The US Treasury Department added to its list of global terrorists today three Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force officers and one “associate” who are involved in the “use of terrorism and intelligence operations as tools of influence against the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.”
The designations of the Iranian Qods Force officers were among a series of sanctions by Treasury today that targeted “a diverse set of entities and individuals located around the world for evading U.S. sanctions against Iran, aiding Iranian nuclear and missile proliferation, and supporting terrorism.” In addition to the four Qods Force officers and facilitators, the US also added an Islamic Jihad Union facilitator based in Iran who supports “Qaeda’s Iran-based network” and its leader, Yasin al Suri. [See LWJ report, Treasury Department identifies another Iran-based facilitator for al Qaeda.]
The designation of the four Qods Force operatives “underscores Tehran’s use of terrorism and intelligence operations as tools of influence against the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan,” Treasury stated in its press release.
The Qods Force officers were identified as Sayyed Kamal Musavi, Alireza Hemmati, Akbar Seyed Alhosseini, and Mahmud Afkhami Rashidi. While not directly stated, the four men are likely members of the Qods Force’s Ansar Corps, the command that is assigned to direct operations in Afghanistan. In August 2010, the Ansar Corps was identified by Treasury as supporting Iranian operations in Afghanistan .
Musavi is described as an “Afghan associate” who served as a “facilitator and operational planner” to help Qods Force “plan and execute attacks in Afghanistan.” He is currently held in custody, presumably by the International Security Assistance Force. The date and location of his arrest was not disclosed.
“Musavi assisted the IRGC-QF [Qods Force] in conducting surveillance and planning terrorist attacks in Afghanistan in 2010 prior to his arrest,” Treasury stated. “Musavi operated in Kabul and was part of an attack cell targeting an Afghan official and was apprehended with associates, who were at the time carrying large quantities of explosives and detonators.”
Hemmati was described as “an IRGC-QF chief for Afghanistan-focused operations conducted by the IRGC-QF, who provided key logistics support” for and “worked closely with” Musavi.
“Hemmati worked closely with Musavi while Musavi plotted attacks in Afghanistan, having sent supplies from Iran to Musavi and arranged travel documents for him,” Treasury stated. “Hemmati is pressing for Musavi’s release from detention.”
Alhosseini is identified as “a key IRGC-QF officer who oversees the group’s activities in Afghanistan” and who once served as Qods Force’s “chief” of its Herat office. He provided “travel documents and logistics” for other Qods Force officers, including Musavi.
Rashidi is “a high-ranking IRGC-QF official within the elite IRGC-QF operations unit working in Afghanistan” who was designated for his attempts to influence “Afghan politicians who are sympathetic to Iran to strengthen the Iranian power base in Kabul.” Iranian officials are known to bribe Afghan politicians. In 2010, Afghan and Western officials accused Iran’s ambassador to Afghanistan of supplying President Hamid Karzai with “cash by the bagful,” according to The New York Times.
Other Qods Force officers designated for supporting the Taliban
The US has previously designated other Qods Force officers, including General Hossein Musavi, Colonel Hasan Mortezavi, and General Gholamreza Baghbani, for aiding the Taliban.
General Musavi is the commander of Qods Force’s Ansar Corps, “whose responsibilities include IRGC-QF activities in Afghanistan,” Treasury stated in the Aug. 3, 2010 designation. “As Ansar Corps Commander, Musavi has provided financial and material support to the Taliban.”
Colonel Mortezavi, who was designated the same day as General Musavi, was described as a senior Qods Force officer who “provides financial and material support to the Taliban.”
General Gholamreza Baghbani, the head of Qods Force’s branch in the Iranian city of Zahedan, was added to the US’ list of Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers on March 7, 2012 for supporting heroin and opium smuggling in Iran and Afghanistan “as part of a broader scheme to support terrorism.” The Iranian general supported the drug smugglers in order to arm the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Seven months later, on Nov. 16, 2012, the US added Mullah Naim Barich, the Taliban’s leader for the southern Afghan province of Helmand, to the list of Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers. While the designation did not directly link Barich to Baghbani, the Taliban commander was involved in smuggling heroin to Iran.
In the past, Taliban commanders based in western Afghanistan have stated that they have received weapons, cash, and training from Iranian forces. Taliban commanders and units train inside Iran to conduct attacks against NATO and Afghan forces. In addition, al Qaeda operatives are also known to receive support from the Ansar Corps; Mashad is a transit point for al Qaeda operatives en route to Afghanistan.
US commanders, including Generals David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal, have accused Iran of directly supporting the Taliban.
ISAF has targeted Iran’s network in the past
ISAF targeted Iranian-supported Taliban commanders in at least 14 raids in the provinces of Farah, Nimroz, Herat, Ghor, Kandahar, and Kunduz between June 2009 and February 2011, according to Coalition press releases compiled by The Long War Journal. In one such raid, on Dec. 18, 2010 in the Zhari district in Kandahar province, ISAF said it captured a Qods Force officer, but later retracted the claim.
In early February 2011, ISAF inexplicably stopped reporting on raids against Iranian-supported Taliban and al Qaeda commanders. When The Long War Journal inquired about the sudden halt in reports on Qods Force-linked commanders in the Afghan west, ISAF claimed it does not discuss issues related to Iran.
“As policy, IJC [ISAF Joint Command] does not discuss Iran,” Lieutenant Commander Katie Kendrick, an ISAF Public Affairs Officer, told The Long War Journal in February 2011, despite the fact that ISAF had indeed mentioned the Qods Force in its press releases as well as in followup inquiries. Further inquiries to ISAF about the sudden change in policy on discussing Iran’s links to terror activities in Afghanistan have gone unanswered.
Despite ISAF’s refusal to discuss Iranian operations in Afghanistan, Qods Force continues its activities in the country.