Iran File

The Iran File is an analysis and assessment of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s strategic efforts domestically and abroad.

Iran’s armed forces prepare for Sunni insurgency in Baluchistan

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Forecast: Iran’s armed forces are likely preparing for intensified insurgent activities in southeastern Iran following an increase in anti-regime militancy by Sunni Baloch Salafi-jihadi groups. Al Qaeda-affiliate Ansar al Furqan launched a suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (SVBIED) attack on the police command headquarters in Chabahar, Sistan and Baluchistan Province on December 6. Anti-regime militant organizations such as Ansar al Furqan and the Army of Justice threaten regime security and exploit local populations’ economic and social disenfranchisement to increase support and recruitment toward their cause. Anti-regime militants could capitalize on future widespread anti-regime protests across Iran to begin a low-level insurgency against the regime.

Recent anti-regime operations in southeastern Iran underscore the growing Salafi-jihadi threat in Iran’s Baluchistan. Al Qaeda-affiliated Ansar al Furqan’s SVBIED attack killed four Iranians and wounded over 40. Ansar al Furqan is an offshoot of the now inactive al Qaeda affiliate Jundullah, which has conducted several attacks against the regime since the early 2000s. Iranian authorities captured and executed Jundullah leader Abdol Malek al Rigi in 2010. Jundullah soon thereafter splintered into various groups, most notably the Army of Justice and Ansar al Furqan. Both groups attack regime security forces and key regime infrastructure in southeastern Iran but are based in Pakistan. The Army of Justice kidnapped 12 Iranian border guards in late October 2018. These Salafi-jihadi groups claim to champion Iran’s ethnic and religious minorities’ plight. Their influence and reach will likely increase as Iran’s Baloch continue to experience high levels of economic and social marginalization in Iran.

Increased militancy among marginalized Sunni Baloch goes beyond Iran’s borders. Anti-regime militants in Sistan and Baluchistan Province have increased their deadly border attacks against the regime since summer 2018. This increased militancy is not an issue solely affecting Iran, however. The Baloch are a stateless nation and their issue is a transnational one. Their discontentment helps drive the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan and several insurgencies in Pakistan. Sunni discontentment may also create one in Iran. Sistan and Baluchistan Province has one of Iran’s highest *unemployment rates and Sunni Baloch are often targets of regime *discrimination.

Iranian armed forces likely responded to a past Ansar al Furqan attack and may do so again. Ansar al Furqan’s attack in Chabahar is its second attack against the regime since December 2017, when the group claimed an attack in Ahvaz, Khuzestan Province on a “major” oil pipeline. The group reported that it intended “to inflict losses on the economy of the criminal Iranian regime.” Tehran did not acknowledge the attack in state media but may have retaliated against Ansar al Furqan during an Artesh military exercise in January 2018 in southeastern Iran. Artesh Ground Forces Brig. Gen. Kiomars Heydari noted that Iranian forces *launched a precision-guided rocket during the first day of the exercises on January 22 . Ansar al Furqan posted on their Telegram channel on January 23 that the regime launched a missile targeting members of the group in the Qasr-e Qand Mountains, approximately 50 miles north of Chabahar.[1]

Iran is increasing its conventional military presence in response to militant activities in the southeast. The regime is assigning more conventional military assets in response to increased border insecurity along Iran’s tri-border area with Afghanistan and Pakistan. Heydari announced in July 2018 that Artesh Ground Forces will *establish a new division-level base in Birjand as well as a new brigade in Nehbandan, both near the eastern tri-border area in South Khorasan Province. It is unclear when the new commands will be operational, however. Armed Forces General Staff (AFGS) Chief IRGC Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri *announced more recently on November 26 that Artesh Ground Forces had “in recent months” assumed control of securing the Iran-Afghanistan border from the LEF Border Guards. The Artesh Ground Forces may use their increased presence and greater authorities to employ force to operate more aggressively against militants in southeastern Iran.

[1] Ansar al Furqan’s Telegram post is no longer available. The Critical Threats Project has archived the post for research purposes. Interested readers are welcome to contact us for more information.

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