Like it or not, it's time to get tough on Iran
Those paying close attention to the Afghanistan conflict have long had their suspicions regarding where the Taliban is recieving its armaments from.
On Christmas Day, speaking in the midst of a visit to Canadian troops in Afghanistan, Canadian minister of defence Peter MacKay has finally decided to stop beind so quiet about it.
"We're very concerned that weapons are coming in from Iran," MacKay announced. "We're very concerned that these weapons are going to the insurgents and are keeping this issue alive. We've certainly made our views to the Iranian government about this known."
"It's so difficult to cut these supply lines when you have people from other countries giving out weapons that are being used against Canadian Forces and troops from other countries."
In the days since MacKay's comments some predictable people have made some predictable comments regarding them. Unfortuantely, all too many of these people are willfully out to lunch, and out of touch with the facts.
The fact that Iranian weapons have been ending up in the hands of the Taliban is well known. British military intelligence services have confirmed it.
In fact, on 5 September, British special forces intercepted trucks crossing into Afghanistan from Iran. They contained materiel to make Explosively Formed Penetrators, a form of roadside bomb used by the Taliban.
"It is difficult for me to conceive that this convoy could have originated in Iran and come to Afghanistan without at least the knowledge of the Iranian military," said General Dan McNeill, who noted that these discoveries suggest direct Iranian involvement. "These EFPs have caused me some anxiety. I would say whoever put these together had the benefit of not only knowledge, but also some technology and machines."
The Iranians have also been caught supplying such devices to Iraqi insurgents.
"This confirms our view that elements within Iran are supporting the Taliban," announced a spokesperson from the British embassy in Kabul. "We have previously raised the issue of arms to the Taliban with the Iranians and will continue to do so."
MacNeill and MacKay are far from the only ones to allege that Iran has been supplying insurgents in Afghanistan. In 2006, General Mohammad Ayub Safi, an Afghan officer charged with border security in Herat province, noted that "in only the first quarter of , more than 10 Iranian officials have been arrested in Herat who were allegedly involved in illegal activities."
One caveat, however, should be raised: even General McNeill has been reluctant to accuse the Iranian government of explicit involvement in Afghanistan. Rather, the Iranians may merely be passively allowing shipments of weapons bound for Afghanistan to travel through their territory, and turning a willfully blind eye toward "rogue elements" within their military that are providing such training to Taliban fighters and other Afghan insurgents.
One must also remember that the diplomatic relationship between Tehran and Kabul has notably improved, although one also cannot rule out the interest Iranian officials have in seeing American troops, in particular, killed in combat, as well as the direct benefit they would recieve from undermining fledgling democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It's in Iran's interests to undermine the emerging Afghan state, even if they empower a Sunni regime in the process.
One could raise the point that the Iranian theocracy and the Taliban have always shared a mutual hostility. Then again, those who raise this argument are clearly unaware of, or simply ignoring, the previously-hostile relationship between the Taliban and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (who is their principle ally in the war against the Karzai government and its NATO allies).
War makes for strange bedfellows. History reminds us of that time and time again.
Unfortunately, war against Iran is clearly not an option at this time. With American and British troops in Iraq and NATO troops in Afghanistan stretched near their limit, the forces necessary to deal with definitively with Iran are simply unavailable. While Desert Storm-style air strikes could still concievably put the fear of western power into characteristically beligerent Iranian leaders, the necessary ground support to ensure that lesson takes simply is not available. Other options are necessary.
Deploying more troops along the Iranian border is clearly necessary. Beyond that, the Iranian government must be made to understand that allowing hostile forces to travel through their territory unmolested is an act that will carry repercussions.
If the Iranians want to continue supplying -- be it directly or indirectly -- insurgents in Afghanistan with arms, perhaps its time we start supplying Kurds in Northern Iran with weapons so they can get serious about resisting Iranian oppression. Perhaps the Lor, Bakhtiari and Qashqai tribes that have taken up arms against the Iranian state could use a little assistance.
What goes around comes around, and when it comes to getting tough on Iran, turnabout may yet be fair play.