The story of foreign intelligence networks paying bounties for the killing of American troops in Afghanistan has gotten new life with a revelation that Iran paid Taliban troops to kill U.S. and coalition troops.
CNN has reported that they have identified payments linked to at least six attacks carried out by the Taliban in the past year, including a suicide bombing at Bagram airbase in December.
The news network reported that Iran paid bounties through the number two man inside the Taliban to the Haqqani Network for the December 11 attack on the U.S. airbase at Bagram. The attack resulted in the death of two civilians and the wounding of more than 70, including four Americans.
The attack occurred less than a month before the United States carried out the drone strike that killed Major General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force in Baghdad. CNN reported that, according to a current administration official and a former senior official, the Iran-Taliban link was cited as part of the justification for the strike against Soleimani.
The DOD decided in March of this year that it would not take any specific action in response to this intelligence to avoid complicating peace talks with the Taliban.
According to a former defense official, as quoted by Business Insider, the Iranians were openly distributing propaganda leaflets to Afghans who were “ramping up efforts and started to escalate into violence” during the Obama administration’s troop withdrawals in 2016.
The official claimed that the Iranians were openly calling for American and coalition forces’ heads in exchange for cash bounties and that Iran was “claiming responsibility.”
“They weren’t hiding it… ‘If you bring us American heads, we will pay you,'” said the former official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The sophisticated terror attack on Bagram, in which a suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (SVBIED) was used in the attack, was cited by Pentagon and DOD officials. “Based on the nature of the attack and agreed upon bounties,” the Bagram attack met the criteria for Iranian reimbursement to the Taliban, the Pentagon briefing document, which was leaked to CNN stated. This briefing document was provided to the Secretary of Defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff just days after the incident occurred.
The issue of foreign governments encouraging the Taliban to resume attacks on American and coalition forces in Afghanistan remains a thorny topic for the administration. The CIA, NSA, and the NCTC produced a joint intelligence assessment last month. The assessment states that the Iranians paid the Haqqani Network specifically for conducting six attacks against U.S. and Coalition interests in 2019.
Army Major and Pentagon spokesman Rob Lodewick said to CNN that “the Department of Defense does not disclose timelines or discussions surrounding internal deliberations and intelligence briefings.”
“The administration has repeatedly demanded, both publicly and privately, that Iran cease its scourge of malign and destabilizing behavior throughout the Middle East and the world. While the United States, its NATO allies and coalition partners are working to facilitate an end to 19 years of bloodshed, Iran’s inimical influence seeks to undermine the Afghan peace process and foster a continuation of violence and instability,” Lodewick said.
The Iranians had been accused of issuing bounties on the heads of American troops as far back as 2010. But there has been little public acknowledgment by the U.S. government. The Sunday Times in the U.K. had carried a story in September of 2010 according to which the Taliban collected $18,000 from an Iranian firm in Kabul. The Iranian government was reportedly paying $1,000 for every American killed and $6,000 for every vehicle that was destroyed.
The Russians were also accused of paying the Taliban bounties for killing Americans and coalition troops, a charge the Russians vehemently deny. The Iranians have yet to comment publicly on these charges.
Back in January, the Trump administration claimed to have proof that the Iranian regime, through MG Soleimani, was plotting “imminent attacks” against U.S. interests and that the drone strike against him was in self-defense.
Now, this report at least sheds light on the U.S. administration’s decision to hide its knowledge of Iran’s involvement in the attack in order to protect the peace deal with the Taliban.