Thursday, January 5, 2012

Iran strives to be spoiler for U.S. in Afghanistan

Worried that U.S. troops could stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014, Iran is mounting an aggressive campaign to fuel anti-American sentiment here and convince Afghan leaders that a robust, long-term security partnership with the U.S. would be counterproductive, Afghan officials and analysts say.

The Iranian initiative involves cultivating closer ties with the Taliban, funding politicians and media outlets, and expanding cultural ties with its eastern neighbor. Although the effort has been under way for years, Iran has been moving with increased vigor in recent months because the United States and Afghanistan are negotiating a security agreement that could set the parameters for a U.S. troop presence here after 2014.

Iran's overtures to the Taliban coincide with a renewed push by the U.S. to hold peace talks with the insurgent group in Qatar, as well as growing tension between Iran and the United States in the Persian Gulf.

Iran's strategy in Afghanistan is reminiscent of its maneuvering in Iraq, where it helped fuel the insurgency and persuaded Iraqi politicians not to yield on allowing the Americans a small military presence beyond 2011.