A group of 10 Afghan militants claiming to be trained by neighboring Iran to attack groundbreaking ceremonies for a major transnational gas pipeline in western Afghanistan have surrendered to the government.
Afghan officials paraded the militants before journalists in the western Afghan province of Herat, where they were mostly active in the rural district of Guzara near the provincial capital, also called Herat.
Muhammad Ayub Alizai, leader of the gang, said they were trained, equipped, and directed to sabotage events related to the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline. Amid elaborate security arrangements, leaders of the four countries are scheduled to inaugurate the Afghan part of the project in Herat on February 23.
“We were given a piece of paper [by insurgent leaders] before going to Iran for a couple weeks’ training,” he told journalists. “Once we finished, we were asked to return to Afghanistan so fresh recruits could start their training.”
Repeated calls by Radio Free Afghanistan to the Iranian Embassy in the Afghan capital, Kabul, seeking comments about the claims were not returned.
While senior Iranian officials have reiterated support for the Afghan government and denied supporting insurgents, Afghan officials in western and southern provinces bordering Iran have blamed Tehran for bankrolling the Taliban and other insurgent factions in the region.
Herat Governor Mohammad Asif Rahimi says the insurgents changed their minds at the last minute.
“The enemies of Afghanistan had ordered them to sabotage the groundbreaking ceremonies for TAPI,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan, without naming Iran. “But they realized that the interest and benefit of the people of Afghanistan and future generations lie in letting this project go forward.”
Deputy Afghan Interior Minister Murad Ali Murad says the Afghan intelligence service needs to investigate the claims made by the surrendering insurgents.
“If other countries are really behind such [sabotage] efforts, they need to ponder the fate of their future generations,” he said. “The fire they are lighting here now might one day burn their home, too.”
In July, a senior Afghan official accused Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) of supporting the Afghan Taliban.
“Some Taliban leaders travel frequently to Iran,” said Mohammad Arif Shahjahan, the governor of Farah Province, which neighbors Herat. “They have hideouts there and are being aided with a lot of material resources.”
The main Taliban organization in Afghanistan, however, has declared its support for TAPI and dubbed it an “important project” for the country.