British Military Commanders inevitably expect their Intelligence Officers to be able to answer all their priority intelligence requirements (PIRs), in detail, almost immediately! It is often a thankless task; if your agents collect reliable information and your assessments are proved accurate then the Operations officers will take credit for the success of the subsequent mission. However if your sources are unreliable and your assessments are proved to be wrong then you will take full responsibility for the consequences.
One of the key PIRs that commanders always used to ask was; ‘when will we see a migration of the insurgent tactics in Basra move from Iraq into Afghanistan?’
It is largely recognised that during the height of the Iraq conflict, Iran was fighting a proxy war against the US lead coalition via the Shia militia. I know this to be the case from my time spent on operations in Basra but it has also been widely reported in the open source media (here, for example). The Iraqi Police Forces and Shia Militias were infiltrated by individuals being assisted, trained and equipped by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). The emergence of the deadly effective armour-piercing Explosively Formed Projectiles (which had such a devastating impact on the coalition’s ability to provide reconstruction and development), were Iranian designed and constructed imports. It was widely assumed by many commanders that Iran, despite its long-term antipathy to the Taleban, would adopt the ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ approach and facilitate the migration of Iranian Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), techniques and procedures to Afghanistan.
Nevertheless, during the summer of 2006 when the British operation in Helmand commenced, the Taleban seemed determined to engage British forces through conventional tactics and small arms fire. The British Army Platoon houses in the north of Helmand would, day and night, have to repel wave after to wave of Taleban attack in a 21st century version of the scenes from the film Zulu. The British soldiers grudgingly gave their respect to the Taleban for their determination and capacity to endure multiple casualties. Despite the Taleban insurgency we had a considerable degree of freedom of manoeuvre and would travel in lightly armed vehicles across Helmand with the main concern being legacy land mines from the Soviet occupation.
However, this summer the number of casualties that British forces have incurred has increased exponentially as we have seen in the almost daily news bulletins. The intensity of Operation Herrick (as the British effort in Afghanistan is called) has magnified and the insurgency has moved away from conventional small arms engagements to an asymmetric war of road side bombs and pressure plate IEDs. British troops are on tenterhooks when deploying on patrol; they relish engaging the enemy in fire-fights but death by a roadside IED is not a ‘soldier’s death’. It seems that the migration from Iraq to Afghanistan of Iranian IEDs techniques and procedures has fully materialised.
When I served in Afghanistan in 2006-2007 the perceived threat, as reported in the media, was the Pakistani Tribal Areas and rogue elements within Pakistani Intelligence services who may have been providing support and safe-haven to the Taleban. I no longer have access to classified intelligence, but I suspect my former colleagues are now focused more on collecting information on and disrupting the IED cells that manufacture these cowardly bombs. They will also be trying to identify the instructors who train the Taleban in how to deploy and detonate the IEDs to the maximum effect, using tactics such as secondary devices in ‘daisy chain’ formations.
I suspect that the link-analysis of the intelligence collected is pointing back to the Iranian city of Zahedan on the tri-border of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan out of whcih where the regional IRGC office operates. I suspect IRGC agents are facilitating the construction of IEDs at make-shift factories in Bahram Cha, the lawless border town straddling Helmand and Baluchistan. It is more than likely that the proceeds of the Opium trade is financing this and lining the pockets of IRGC officers.
I suspect that the trend analysis would suggest that there is a direct correlation between our increased presence and military effort in Helmand and the level of assistance being provided to the Taleban by the IRGC. Therefore my concern for the long-term success for the operation is that even if we manage to increase the number of helicopters in Helmand, as Liam Fox has rightly been calling for, will the Iranians just up-the-ante by supplying sophisticated surface-to-air missiles to the Taleban?
It is surely not lost on either the Taleban or the Iranians that the reason the Mujahideen were able to force the Russians out of Afghanistan was through the devastatingly effective use of ‘Stinger’ surface-to-air missiles. The number of British casualties that could be incurred if a fully loaded Chinook was to be successfully targeted is too awful to mention.
Whilst I continue to support the British Army’s involvement in Afghanistan, it is my assessment that Iran is behind the upsurge in British casualties in Afghanistan. Iran’s strategic intent is to deny the British forces success through inflicting casualties and disrupting reconstruction and development. It is also to; diminish the political will, erode British public support and finally force a humiliating withdrawal of British forces from the coalition much as they did in Iraq. The overall aim, of course, is discrediting and destroying the policy of ‘liberal interventionism’ lest it ever be directed against Iran and lastly, as an act of revenge for our alleged ‘meddling’ in the Iranian elections.