Afghan officials say the latest military operations against Islamic State militants in eastern Afghanistan show that Iranian and Pakistani nationals have joined the ranks of the terrorist group. The Afghan media today published a confession video of an Iranian national arrested in eastern Nangarhar Province – the power base of the Islamic State along the Afghan-Pakistani border – in which he claimed he was from Iran’s West Azerbaijan Province. The suspect added that he was recruited online through the Telegram social media application and traveled through western Afghanistan and Kabul to join the Islamic State in Nangarhar. He also added that other Iranians have also joined the ranks of the Islamic State in Afghanistan. Nangarhar Police Chief Abdul Rahman Rahimi said that Pakistani and Iranian detainees have confessed that Iran and Pakistan provide financial support to the Islamic State militants fighting the Afghan and U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The Iranian embassy in Kabul said it would not comment on the issue until the investigation by the Afghan authorities is completed.
Hazrat Ali, an Afghan lawmaker from Nangarhar, told Radio Free Afghanistan today that 10 to 12 Iranian militants are “operating in the region comprising the homeland of the Shinwari tribe such as Achin district.” He added: “In the past, the number of Iranian fighters in Daesh (local name of IS) exceeded 100, but I am not sure about where they went or what happened to them.”
On May 29, Afghan security forces also claimed they had arrested Taliban fighters in Nangarhar with Iranian-made weapons. And last week, local officials in Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar Province also said that they have arrested an Iranian on charges of spying for armed groups fighting the Afghan government.
Comment: It is the first time that Afghan officials report on the arrest of Iranian nationals fighting alongside the Islamic State in Afghanistan. While Iran has provided measured support to the Taliban to fight the Afghan and U.S.-led coalition in the past decade and a half, it is also the first time that Afghan security officials accuse the Iranian government of providing support to the Islamic State.
It is possible that the Iranian individuals are radicalized and recruited by the Islamic State social media networks without the knowledge of the Iranian govenrment. Telegram is one of the most popular social media platforms with approximately 20 million users in Iran. Earlier this month, the Telegram said that it is taking measures to shut down channels used by terrorist groups to propagate their agenda.
But it would not be surprising if Iranian authorities are complicit. Similar to the Islamic State, the Taliban is also a radical Sunni organization which killed several Iranian diplomats in the 1990s. But the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.) has been providing funding, training, and weapons to the Taliban over the past years to undermine U.S.-led stabilization efforts and expedite the withdrawal of foreign troops from the Afghanistan.
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