The American military does not need to create a second front in Afghanistan by heightening tensions along the Iran/Afghanistan frontier. Tony Capaccio, writing for Bloomberg.com on May 21, 2010, reported that the Pentagon is seeking $131 million in its Fiscal Year 2011, budget for massive upgrades to Shindand Air Base in western Afghanistan, about 20 miles from the Iranian border. The upgrades are for fuel and munitions storage, commando helicopters and drone aircraft. Despite NATO claims that the centerpiece for success in this war is Kandahar, the Pentagon’s focus seems to be Iran. Shindand is the home of the somewhat vague 838 Air Expeditionary Advisory Group and new contracts have just been awarded to Aegis Defense Services to provide private security to the base.
The U.S. Department of State has joined this misguided effort by inexplicably opening a consulate in Herat, under the tarnished protection of Blackwater/Xe, instead of opening a consulate in Afghanistan’s second largest city. The U.S. Marines have contributed to the buildup by continuing to deploy a battalion to the western desert town of Delaram near the Iranian border. All these funds and efforts could be better used in Kandahar.
The Pentagon’s official rationale for the buildup is that there has been increased Iranian interference in Afghanistan, which must be countered. There is no way to know whether covert American intelligence operations inside Iran (as reported by Seymour Hersh) are fueling a response by the Pasdaran’s 4th Corps., or whether it is Iranian operations in Afghanistan which have prompted an American response. Regardless, cooler heads need to prevail in order to scale back the efforts of both sides.
While Iran’s overall foreign policy goals are contrary to that of the United States, its goals in Afghanistan are not necessary contrary to that of President Hamid Karzai. Western Afghanistan needs to remain quiet if General Petraeus’ plans are to have any chance of success. The American effort in Afghanistan needs to focus on defeating the Taliban and al Qaeda, and aiding the Afghan government. Regional distractions risk compromising the mission.