Tag Archives: IRGC

The Haqqani Network, Al-Qaeda, and Pakistan’s Jihad in Afghanistan

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 7 September 2021

Anti-Taliban fighters watch U.S. airstrikes at Tora Bora, 16 December 2001 || REUTERS/Erik de Castro

The State Department spokesman Ned Price said, on 27 August, “The Taliban and the Haqqani Network are separate entities”. The next day, the Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby slightly modulated this, having first tried to dismiss the question, by conceding there was “a certain amount of … commingling … there’s a marbling … of Taliban and Haqqani”, before saying he was “pushing back … [on] the relevance of that discussion”.

What these officials were trying to do was two-fold: (1) to refute press reports that U.S. officials in Kabul had shared “a list of names of American citizens, green card holders, and Afghan allies” with the Taliban, amounting to having “put all those Afghans on a kill list”, as one “defense official” put it; and (2) to deny that the U.S. coordination with the Taliban to evacuate people the jihadists wanted to kill—a surreal enough situation—had involved the additional political and legal problems of coordinating with a formally registered Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), as the Haqqani Network is. Continue reading

Pakistan and the Taliban

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 17 August 2021

Afghan government forces guarding Taloqan, Takhar province, Afghanistan // July 2021 // AFP photo

Kabul fell to the Taliban on 15 August. There is so much more to be said about the disastrous decisions the United States that precipitated this calamity, not least the so-called peace process whose only concrete effects were to weaken and demoralise the Afghan government, while bolstering the ranks of the Taliban by forcing the release of thousands of jihadists. The chaotic Saigon scenes have testified to the incompetence of Joe Biden’s administration, even at administrative tasks, and the horrors are only just beginning.

This post has a slightly different focus, namely the role of Pakistan, specifically its military and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), as the author and operator of the Taliban and allied jihadists. This factor—absolutely fundamental to the conflict—has been, for twenty years, bizarrely absent in much of the coverage, and suggestions recur to this day that the Taliban is actually a problem for Pakistan. When the Pakistan dimension does come up, it will either be to note that Pakistan has some kind of role in funding or otherwise “supporting” the Taliban, and at its strongest the Taliban will be called a “proxy” of the ISI.

Even the word “proxy”, however, underplays the extent to which the Taliban is Pakistan, a wing of its (deep) state power. Continue reading

Spywar and Strategy: The Israel-Iran Contest in the Middle East

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 29 June 2021

Members of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, at a memorial in Gaza, 31 January 2017. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib, Flash90.

The May 2021 round of fighting in Gaza brought with it the upending of the unspoken understanding between Israel and Hamas and a level of intercommunal violence within Israel that has not been seen in quite some time. The scale of the rocket attacks on the Jewish state must also be counted among the unusual elements of this latest flare-up, with Iran clearly identifiable as the enabling state behind Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the two primary factions behind these attacks. Continue reading

Just What Is Iran Capable Of?

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 8 June 2021

Massive explosion at Khojir in eastern Tehran lights up the night sky, 25 June 2021 [image source]

The clerical regime in Iran, born in terrorism and dedicated to its export, has carried out atrocities across the world since 1979. The Islamic Republic has made Israel and Jews a special target of its murderous Revolution, and this has naturally incurred what one might call “resistance” from the Israeli government. What is notable in recent times is how the global ledger is shaping up, albeit while the strategic regional situation is quite different. The Israelis have delivered blow after blow to Iran, many of them within Iran, including removing senior officials, and the Iranian theocracy has proven unable to reply because its terrorist infrastructure is so badly infiltrated and just sheerly incompetent. Continue reading

Gaza is Just One Front in Iran’s Regional War

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 27 May 2021

Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system [left] activates over southern Israel against incoming HAMAS rockets [right], 14 May 2021

Naim Qassem, the deputy secretary-general of Hizballah, the Lebanese division of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), gave an interesting interview to Hizballah’s Al-Nour radio station on 22 May, explaining IRGC/Hizballah’s vision for what it had achieved with the recent war in Gaza. Qassem added to a large body of evidence about Iran’s extensive role in the war, a lot of it supplied directly by the combatant parties themselves. Not only did the clerical regime in Iran supply the material basis for the Islamists’ war against Israel this month; they provided much of the ideological framework, too. Continue reading

What Can We Learn From Iran’s Foreign Minister?

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 3 May 2021

Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif, December 2020, during an interview with Lotfullah Najafizada of TOLO News

Iran’s Foreign Minister, Muhammad Javad Zarif, took part in an oral history project intended for internal use by the clerical dictatorship in February and on 25 April the audio was leaked—so goes the story. There is every reason to think this is a controlled leak, which is to say an information operation or a piece of strategic messaging—more pejoratively, propaganda or disinformation: choose the terminology as you will—intended to assist the Iranian theocracy as it works through its negotiations on the nuclear file with the new American administration of President Joe Biden. Still, there are some insights from this episode, as with an interview Zarif gave—focused on Afghanistan—in December. Continue reading

Qassem Sulaymani: Life and Ambition

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 2 March 2021

A year ago, U.S. President Donald Trump gave the order to kill Qassem Soleimani, the de facto deputy leader of Iran. Arash Azizi’s The Shadow Commander: Soleimani, the U.S., and Iran’s Global Ambitions is an effort to explain who Soleimani was, how he rose to controlling the lives of millions of people well outside the borders of Iran, and how in the end he was brought down. Continue reading

The Jihad Factor in Bosnia

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 20 January 2021

Last week, as one of his last acts in office, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a speech about Iran’s collaboration with Al-Qaeda. It was unfortunate that Pompeo did this at this time and in this way, with such blatant political intent, because the factual content of Pompeo’s speech was unassailable: the Islamic Republic’s long relationship with Al-Qaeda does stretch back about three decades, the killing of Al-Qaeda’s deputy Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah (Abu Muhammad al-Masri) in Tehran in August 2020 is demonstrative of a shift in the strategic positioning of the organisation away from Pakistan to Iran, and even the part of Pompeo’s speech that got the most pushback—about Tehran’s contact with the 9/11 killers—is not controversial and is not new.

Unmentioned in Pompeo’s speech was one of the crucibles that forged this relationship, and forged Al-Qaeda into something more than a regional menace, namely the Bosnian war of 1992-5. Continue reading

The Death of Al-Qaeda’s Leaders and the Iran Factor

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 16 November 2020

Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah (Abu Muhammad al-Masri) and Ayman al-Zawahiri. // Image sources: FBI, AFP

Credible reports over the last few days indicate that Al-Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is dead, and there are even clearer reports that two of his most senior deputies have been killed. The terrorist network itself, however, will survive. Al-Qaeda has, in the last ten years, survived the killing of its charismatic founder Usama bin Laden, the upheaval of the “Arab spring”, and the rise of the Islamic State (IS)—all of them greater challenges than whatever short-term turbulence might attend the succession process. Continue reading

Syria and Coronavirus

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 6 April 2020

The first quarter of 2020 saw a serious escalation of combat in Syria, albeit without much alteration in the political trends, and the arrival of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has exacerbated a fraught situation. Continue reading