The most influential commander of the Iranian regime was assassinated early Friday morning. A drone strike ordered by President Donald Trump targeted Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force, an elite division of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) at Baghdad International Airport.
Soleimani was the man in charge of carrying out much of Iran’s military and diplomatic efforts over the last decade. Earlier, in the mid-1990s, he was very much involved in providing financial and logistical support for the resistance movement against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, led by Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was assassinated just days before 9/11.
The targeted assassination of Soleimani came after protesters besieged the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad as retaliation against recent U.S. airstrikes.
Just a day before ordering the drone strike that killed Soleimani, Trump tweeted, “The U.S. Embassy in Iraq is, & has been for hours, SAFE! Many of our great Warfighters, together with the most lethal military equipment in the world, was immediately rushed to the site…Iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities. They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat…”
The supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, vowed retaliation for Soleimani’s killing.
In Afghanistan, the death of General Soleimani left politicians divided. The government of Afghanistan opted for a neutral position; however, the second vice president of President Ashraf Ghani called Soliemani a “prominent figure in the fight against ISIS in the Middle East.”
The Taliban are yet to issue any statement on the drone strike that killed Soliemani, and it is likely that they will remain silent to keep their chances of signing a peace deal alive.
Mixed Reaction in Afghanistan
What comes as a major development in the Middle East divided politicians in Afghanistan. Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai tweeted that he “strongly condemned the US airstrike on the Baghdad airfield which killed Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Quds Force of the Islamic Republic of Iran, it is contrary to international principles and norms.”
“The move will increase tensions in the region and further damage stability and peace,” Karzai added.
Karzai described Soleimani as a “dignified person, seeking peace and stability in Afghanistan.”
Not all Afghans agreed. “Soleimani was an asset for Iran’s national interests, while he was a threat to the region. He was one of proxy wars master-mind in the region. Fatimyon, Zainabyon, Haidaryon & Hussainyon are his creation in recent years” said Rahmatullah Nabil, former director of Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) and a presidential candidate. However, his view was decidedly in the minority.
“The brutal assassination of Qassim Suleimani by the tyrannical US regime is a gross violation of national / human and international law. The responsible international institutions should not be silent at all!” said presidential candidate Abdul Latif Pedram.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran is one of our neighbors and allies. During the Jihad (USSR invasion) and Resistance (fight against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda), stood by our people and supported us,” read a statement from the office of Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, who was President Ghani’s main rival in the presidential election. “[…]As a victim of terrorism and violence, Afghanistan … hopes that the recent events will not negatively affect the situation and the cooperation of our friends and allies in Afghanistan.”
“From what the US is doing in the Middle East, Iran and the countries around Afghanistan, and adding to the violence every day, it shows that the US is not trying to bring a genuine in Afghanistan” tweeted Abdul Karim Khurram, former chief of staff for President Karzai.
“During my tenure as National Security Adviser to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the two governments’ cooperation in improving security and strengthening the peace process expanded with the strong support of the martyr Sardar Suleimani” tweeted Mohammad Haneef Atmar.
“Soleimani was a prominent figure in the fight against ISIS in the Middle East, his loss will lead to chaos and complex political and security situation in the region especially in the Middle East,” said Ghani’s Vice President Sarwar Danish.
Those blunt statements contrasted sharply with the cautious position taken by Ghani’s government. “The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan closely monitors the situations in the region and seeks bilateral and multilateral ties with all countries in the region and the world,” reads a statement released by the Office of the President. “The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is gravely concerned about a possible increase in violence in the region…Afghanistan’s soil will not be used against any country.”
Impact of Soleimani’s Death on the US-Taliban Peace Deal
The assassination of Soleimani sparked hysteria among Afghans fearing Afghanistan may become a battleground for the U.S.-Iran proxy war. Analysts, however, believe that it is very likely that Iran will retaliate, but it is highly improbable that Iran will choose the Taliban and Afghanistan as a player and ground for retaliation.
“I do not think that the targeted assassination of Qassem Soleimani will have a significant impact on U.S. actions in Afghanistan but at this point, it is hard to make a prediction. I think it is extremely unlikely that the Taliban would ever serve as a proxy for Iran and increase their operations against the U.S. in Afghanistan based on Iranian desires,” Professor Thomas Johnson, who served in 2009 as the senior political and counterinsurgency adviser to the commander of Canadian Forces in Afghanistan (Task Force Kandahar), says.
It is likely that “Iran might try to use the Taliban as a proxy, but I believe the Taliban are well aware that will significantly impact on any negotiations with the U.S. hence negate and impact on the Taliban’s driving desire to get the U.S. out of Afghanistan,” he continues.
“The killing of Soleimani could have an impact on the negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban if the U.S. gets into a real war with Iran. I expect, however, that the Iranians will be patient and will eventually hit or attempt to hit the U.S. and their allies with asymmetrical actions over the coming months” adds Johnson.
“The drone strike that killed Soleimani is more of amending the mistake the U.S. made in 2003 by invading Iraq, which gave Iran unprecedented influence in Iraq. To curtail the influence of Iran, the U.S. had to take this step, which is a huge development,” says a political analyst based in Kabul who preferred to remain anonymous. “It will not necessarily affect the peace process between the Taliban and the U.S. government but it will also not deter the Iranian regime from their policy in the Middle East.”
“Afghan fighters who fought under the banner of Fatemiyoun brigade in Syria [under the aegis of the Quds Force] will not be much of a threat in Afghanistan, as enticing them to fight in Syria was a particular arrangement,” says Kabul based political and security analyst Haleem Kousary. “The Afghan fighters were refugees living illegally in Iran, and they were given incentives to fight in Syria. But now in Afghanistan, they are not obliged to obey any instruction from Iran.”
Sayed Jalal Shajjan is a freelance journalist whose writing has been published by Al Jazeera, TRT, Asia Times, Byline Times, and many other news outlets.