The Iranian government offered bounties to Taliban militants to target US and coalition troops in Afghanistan, two intelligence sources said to be familiar with the matter have told CNN.
According to the network, the Haqqani Network, a Taliban offshoot led by Taliban deputy leader Sirajuddin Haqqani, may have received payments from Iran for at least half-a-dozen recent attacks on coalition forces, including an assault on Bagram Air Base in December 2019 which killed two civilians, and injured dozens of others, four US military personnel among them.
CNN cited a Pentagon briefing on the Bagram attack, which pointed to “bounties” but did not directly name the government thought to have paid them.
The network’s sources acknowledged that Haqqani Network militants don’t necessarily need payment to target US troops, with bounties merely said to “probably incentivize future high-profile attacks on US and Coalition forces.”
The Haqqani Network was formed in the 1980s and funded by the CIA in its war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, but was designated a terrorist organization by the US in 2012 due to its operations against US and coalition forces following the NATO invasion.
Iran and the Taliban: Allies or Enemies?
Successive US administrations have repeatedly accused Iran of providing weapons and other support to the Taliban for its insurgent war against the NATO coalition. In early 2020, shortly after the US assassination of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani, Washington cited his alleged links to the Taliban as a justification for his killing.
Then, in November 2001, Quds Force units and US special forces entered the city of Herat, northwest Afghanistan, inciting an anti-Taliban uprising by the Northern Alliance, a US-allied militia force Iran had supported since at least the mid-1990s. US-Iranian cooperation in Afghanistan came to an abrupt end in January 2002 however, when US President George W Bush included Iran in his ‘Axis of Evil’ group of nations.
Iran-Taliban relations were poor throughout the latter's 1996-2001 reign over much of Afghanistan, due to the group’s harsh treatment of the country’s minorities, and the 1998 seizure of the Iranian consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif, which culminated in the execution of 11 Iranian diplomats. Only United Nations-led mediation helped talk Iran out of invading Afghanistan in the aftermath of the incident.
The 1998 killing of Iranian diplomats in Afghanistan refers to the siege of the Iranian consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif, in the Taliban-controlled Afghanistan during the Taliban and Northern Alliance battles of Mazar-i-Sharif. pic.twitter.com/4P3DSql12e— DEGOODSON (@DEGOODSON3) August 8, 2020
CNN’s ‘Iran bounties’ story bears similarity to reports by the New York Times in late June accusing Russia of paying bounties to the Taliban to kill US and coalition troops. Moscow, which spearheaded the war against the Taliban’s precursors, the Mujahedeen, in the 1980s, vocally denied the claims, with the Trump administration, members of the intelligence community and the Pentagon similarly dismissing the allegations, although some lawmakers have demanded new sanctions against Russia over the claims.
The Taliban itself has called the Russia bounties story a “fake,” and has accused Afghanistan’s intelligence services of deliberately spreading the misinformation to its US allies try to derail the Afghan peace initiative.
* Terrorist groups outlawed in Russia and many other countries.