Intelligence: Smugglers Delight

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May 14,2008: U.S. commanders in Afghanistan are convinced that Iran is not supplying the Taliban weapons, or any other assistance. Some Iranian weapons have been found in Afghanistan, but these were smuggled in by gunrunners for sale to whoever could pay. Some shipments were apparently for Afghan Shia, who live in the center of the country. These may have been sent with the cooperation of the Iranian government, and were intended to give their fellow Shia the means to protect themselves from Taliban (or any other Afghan Sunni) attacks.

Smuggling in the region has been going on for centuries, and became particularly profitable starting in the 1980s, after the Russians invaded, and tried to close the border with Iran. Some of the smuggling groups got cozy with the Iranian government, which wanted weapons delivered to those fighting the Godless Russians. The smugglers were also a good source of what was going on inside 1980s Afghanistan, and they would sell that information to whoever would pay. But mostly, the smugglers were trying to make money. Most were from the Sunni Pushtun and Baluchi tribes that straddled the border.

In the 1990s, weapons smuggling was replaced by drugs. These were much more lucrative, and much more destructive to Iran. That's because a lot of that opium and heroin did not make it out of Iran (for markets in the Middle East and Europe), but remained for the growing number of Iranian addicts. There are now several million of these, and the Iranian government has turned the border into a warzone trying to stop it. Hundreds of people, mostly smugglers, are killed or wounded each year in the low level combat that characterizes the border area. But the money made from smuggling drugs is worth fighting, and dying, for. The smugglers are armed and very dangerous. The smugglers are also Sunni, and some are pro-Taliban. If the smugglers can obtain weapons inside Iran (which manufactures a wide range of rifles, machine-guns, mortars, rockets and military explosives), they have no problem moving them back into Afghanistan for sale to the Taliban, or anyone else who can pay.

 


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