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Is Tehran quietly backing the Taliban?

In Afghanistan on Saturday, the Taliban attacked police in the southern province of Helmand, killing at least 20 officers and wounding two others. It’s the latest in a series of deadly Taliban attacks there. Now, we’re learning the Taliban may be getting an influx of outside support for some of these attacks. The alleged source? Iran. For more Hari Sreenivasan is joined from Istanbul by the Wall Street Journal’s Margherita Stancati.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR ANCHOR:

    In Afghanistan today, the Taliban attacked police in the southern province of Helmand, killing at least 20 officers and wounding two others. It's the latest in a series of deadly Taliban attacks there.

    Now we're learning the Taliban may be getting an influx of outside support for these attacks. The alleged source? Iran.

    Joining me now via Skype from Istanbul is "The Wall Street Journal's" Margherita Stancati.

    So, what sort of support is Iran delivering to the Taliban in Afghanistan?

  • MARGHERITA STANCANTI, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL:

    It's many different types of support. It started gradually, mostly just through financing, but over the years, it has expanded to include equipment such as weapons and ammunition. And now, more recently, also training and recruitment of the Taliban fighters.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    OK. So what is Iran's interest in supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan?

  • MARGHERITA STANCANTI:

    Well, Iran wants to be relevant in Afghanistan in general. And with Afghanistan's future looking more uncertain now than it has for a long time, it wanted to be able to have the influence on all key actors, and that now includes the Taliban.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And they're involved in several other parts in this fight against Syria. I mean they're supporting all kinds of actors in different places.

  • MARGHERITA STANCANTI:

    Yes. They pursue a very activist foreign policy in the region. And, you know, it's not the first time they have recruited Afghan fighters. They have also recruited Afghans fighting Syria with the Assad's regime.

    But with the Taliban, it's a slightly different focus because here they're actually siding with the Sunni Taliban, and that's not an obvious alliance. Iran is a Shia theocracy. In the past, they nearly went to war with Iran. But over the course of the past 13 years, they began reaching out to the Taliban as well because they have an enemy in common and that was the United States.

    Then more recently, what has brought Iran close to the Taliban has been the emergence of the Islamic State within the Afghan territory as well.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    None of this happens in a vacuum. Does this have an impact or this information have an impact on the ongoing nuclear negotiations?

  • MARGHERITA STANCANTI:

    It's too early to say. But it could definitely add fuel to critics who say that a possible deal would give more freedom to Iran to pursue its policy and that's definitely how — some of the responses that we have been getting from the U.S.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So that the economic sanctions, if they were to be lifted, allows Iran to pursue this foreign policy of theirs more freely.

  • MARGHERITA STANCANTI:

    Well, that's the fear and this is what critics have put up and, you know, many of the critics have looked at this example of Iran supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan as an example of that.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right. Margherita Stancati of "The Wall Street Journal" joining us via Skype from Istanbul — thanks so much.

  • MARGHERITA STANCANTI:

    Thank you.

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