As I reported very early on Friday, ISAF claimed that they an arms smuggler they captured last Saturday in southern Afghanistan was a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard al-Quds force. Less than twenty-four hours after making that claim, ISAF now is backing down on the claim that the arms smuggler is al-Quds. That’s an awfully short time from announcement to correction, especially since the prisoner had been held for several days before ISAF made the claim.
Here is how AFP described the original ISAF claim:
A member of the elite al-Quds force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has been captured in southern Afghanistan accused of cross-border weapons smuggling, international forces said Friday.
The man, described as a “key Taliban weapons facilitator”, was captured Saturday in Zhari district, Kandahar province, southern Afghanistan, a volatile district targeted in recent coalition offensives.
He was targeted “for facilitating the movement of weapons between Iran and Kandahar through Nimroz province,” a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said.
As they said back in the Nixon era, that story is no longer operational. Here is the ISAF press release “clarifying” the situation:
CORRECTION: ISAF Clarifies Status of Cross-border Weapons Facilitator
The International Security Assistance Force has determined a cross-border weapons facilitator detained Dec. 18 is not a member of the Iranian Qods force, as was originally reported.
Initial intelligence reports led ISAF to believe he was a member of the force, but after gathering more information, it was determined that while the individual may be affiliated with several insurgent-related organizations, he is not a member of the Qods group.
A joint security team specifically targeted the individual for facilitating the movement of weapons between Iran and Kandahar through Nimroz province. The detained man was considered a Kandahar-based weapons facilitator with direct ties to other Taliban leaders in the province.
Adding more detail to the retraction, Dawn (via AFP) gives us this discussion:
Relations between Afghanistan, Iran and the United States, whose troops make up roughly two-thirds of the coalition force, are highly complex and sensitive.
Kabul insists that Iran, as a neighbouring country, has a legitimate concern in helping the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan.
But some [sic] the US are concerned that Tehran could be funding insurgents or trying to play on anti-Western sentiment in Karzai’s government.
BBC provides more information on the arms smuggler from an Afghan security source:
A senior Afghan security official in Kandahar said coalition forces had been monitoring the man for some time.
He told the BBC: “Iranian intelligence officers are helping the Taliban and drug dealers in the south. We deal with it every day. This is a known fact now.
“It was the international forces who arrested him. They had been listening to him for some time and monitoring his electronic communications.”
Adding further interest to the general story of interactions among Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the US (as I discussed in the earlier post), the same BBC article also points out that on Thursday Iran blocked fuel supplies from crossing into Afghanistan and that earlier in the week, a number of Afghan border guards had been jailed in Iran after crossing the border “apparently by mistake”. Afghanistan traded previously jailed Iranian intelligence officers for the border guards.
Given these rapid recent developments, it will be very interesting to see what the next few days have in store for us regarding Iran’s role in Afghanistan.