As the U.S. prepares to sit down with Iran in a conference Tuesday on Afghanistan, U.S. military, intelligence and financial specialists are continuing to target the finances and operatives of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in part to gain leverage for diplomacy, U.S. officials and analysts say.
The campaign against Iran’s paramilitary networks in Iraq and Afghanistan has received less attention than the Obama administration’s diplomatic outreach to Tehran, but the two are closely entwined.
“Perhaps if there is enough economic pressure placed on Iran, diplomacy can provide them an open door through which they can walk if they choose to change their policies,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said on “Fox News Sunday.” “And so I think the two go hand in hand, but I think what gets them to the table is economic sanctions.”
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The main target of U.S. efforts is the Revolutionary Guards, which may control as much as 40 percent of the country’s economy as well as its nuclear program.
“I have not seen any indication that the Obama administration is backing away from continuing the strategy of acting to disrupt Iranian covert networks,” said Kenneth Katzman, a senior Iran analyst at the Congressional Research Service.
Mr. Katzman said U.S.-led forces have detained more than 20 members of the Quds [Jerusalem] Force - an elite unit within the Revolutionary Guards - in Iraq alone since 2007. He added that members of the Iran-backed Hezbollah and the Guards also have been captured.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said that although Iran has been helpful at times in Iraq and Afghanistan, “we still see Iranian meddling in both theaters of operation and particularly in Iraq where Iranian-supplied weapons continue to be used to attack our troops. We have had over the past couple of years a great deal of success targeting and disrupting these Iranian-supported networks. But they remain a problem and so we remain on the offensive against them.”
Capturing and killing
President Obama’s decision amounts to retaining a Bush administration finding in late 2006, which preceded the surge of U.S. troops to Iraq. In a Jan. 10, 2007, speech, President Bush promised to “seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.” He specifically mentioned Iranian- and Syrian-backed supply lines.
The next day, U.S. forces detained five members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in the Kurdish city of Irbil. The group, which became known as the “Irbil 5,” remains in American and Iraqi custody. Iran says the Revolutionary Guards were in Irbil for diplomatic, not intelligence or military, reasons.
The Revolutionary Guards and Quds Force, which function like U.S. special operations forces and intelligence officers abroad but are also thought to be involved in criminal activities, remain designated by the U.S. government as terrorist entities under Executive Order 13224.
The Sept. 23, 2001, order authorizes efforts to seize financial assets of organizations and people the U.S. regards as terrorist and also has become an important tool for U.S. military and special operations forces.
One former and one current U.S. intelligence officer told The Washington Times that “threat finance cells” of 20 to 30 intelligence analysts culled from various government agencies and the military have been established in Iraq and Afghanistan to uncover terrorist financing. Information is shared with military units, which then apprehend and at times kill Iranian operatives, the officers said.
“First they would try to identify how the insurgency was funded, looking through raw intel and they would give interrogators questions to ask,” the former intelligence officer said. He asked not to be named because the program is still classified.View Entire Story
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