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Backgrounder: Is Iran Abetting the Taliban?

Council on Foreign Relations

Author: Lionel Beehner, Staff Writer
June 11, 2007


U.S. officials say they have found evidence that Iran has supplied weapons to Taliban rebels operating along the Afghan-Pakistani border. This has prompted questions about why majority Shiite Iran would support a Sunni-led force it has opposed for more than a decade. But some experts say there are a number of reasons why a strengthened Taliban would serve Iran’s interests, particularly in keeping U.S. forces off balance, as well as potentially deflecting pressure over its nuclear program. Historical tensions complicate relations between Iran and Afghanistan, but their commercial and cultural ties have developed since the 2001 overthrow of the Taliban. Reports of aid to the Taliban suggest that different elements within Iran’s government may be pursuing dual-track policies in Afghanistan.

What is Iran’s alleged military involvement in Afghanistan?

Defense Secretary Robert Gates alleged on June 5 that Iranian-made weapons, including Tehran’s signature roadside bomb—the explosively formed penetrator (EFP)—as well as AK-47s, C-4 plastic explosives, and mortars have been found in Afghanistan and used by Taliban-led insurgents in recent months. Gates said deliveries of Iranian weapons to Taliban forces were made but he did not accuse the highest levels of the Iranian government of signing off on the shipments. U.S. officials are concerned because Taliban forces increasingly use more sophisticated weaponry and mimic the style of suicide attacks popular among insurgents in Iraq. Iran also stands accused of offering sanctuary to opponents of the Afghan government and violating Afghan airspace. Iranian officials deny the charges.

But experts disagree whether the Iranian government is directly involved. Some say the weapons could have been smuggled into Afghanistan via various third-party channels.

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Copyright 2007 by the Council on Foreign Relations. This material is republished on with specific permission from the Reprint and republication queries for this article should be directed to

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