Military Life

That time the US and Iran teamed up to fight the Taliban

The days following the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States were strange days for many of us. Not only here at home, where the American worldview changed literally overnight, but also in Afghanistan. For obvious reasons.


We don't scramble B-52s for just anyone.

What might not be so obvious are the many ways which the United States systematically struck back against al-Qaeda and the Taliban who protected its members in Afghanistan. By now, many have heard of the U.S. Army Special Forces who assisted the Northern Alliance on horseback. The new movie 12 Strong depicts their mission.

Related: The Special Forces who avenged 9/11 on horseback >

But three days after the Green Berets and Northern Alliance leader Abdul Rashid Dostum teamed up for the fall of Mazar-e-Sharif, another joint American-Northern Alliance team was fighting to capture – and keep – the Afghan city of Herat.

Army Rangers and Special Forces teamed up with Iran's Revolutionary Guards special ops unit, the Pazdaran. The operation was reportedly planned in Tehran between General Tommy Franks and Iranian General and commander of the Revolutionary Guards, Yahya Safavi.

Commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Yahya Safavi.

According to reports from the open-source U.S. Foreign Broadcast Information Service, American air power had been conducting air strikes on the city since October 2001, destroying armored columns, tunnel complexes, and other support facilities. The city was ready by the time the joint assault took place.

The Revolutionary Guards moved in first, setting up a forward post for the assault on Herat. They were joined shortly after by U.S. Special Forces, with an army of 5,000 Northern Alliance fighters led by Ismail Khan. The Americans directed air support while the Shia militias led an insurrection in the city.

American Special Forces, Northern Alliance fighters, and Shia militias moved on the city as the populace took arms against the Taliban with anything they could find. Defeated Taliban fighters fled the city within the same day.

The whole operation was overseen in Tehran by agents of the CIA working with Iranian intelligence officers.  Shortly after the city fell, a Northern Alliance spokesperson said it was the first time Khan set foot in the city since it fell to the Taliban in 1995.

The Afghan city of Herat in 2001.

"The people are celebrating on the rooftops of their houses. Car drivers are honking their horns," according to the spokesperson.

In 2005, an Iranian Presidential candidate alluded to the story via an interview with USA Today's Barbara Slavin, who was able to confirm some parts of the story, while some sources alluded to further collaboration and denied other parts.

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