The Quds Force (Persian: سپاه قدس sepāh-e qods) is a unit in Iran's Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) directed to carry out unconventional warfare and intelligence activities and responsible for extraterritorial operations. It is commanded by Major General Qasem Soleimani. The Quds Force supports non-state actors in many foreign countries that include Lebanese Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, Yemeni Houthis, and Shia militias in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. The United States has designated the Quds Force a supporter of terrorism since 2007. This has been reaffirmed by the United States when the IRGC as a whole was designated as a terrorist group in April 2019.
|Branch||Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps|
|Type||Special operations force|
|Size||Classified (estimate: 15,000)|
1982 Lebanon War
South Lebanon conflict (1985–2000)
Battle for Herat
Syrian Civil War
2014 Northern Iraq offensive
Military intervention against ISIL
|Commander||Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani|
|Deputy Commander||Brig. Gen. Esmail Ghaani|
|Coordinator Deputy Commander||Brig. Gen. Ahmad Sabouri|
History and missionEdit
The Quds Force was created during the Iran–Iraq War as a special unit from the broader IRGC forces. Both during and after the war, it provided support to the Kurds fighting Saddam Hussein. In 1982, a Quds unit was deployed to Lebanon, where it assisted in the genesis of Hezbollah. The Force also expanded its operations into neighboring Afghanistan, most notably aiding Abdul Ali Mazari's Shi'a Hezbe Wahdat in the 1980s against the government of Mohammad Najibullah. It then began funding and supporting Ahmad Shah Massoud's Northern Alliance against the Taliban. However, in recent years, the Quds Force is alleged to have been helping and guiding the Taliban insurgents against the NATO-backed Karzai administration. There were also reports of the unit lending support to Bosnian Muslims fighting the Bosnian Serbs during the Yugoslav wars.
According to the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram, former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad helped fund the Quds Force while he was stationed at the Ramazan garrison near Iraq, during the late 1980s.
In January 2010, according to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the mission of the Quds Force was expanded and the Force along with Hezbollah started a new campaign of attacks targeting not only the US and Israel but also other Western bodies.
The force is described as "active in dozens of countries". According to former U.S. Army intelligence officer David Dionisi, the Quds force is organized into eight different directorates based on geographic location:
- Western countries (including the former Eastern Bloc)
- Former Soviet Union
- Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India
- Israel, Lebanon, and Jordan
- North Africa
- Arabian peninsula
According to journalist Dexter Filkins, the force's members are "divided between combatants and those who train and oversee foreign assets", and the force is divided into branches focusing on "intelligence, finance, politics, sabotage, and special operations. Members are chosen both for their skill and "allegiance to the doctrine of the Islamic Revolution".
In addition, Dionisi asserts in his book American Hiroshima that the Iranian Quds Force headquarters for operations in Iraq was moved in 2004 to the Iran-Iraq border in order to better supervise activities in Iraq. The Quds Force also has a headquarters in the former compound of the U.S. Embassy, which was overrun in 1979.
According to Filkins and American General Stanley A. McChrystal, it was the Quds Force that "flooded" Iraq with "explosively formed projectiles" which fire a molten copper slug able to penetrate armor, and which accounted for "nearly 20%" of American combat deaths in Iraq (i.e. hundreds of soldiers). In September 2007, a few years after the publication of American Hiroshima: The Reasons Why and a Call to Strengthen America's Democracy in July 2006, General David Petraeus reported to Congress that the Quds Force had left Iraq. Petraeus said, "The Quds Force itself, we believe, by and large, those individuals have been pulled out of the country, as have the Lebanese Hezbollah trainers that were being used to augment that activity."
On July 7, 2008, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Seymour Hersh wrote an article in The New Yorker revealing that President Bush had signed a Presidential Finding authorizing the CIA and Joint Special Operations Command to conduct cross-border paramilitary operations from Iraq and Afghanistan into Iran. These operations would be against the Quds Force and "high-value targets". "The Finding was focused on undermining Iran's nuclear ambitions and trying to undermine the government through regime change", a person familiar with its contents said, and involved "working with opposition groups".
The size of the Quds Force is unknown, with some experts believing that Quds Force numbers no more than 2,000 people, with 800 core operatives, and others saying that it could number anywhere from 3,000 to 50,000.
Mahan Abedin, director of research at the London-based Center for the Study of Terrorism (and editor of Islamism Digest), believes the unit is not independent: "Quds Force, although it's a highly specialized department, it is subject to strict, iron-clad military discipline. It's completely controlled by the military hierarchy of the IRGC, and the IRGC is very tightly controlled by the highest levels of the administration in Iran."
The Quds Force trains and equips foreign Islamic revolutionary groups around the Middle East. The paramilitary instruction provided by the Quds Force typically occurs in Iran or Sudan. Foreign recruits are transported from their home countries to Iran to receive training. The Quds Force sometimes plays a more direct role in the military operations of the forces it trains, including pre-attack planning and other operation-specific military advice.
Since 1979, Iran had supported the Shi'a Hezbe Wahdat forces against the Afghan government of Mohammad Najibullah. When Najibullah stepped down as President in 1992, Iran continued supporting Hezbe Wahdat against other Afghan militia groups. When the Taliban took over Afghanistan in 1996, Hezbe Wahdat had lost its founder and main leader, Abdul Ali Mazari, so the group joined Ahmad Shah Massoud's Northern Alliance. Iran began supporting the Northern Alliance against the Taliban, who were backed by Pakistan and the Arab world. In 1999, after several Iranian diplomats were killed by the Taliban in Mazar-e Sharif, Iran nearly got into a war with the Taliban. The Quds Force reportedly fought alongside the United States and the Northern Alliance in the Battle for Herat. However, in recent years Iran is accused of helping and training the Taliban insurgents against the NATO-backed Karzai administration. Iranian-made weapons, including powerful explosive devices are often found inside Afghanistan.
We did interdict a shipment, without question the Revolutionary Guard's core Quds Force, through a known Taliban facilitator. Three of the individuals were killed... Iranians certainly view as making life more difficult for us if Afghanistan is unstable. We don't have that kind of relationship with the Iranians. That's why I am particularly troubled by the interception of weapons coming from Iran. But we know that it's more than weapons; it's money; it's also according to some reports, training at Iranian camps as well.
In March 2012, Najibullah Kabuli, leader of the National Participation Front (NPF) of Afghanistan, accused three senior leaders of Iran's Revolutionary Guards of plotting to assassinate him. Some members of the Afghan Parliament accuses Iran of setting up Taliban bases in several Iranian cities, and that "Iran is directly involved in fanning ethnic, linguistic and sectarian tensions in Afghanistan." There are reports about Iran's Revolutionary Guards training Afghans inside Iran to carry out terrorist attacks in Afghanistan.
— Syed Kamal, a self-confessed agent for Iran's Revolutionary Guards and member of Sipah-i-Mohmmad
Following an attack on an Israeli diplomat in India in February 2012, Delhi Police at the time contended that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps had some involvement. This was subsequently confirmed in July 2012, after a report by the Delhi Police found evidence that members of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps had been involved in the February 13 bomb attack in the capital.
On 11 October 2011, the Obama Administration revealed the United States Government's allegations that the Quds Force was involved with the plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia's Ambassador to the United States Adel al-Jubeir, which also entailed plans to bomb the Israeli and Saudi embassies located in Washington, D.C.
It's been reported that Iran has been increasing its presence in Latin America through Venezuela. Little is known publicly what their objectives are in the region, but in 2009, Defense Secretary Robert Gates denounced Iran for meddling in "subversive activities" using Quds Forces. However, Iran claims it is merely "ensuring the survival of the regime" by propagating regional influence.
The Quds Force has been described as the Iranian "unit deployed to challenge the United States presence" in Iraq following the U.S. invasion of that country, which put "165,000 American troops along [Iran's] western border," adding to the American troops already in Iran's eastern neighbor Afghanistan.
The force "operated throughout Iraq, arming, aiding, and abetting Shiite militias"—i.e., the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, Dawa, and the Mahdi Army—"all" of which "had close ties to Iran, some dating back decades" as part of their struggle against Saddam Hussein's oppressive Arab nationalist regime.
In November 2006, with sectarian violence in Iraq increasing, U.S. General John Abizaid accused the Quds Force of supporting "Shi'a death squads" even while the government of Iran pledges support in stabilization. Similarly, in July 2007, Major General Kevin Bergner of the U.S. Army alleged that members of the Quds Force aided in the planning of a raid on U.S. forces in the Iraqi city of Karbala in January 2007.
2006 detainment in IraqEdit
On 24 December 2006, the New York Times reported that at least four Iranians were captured by American troops in Iraq in the previous few days. According to the article, the U.S. government suspected that two of them were members of Quds Force, which would be some of the first physical proof of Quds Force activity in Iraq. According to The Pentagon, the alleged the Quds Force members were "involved in the transfer of IED technologies from Iran to Iraq". The two men had entered Iraq legally, although they were not accredited diplomats. Iraqi officials believed that the evidence against the men was only circumstantial, but on 29 December, and under U.S. pressure, the Iraqi government ordered the men to leave Iraq. They were driven back to Iran that day. In mid-January 2007 it was said that the two alleged Quds force officers seized by American forces were Brig. Gen. Mohsen Chizari and Col. Abu Amad Davari. According to the Washington Post. Chizari is the third highest officer of Quds Force, making him the highest-ranked Iranian to ever allegedly be held by the United States.
American newspaper The New York Sun reported that the documents described the Quds Force as not only cooperating with Shi'a death squads, but also with fighters related to al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Sunna. It said that the Quds Force had studied the Iraq situation in a similar manner to the U.S. Iraq Study Group, and had concluded that they must increase efforts with Sunni and Shiite groups in order to counter the influence of Sunni states.
U.S. raid on Iranian liaison officeEdit
On 11 January 2007, U.S. forces raided and detained five employees of the Iranian liaison office in Erbil, Iraq. The U.S. military says the five detainees are connected to the Quds Force. The operation has drawn protests from the regional Kurdish government while the Russian government called the detainments unacceptable.
Alireza Nourizadeh, a political analyst at Voice of America, states that their arrests are causing concern in Iranian intelligence because the five alleged officials are knowledgeable of a wide range of Quds Force and Iranian activities in Iraq. According to American ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, one of the men in custody is Quds Force's director of operations.
Iranian and Iraqi officials have maintained the detained men were part of a diplomatic mission in the city of Erbil, Iraq. The five Iranian detainees were still being held at a U.S. prison in Iraq as of 8 July 2007. The U.S. says they are "still being interrogated" and that it has "no plans to free them while they are seen as a security risk in Iraq". Iran says the detainees "are kidnapped diplomats" and that "they are held as hostages".
On 9 July 2009, the five detained diplomats in question were released from U.S. custody to Iraqi officials.
Allegations of involvement in Karbala attackEdit
On 20 January 2007, a group of gunmen attacked the Karbala Provincial Joint Coordination Center in Karbala, captured four American soldiers, and subsequently killed them. The attackers passed through an Iraqi checkpoint at around 5 pm, a total of five black GMC Suburbans, similar to those driven by U.S. security and diplomatic officials. They were also wearing American military uniforms and spoke fluent English. Because of the sophistication of the attack, some analysts have suggested that only a group like the Quds Force would be able to plan and carry out such an action. Former CIA officer Robert Baer also suggested that the five Americans were killed by the Quds Force in revenge for the Americans holding five Iranians since the January 11 raid in Irbil. It was reported that the U.S. military is investigating whether or not the attackers were trained by Iranian officials; however, no evidence besides the sophistication of the attack has yet been presented.
On 2 July 2007, the U.S. military said that information from captured Hezbollah fighter Ali Moussa Dakdouk established a link between the Quds Force and the Karbala raid. The U.S. military claims Dakdouk worked as a liaison between Quds force operatives and the Shia group that carried out the raid. According to the United States, Dakdouk said that the Shia group "could not have conducted this complex operation without the support and direction of the Quds force".
Allegations of support for Iraqi militantsEdit
In June 2007, U.S. General Ray Odierno asserted that Iranian support for these Shia militia increased as the United States itself implemented the 2007 "troop surge". Two different studies have maintained that approximately half of all foreign insurgents entering Iraq come from Saudi Arabia.
In December 2009 evidence uncovered during an investigation by The Guardian newspaper and Guardian Films linked the Quds Force to the kidnappings of five Britons from a government ministry building in Baghdad in 2007. Four of the hostages, Jason Creswell, Jason Swindlehurst, Alec Maclachlan, and Alan McMenemy, were killed. Peter Moore was released on 30 December 2009. The investigation uncovered evidence that Moore, 37, a computer expert from Lincoln was targeted because he was installing a system for the Iraqi Government that would show how a vast amount of international aid was diverted to Iran's militia groups in Iraq. One of the alleged groups funded by the Quds force directly is the Righteous League, which emerged in 2006 and has stayed largely in the shadows as a proxy of the Quds Force. Shia cleric and leading figure of the Righteous League, Qais al-Khazali, was handed over by the U.S. military for release by the Iraqi government on 29 December 2009 as part of the deal that led to the release of Moore.
Allegations by U.S. President BushEdit
In a 14 February 2007 news conference U.S. President George W. Bush reiterated his claim that the Quds Force was causing unrest in Iraq, stating:
I can say with certainty that the Quds force, a part of the Iranian government, has provided these sophisticated IEDs that have harmed our troops. And I'd like to repeat, I do not know whether or not the Quds Force was ordered from the top echelons of government. But my point is what's worse – them ordering it and it happening, or them not ordering it and it happening? And so we will continue to protect our troops. ... to say it [this claim] is provoking Iran is just a wrong way to characterize the Commander-in-Chief's decision to do what is necessary to protect our soldiers in harm's way. And I will continue to do so. ... Whether Ahmadinejad ordered the Quds force to do this, I don't think we know. But we do know that they're there, and I intend to do something about it. And I've asked our commanders to do something about it. And we're going to protect our troops. ... I don't think we know who picked up the phone and said to the Quds Force, go do this, but we know it's a vital part of the Iranian government. ...What matters is, is that we're responding. The idea that somehow we're manufacturing the idea that the Iranians are providing IEDs is preposterous. ... My job is to protect our troops. And when we find devices that are in that country that are hurting our troops, we're going to do something about it, pure and simple. ... does this mean you're trying to have a pretext for war? No. It means I'm trying to protect our troops.
Mohsen Sazegara, who was a high-ranking Tehran official before turning against the government, has argued that Ahmadinejad does not control the Guards outside of Iran. "Not only the foreign ministry of Iran; even the president does not know what the Revolutionary Guards does outside of Iran. They directly report to the leader", he said, referring to Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Although Ali Khamenei is the ultimate person in charge of the Quds Force, George Bush did not mention him. According to Richard Clarke, "Quds force reports directly to the Supreme Ayatollah, through the commander-in-chief of the revolutionary guards."
Detainment of alleged bomb smugglerEdit
On 20 September 2007, the U.S. military arrested an Iranian during a raid on a hotel in Sulaimaniyah, a city in the Kurdish-controlled north. The military accused the Iranian of being a member of the elite Quds Force and smuggling powerful roadside bombs, including armor-piercing explosively formed penetrators, into Iraq. The military said intelligence reports asserted the suspect was involved in the infiltration and training of foreign fighters into Iraq as well.
On 22 September 2007, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani criticized the United States for arresting the Iranian and called for his immediate release. Talabani argued he is a civil servant who was on an official trade mission in the Kurdish Region and stated Iraqi and Kurdish regional government representatives were aware of the man's presence in the country. "I express to you our outrage for these American forces arresting this Iranian civil official visitor without informing or cooperating with the government of the Kurdistan region, which means insult and disregard for its rights", Talabani wrote in a "letter of resentment" to Ryan Crocker, U.S. ambassador to Iraq, and Gen. David Petraeus.
Allegations of 2007 market attackEdit
On 24 November 2007, US military officials accused an Iranian special group of placing a bomb in a bird box that blew up at a popular animal market in central Baghdad. "The group's purpose was to make it appear Al Qaeda in Iraq was responsible for the attack", Admiral Smith said. He further emphasized there was "no evidence Iran ordered the attack". In May 2008, Iraq said it had no evidence that Iran was supporting militants on Iraqi soil. Al-Sadr spokesman Al-Ubaydi said the presence of Iranian weapons in Iraq is "quite normal," since "they are bought and sold and any party can buy them."
Allegations of ties to Al-QaedaEdit
According to reports produced by Agence France-Presse (AFP), The Jerusalem Post, and Al Arabiya, at the request of a member of the United States' House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, in 2011 Congressional counter-terrorism advisor Michael S. Smith II of Kronos Advisory, LLC produced a report on Iran's alleged ties to Al-Qaeda that was distributed to members of the Congressional Anti-Terrorism Caucus. Titled "The al-Qa'ida-Qods Force Nexus: Scratching the Surface of a Known Unknown", a redacted version of Smith's report is available online via the blog site owned by American military geostrategist and The Pentagon's New Map author Thomas P.M. Barnett. The report's Issue Summary section explains: "This report focuses on the history of Iran's relationship with al-Qa'ida, and briefly addresses potential implications of these ties. Additionally, its author provides a list of recommended action items for Members of the United States Congress, as well as a list of questions that may help Members develop a better understanding of this issue through interactions with defense and intelligence officials". A member of the Quds Force was alleged arrested with 21 other suspects in the attack on the Israeli and United States embassies on 14 March 2012 in Azerbaijan.
Combat against Islamic StateEdit
In 2014, Quds Force was deployed into Iraq to lead Iranian action against ISIL. Iran sent three Quds Force battalions to help the Iraqi government repel ISIL's 2014 Northern Iraq offensive. Over 40 officers participated in the Second Battle of Tikrit, including the leader of the force, Gen. Qasem Soleimani who took a leading role in the operation.
IRGC Commander Jafari announced on 16 September 2012 that Quds Force "were present" in Syria.
Coinciding with the Geneva II Conference on Syria in 2014, Iran boosted its presence in Syria with several "hundred" military specialists, including senior commanders from the Quds Force, according to Iranian sources and security experts. While recently retired senior IRGC commander told that there were at least 60 to 70 Quds force commanders on the ground in Syria at any given time. The primary role of these forces is to gather intelligence and manage the logistics of the battle for the Syrian Government.
In November 2015 the Quds Force conducted a successful rescue mission of a Russian bomber pilot who was shot down by a Turkish fighter jet. The commander of the Quds Force, Major General Qasem Soleimani, got in touch with his Russian counterparts and said that a special unit had been formed and was ready for the rescue operation. He also explained that the squad was made up of men from the Lebanese "Hezbollah" and soldiers from the Syrian Special Forces, who had undergone special training under the guidance of Iranian instructors. Apart from this fact, the Syrian soldiers were familiar with the terrain. The general assumed command of the ground operation and Russian aircraft had to carry out air cover and enable satellite surveillance. Once the location of the Russian pilot was determined via satellite through the built-in GPS device, it became clear that the pilot was located six kilometers behind the front line of the opposition forces. The Special squad that entered the territory controlled by rebels was not only able to save the Russian pilot, but also kill all of the remaining rebels there. All of the 24 fighters not only survived, but also returned to their base without injuries.
In May 2018, Quds forces on the Syrian-held side of the Golan Heights allegedly fired around 20 projectiles towards Israeli army positions without causing damage or casualties. Israel responded with airstrikes against Iranian bases in Syria. At least twenty-three fighters, among them 18 foreigners, were reportedly killed in the strikes.
In January 2019, the Israel Defense Forces confirmed that it had carried out strikes against Iranian military targets in Syria several hours after a rocket was intercepted over the Golan Heights. The Israeli military claimed in a statement that Quds Force positions were targeted and included a warning to the Syrian military against "attempting to harm Israeli forces or territory."
In January 2018, German authorities conducted raids in Baden-Württemberg, North Rhine-Westphalia, Bavaria and Berlin, searching homes and businesses belonging to ten alleged Iranian Quds Force members, suspected of spying on Israeli and Jewish targets.
Designation as a terrorist organizationEdit
The United States Department of the Treasury designated the Quds Force under Executive Order 13224 for providing material support to US-designated terrorist organizations on 25 October 2007, prohibiting transactions between the group and U.S. citizens, and freezing any assets under U.S. jurisdiction. The Government of Canada designated the Quds Force as a terrorist organization on 17 December 2012. Egypt’s nominations included the organization.
On 23 October 2018, the kingdoms of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, both involved in Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen against Quds Force-backed Houthis, designated the IRGC as a terrorist organization. The designation also included leader Qassem Soleimani.
In April 2019, the U.S. made the unprecedented decision to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a foreign military, as a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department under an immigration statute and their maximum pressure campaign. This designation was done over the opposition of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Department of Defense (DoD). However, the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael Mulroy stated that this terrorist designation did not grant any additional authorities to the DoD and that they were not seeking any.
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