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The Islamic Republic of Iran continues to provide measured support to Taliban insurgents battling U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan. However, Iran also maintains close and constructive relations with the same Afghan central government that is battling Taliban forces. Iran's complex and, at times, contradictory set of cultural, religious, political, and security interests shapes its behavior in Afghanistan, to the benefit and detriment of U.S. objectives. This paper examines Iran's objectives and interests in Afghanistan and the consequent Iranian policies affecting U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The authors find that Iran appears to be pursuing at times contradictory objectives in Afghanistan; that the Baluchi insurgency in Iran is an important factor in determining Iran's behavior in Afghanistan; and that increasing tensions with the United States could lead to more-significant Iranian aid to the Taliban.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

    Historically, Iran Has Supported Tajik and Shi'a Afghan Groups Fighting the Taliban

  • Chapter Three

    Geopolitical Calculations Shape Iranian Policies in Afghanistan

  • Chapter Four

    The U.S. Presence in Afghanistan Has Become a Major Factor in Iranian Behavior Toward Afghanistan

  • Chapter Five

    The Revolutionary Guards Directs Iran's Support for the Taliban

  • Chapter Six

    The Baluchi Insurgency Shapes Iran's Approach Toward U.S. Forces

  • Chapter Seven

    Iran Uses Proxies to Pressure the Afghan Government

  • Chapter Eight


The research described in this report was prepared for the Marine Corps Intelligence Activity. The research was conducted within the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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