A few weeks ago, both Iranian and Taliban officials acknowledged publicly, for the first time, that the two were engaged in talks, and the Iranian foreign minister spoke of the importance of giving the jihadist group a role in governing Afghanistan. These statements, writes Aaron Kliegman, confirm what has long been known:
Iran and the Taliban had a relationship before 9/11 that included arms sales, even as both sides were bitter rivals. Since 9/11, however, Tehran has helped the Taliban in numerous ways, especially in recent years. . . . Iran is using its own military academies to provide hundreds of Taliban fighters with advanced training. . . . Moreover, some high-ranking Taliban leaders even live in Iran.
Iran continues this support while maintaining ties with Kabul, hedging its bets to position itself well for various outcomes inside Afghanistan.
There are many reasons the Islamic Republic supports the Taliban, such as, among others, fighting Islamic State, issues concerning water, and the fact that Afghanistan borders Iran and can pose a threat if unstable. But the most important reason for Washington is that both Iran and the Taliban share an interest in forcing the Americans to leave Afghanistan. Iran is very concerned about American bases in Afghanistan and uses Afghanistan as a way to exert pressure on Washington as needed. If the U.S. wants the war in Afghanistan to end in a peaceful way, it must counter Iran’s support to the Taliban—support that perpetuates the conflict.
Analysts and commentators have made several valid arguments about why an American withdrawal from Afghanistan, even a partial one, would carry serious costs. [One] reason less often discussed is that an American retreat—which is the right word to use—would be a victory for Iran.