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US Withdrawal From Afghanistan is Iran’s Gain

The WSJ reports from Herat, Afghanistan:

“Iran is the real influence here. With one snap of their fingers, they can mobilize 20,000 Afghans,” said a high-ranking official in Afghanistan’s presidential palace. “This is much more dangerous than the suicide bombers coming from Pakistan. At least you can see them and fight them. But you can’t as easily see and fight Iran’s political and cultural influence.”

Many leading Afghan government officials have received Iranian support for years. President Hamid Karzai two years ago admitted that his office has regularly received suitcases of cash from Tehran, with as much as $1 million in euros stuffed inside, in exchange for “good relations.”

Ever since American forces began withdrawing from Iraq, the government in Baghdad has made a conspicuous turn towards Iran. Tehran and Baghdad now find themselves agreeing on a number of security concerns, such as in the Syrian civil war.

Is the same thing happening in Afghanistan? Is a country the US fought so hard for turning toward one of Washington’s enemies as soon as the Americans are out of the picture? Whether it’s development aid, professional assistance, or intelligence gathering, Iran is gradually building its presence in Afghanistan even as NATO scales back.

Iran’s aid to Afghanistan pales in comparison to that of the US, but it’s growing. It’s not a kisses-and-roses relationship either: many Afghans dislike some of the strings attached to Iranian aid. But it’s a trend worth watching. Tehran is strengthening its ties to our Afghan friends as well as our Afghan enemies: the Taliban opened an office in Iran in August.

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