

The first nineteen stealth jets received by Israel will actually be standard F-35A land-based fighters, while the following thirty-one will be true F-35Is modified to integrate Israeli-built hardware.

Israeli F-35Is uniquely will have an overriding Israeli-built C4 program that runs “on top” of Lockheed’s operating system.

An official told Aviation Week the IAF expects the advantages of the F-35’s low radar cross section will be “good for five to ten years” before adversaries develop countermeasures.

While Tel Aviv basically wants the United States to carry out such an attack, the F-35 makes an Israeli attack on Iran more practical.

The activities of Israel’s Adirs are likely to continue to remain conspicuously in the news, if less so on hostile radars.

********

As stated in the section above regarding Israel, each version of the F-35 is most effective until adversaries develop countermeasures. That’s why finding the missing Japanese F-35 is so urgent right now.

The F-35A, F-35B, F-35C and F-35I have each been developed to serve a specific type of warfighting need. For Japan, the near adversaries would be China and North Korea. For Israel, it would be Iran and potentially even Turkey.

If the wreckage of the missing plane is under many fathoms of water, then it is a scramble to locate it, protect it from adversaries and retrieve it. China and Russia are most in a position to try to beat us to it.

But the fact that there was no distress signal before the plane went down ~ and specious claims of having found small pieces but not the classified technology ~ indicate that at this point we must consider whether the pilot defected and potentially flew an F-35A straight to China. Hopefully not. But it behooves us to know for sure. Sooner rather than later.

The People’s Republic of China is a supplier and supporter of rogue countries all the way from North Korea to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Any American technology they can steal will certainly get into the hands of both the Madman of Pyongyang and the Ayatollah in Tehran. General Soleimani of IRGC Quds Force would exploit it to counteract Israeli air supremacy.

So don’t get too caught up in the political frenzy over the Mueller report. It’s just fodder for money-hungry pundits and power-mad politicians. But if China and/or Iran can reverse engineer an American F-35, the risk of a military confrontation increases greatly. NOQ Report will continue to monitor and cover this developing story.

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Foreign Affairs

Posobiec: Maduro negotiating with Spain on Venezuela exit strategy

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Posobiec Maduro negotiating with Spain on Venezuela exit strategy

Contested Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro may be exploring options to leave the country and move to the safety of Spain, according to an One America News report from Jack Posobiec. Speaking to Americans for Intelligence Reform president Brad Johnson, the two discussed a possible exit strategy that would put Maduro in Spain and leave the country in the hands of U.S.-backed leader Juan Guaidó.

The nation is in a state of complete economic and social collapse. Years of socialism has taken one of the richest countries in the western hemisphere and turned it into a nation of chaos and destitution. The writing for Venezuela has been on the wall or years, and perhaps now the failed leader is ready to take his personal riches and make a break for it.

Guaidó has a semblance of infrastructure ready to take over if Maduro should leave. He also has the backing of many nations who would be very willing to help him make the quick transition to power should Maduro cede it.

Opinion

We’ve talked many times about the failures of socialism in Venezuela and the oppression of a people who have no recourse to save themselves as a result of the sacrifices made to install socialism in the first place. For the first time, there seems to be a potential for the suffering to end in the near future as the hope predicated by a Maduro exit could translate into instant resources. The United States and other countries have attempted to send aid to the people, but the military under Maduro’s control has not let it through. Under Guaidó, the aid should start reaching the people immediately.

This is beyond the point of being a political struggle. Lives are being lost. A nation is losing its ability to sustain itself, and the longer Maduro is in power, the harder it will be for them to recover. He needs to go now, and anything short of military intervention should be explored.

Quote

“I think the recognition by the United States of Juan Guaidó is the beginning of the end for Nicolás Maduro, and I think that’s how Maduro views it himself.” – Brad Johnson

Final Thoughts

In this exclusive interview, Posobiec and Johnson discuss the possible outcomes of an exit by Maduro, one that will instantly shake the nation. But they can recover with assistance, and Guaidó will have it ready for him if he takes control.

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Foreign Affairs

The President is right to veto war powers bill. Now he needs to pull support for the war in Yemen.

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The President is right to veto war powers bill Now he needs to pull support for the war in Yemen

As seems to be the case with so many things associated with President Trump and foreign policy, he is both right and wrong about how to handle a particular military status. On one hand, he’s right to veto the bill passed by Congress that called for the U.S. to end support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. On the other other hand, it’s time for the President himself to end our support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen.

As I Tweeted earlier:

Congress normally gives away its power to the executive branch by relying on departments and agencies far too much. This is a case where Congress is actually wrong to step in and try to interfere with the Presidential power of Commander-in-Chief. That’s not their lane. It doesn’t matter if they think the war is bad or Saudi Arabia is unworthy of our help. Both might be true, but it’s not their call. The President was right to veto it.

Of course, the war itself is none of our concern. We can and should be working through NGOs and directly to help the people who have been affected by the war. Starvation is rampant. This is another Syria, only without “easy” access to Europe for the people to flee to while their homes are being destroyed. But claims that our interests are being served militarily by being involved in a proxy war with Iran is foolish. It may be true to some extent, but not enough to justify our support.

I’m biased. I was opposed to our coziness with Saudi Arabia long before Jamal Khashoggi was murdered. For decades we’ve acted like we’re beholden to the Saudis because, unfortunately, we likely are beholden to them behind the scenes. But that doesn’t mean it’s any less disgusting. I wish I could go on television and scream like Howard Beale in Network about the corruption of our system by the Saudis, but no network would be crazy enough to put me on the air.

Nevertheless, the President’s veto was righteous.

We need to pull our support for the war, but not because Congress steps out of their lane pretending they wield the power of Commander-in-Chief. The consequences of deflating the executive’s military control are too great.

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