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The Enemy of Iran's Enemy in Afghanistan

Tehran's Growing Ties with the Taliban

An Afghan policeman keeps watch after a suicide attack on a police headquarters in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, June 1, 2015. Parwiz / Reuters

Recent reports about Iran recruiting and training Taliban fighters are alarming, but they aren’t new. International forces in Afghanistan have seized shipments of Iranian weapons en route to Taliban groups before, once in 2007 and again in 2011. The shipments were big enough that former Defense Secretary Robert Gates went on the record about the “substantial” quantities of weapons that were unlikely to have crossed the border “without the knowledge of the Iranian government.” Later, David Petraeus, who was commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan at the time, explained that, in sending weapons to the Taliban, Iranian officials weren’t likely hoping that the Sunni group would succeed. But, he said, “they don't want us to succeed too easily either.” 

That is still true today. For Iran, arming the Taliban is a way to counter U.S. influence and hedge against the growing threat of the Islamic State (also called

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