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Iranian Special Forces Reportedly Fight Alongside US in Battle for Herat
Publication: Foreign Broadcast Information Service
[FBIS Transcribed Text] The Afghan war has produced at least one set of improbable bedfellows: the US and Iran. That is why the battle for Herat in southwest Afghanistan on Monday, November 12, stood out from the Northern Alliance's other rapid-fire wins. Beyond giving the anti-Taliban movement a key city and control over the main routes to Iran and Turkmenistan, winning Herat may be remembered as a turning point for America's foreign relations outside Afghanistan too, because it brought the US and Iran together militarily for the first time since the anti-American Shiite revolution swept to power in Tehran in 1979. This landmark conjunction is bound to make waves in the India subcontinent, the Persian Gulf and the Middle East.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources in Washington and Tehran reveal that US Special Forces, mainly Rangers and the Delta Force, mounted the Herat campaign jointly with special force units of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, the Pazdaran, a force that symbolizes implacable Iranian Shiite abhorrence for America, the "Great Satan" The last time the two armies met, it was as foes. On April 7, 1980, US commandos led by the crack Delta Force and Iranian special forces confronted each other in a disastrous operation ordered by US President Jimmy Carter to free hundreds of Americans held hostage by Khomeini's zealots in the U.S. embassy in Tehran. The United States never revealed the cause of its failure. Forewarned, the Iranians waylaid the US Special Forces as they landed on the salt flats of southern Iran. In the ensuing havoc, several US transport planes and helicopters tried to evade Iranian fire and take off in a hurry. A Hercules C-130 collided with one of the American helicopters and both aircraft went up in flames. Seven US commandos were killed that day.
That confrontation 21 years ago is relevant to current events in Afghanistan. Then was the first time in US military history that special forces were armed with computerized communications, navigation and targeting equipment. Each commando carried a personal battlefield computer, providing direct communication between field commanders and headquarters in the rear. Back in 1980, the computers were large and cumbersome, hampering their user's movements. But the US rescue team was hampered by more than hardware; unbeknownst to Washington, a Soviet intelligence source working with the East German HVA intelligence agency had passed the new US computers' operating codes to Iran.
The Iranians could therefore eavesdrop on US transmissions at every level. They even picked up the rescue team's detailed report as it was relayed to President Carter, who was standing by in the White House situation room for news.
The situation in Afghanistan this week was a completely different story. This time, Iranian special forces were freely handed US communications and operational codes in a gesture from Washington to Tehran -- freely except for the fact that their range was limited to a radius applicable only to the local US command structure in and around Herat.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources, the US-Iranian dialogue leading up to this military and intelligence cooperation in Afghanistan began in late September and flowed through two channels: The first had two branches - one, American business representatives employed in the past year by firms with investments in Iran. Those firms were managed by Richard Cheney before he was elected vice president; two, CIA officers left to hold down various undercover duties after the 1991 Gulf War period, when Cheney served the first President Bush as defense secretary. Both groups have been acting as Iran's lobby in Washington, advocating the lifting of U.S. economic sanctions and a larger American stake in the Iranian economy. The second channel was military. DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources reveal two secret visits to Tehran in recent weeks by General Tommy Franks, Head of US Central Command (covering Afghanistan and the Near East), attended by armed forces staff officers and CIA Iranian Desk staffers. They held intensive discussions with Iranian army and military intelligence chiefs, as well as General Yahya Rahim Safavi, commander of the Revolutionary Guards, on Iran's contribution to the US war against terror and role in its aftermath.
What the Americans were after was for an Iranian elite unit to cross into Afghanistan, infiltrate Herat and form insurrectionary cells to rise up against their Taliban masters when the Northern Alliance attacked the city. Generals Franks and Safavi agreed on a plan and shaped its details. It worked like clockwork. Iranian commandos set up a secure base for themselves in Herat. A group of eight to 10 US Special Forces officers joined them as the advance guard of the Northern Alliance. Under an Americans guarantee, the thrust into Herat and the central Afghanistan province of Bamayan was left entirely to the forces of the Shi'ite militia chief, former governor Ismail Khan, and no one but the Shi'ite Hazara ethnic contingents led by Karim Khalili were deployed in the city and region. On these terms, Iranian agents organized the local insurrection as arranged and the rebel leader invited the Northern Alliance, or rather, Ismail Khan, to liberate the town.
A US Special Forces team of officers and CIA personnel meanwhile remained in Tehran to oversee the smooth operation of the joint venture -- the first time the CIA was allowed to set foot in the Iranian capital since 1979. Not only were they present on this alien terrain, but the Herat campaign had US and Iranian military-intelligence teams working opposite each other for a shared objective. Oddly enough, the American team is still in Tehran even after Herat's fall, Khan's takeover and his attempts to consolidate his rule with the help of the Iranian Special Forces still there. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Iran and Gulf experts, the ramifications of the US team's presence in the Islamic republic are noteworthy -- both in domestic terms and for the region.
[Description of Source: Jerusalem DEBKA-Net-Weekly E-mail-Text in English -- Independent, somewhat sensationalist, electronic magazine focusing on international terrorism, security affairs, and espionage]
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Thanks and best wishes,
J. Barry O'Connell Jr.