KABUL -- More evidence has come to light that the Iranian regime is supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan militarily, logistically and financially, a US Defence Intelligence Agency report revealed.
"Iran's relationship with the Taliban has evolved over the years," according to the report released Tuesday (November 19).
When the Taliban rose to power in Afghanistan in the 1990s, Iran refused to recognise the group as a legitimate government. That animosity escalated and Iran almost went to war with Afghanistan in 1998 after the Taliban killed nine Iranian diplomats.
Iran's relationship with the Taliban began to thaw in 2001 and has continued to grow as Afghanistan increasingly turned to its allies to fight the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) Khorasan branch (ISIS-K) and to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table for intra-Afghan peace talks.
"Since at least 2007, Iran has provided calibrated support -- including weapons, training and funding -- to the Taliban to counter US and Western influence in Afghanistan, combat ISIS-Khorasan, and increase Tehran's influence in any post-reconciliation government," the report said.
This is part of Iran's "dual-track strategy for engaging both local groups and the Afghan government in Kabul to achieve its broader security goals", the report said.
But if the Taliban are looking for a long-term ally, Iran is a fickle partner, the report suggested.
"Tehran does not seek to return the Taliban to power but aims to maintain influence with the group as a hedge in the event that the Taliban gains a role in a future Afghan government," it said.
This is not the first time Iran has been accused of supporting Taliban militants.
In May, security officials found an Iranian-made rocket in Kandahar city, providing further evidence that Tehran is continuing to flood the Taliban with weapons.
Maj. Gen. Tadeen Khan Achakzai, the provincial chief of police, confirmed the discovery in a tweet on May 21.
"The rocket is made in Iran," he said, adding that it was "equipped with new technology which had the power of vast destruction".
Muhammad Karim Atal, a member of the Wolesi Jirga from Helmand Province, said in June that he had already shared his concerns with Kabul about Tehran's involvement with the Taliban.
"Undoubtedly, we have seen signs of intervention by the Iranian government or by those who want to create chaos in Afghanistan -- and Helmand is an example," said Atal, who previously chaired the Helmand Provincial Council.
In Khanashin and Dishu districts, "the National Army and police forces have seized rockets, light and heavy weapons as well as missiles -- which had Iranian markings on them", he said.
Tehran's 'blatant regional meddling'
In October 2018, the US Treasury Department sanctioned two Iranian officials accused of providing financial, logistics or military support to the Taliban.
The Iranian officials were from the Quds Force, a special forces unit of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), according to a Treasury Department statement released at the time.
"Iran's provision of military training, financing and weapons to the Taliban is yet another example of Tehran's blatant regional meddling and support for terrorism," said US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in that statement.
The US government in June imposed new sanctions on the Iranian regime, targeting Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and eight senior commanders of the IRGC.
During a security forum in Herat Province last month, a former Taliban official and Iranian officials publicly admitted that the militant group is receiving support from the Iranian regime.
"I confirm that Iran, Russia and Pakistan support the Taliban," Mullah Mutasem Agha Jan, minister of finance during the Taliban regime (1996-2001) and former political representative of the Taliban Quetta Shura (council), said at the gathering October 18.
Sayed Rasool Mosawi, an Iranian assistant foreign minister who represented his government at the Herat event, did not deny Iran's support of the Taliban.
"They [earlier speakers that day] said during the meeting that Iran helps the Taliban, has a relationship with them or whatever," he said in his speech at the conference. "I want to say that the Taliban are also our neighbours and that we have to live with our neighbours."
"An intelligence and proxy war is going on in Afghanistan," said Rangin Dadfar Spanta, a national security adviser during the presidency of Hamid Karzai. "Iran and Russia are trying to escalate this war because of their feud with the United States. They carry out their proxy wars through the Taliban and other groups."