A Review of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and Qods Force: Growing Global Presence, Links to Cartels, and Mounting Sophistication

A Review of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and Qods Force: Growing Global Presence, Links to Cartels, and Mounting Sophistication

Alma Keshavarz

The Islamic Republic of Iran’s sophisticated military unit, the Qods Force (also known as “Quds Force”), made headlines on September 29, 2011 with the arrest of Mansour Arbabsiar, a naturalized U.S. citizen behind the assassination attempt of the Saudi Ambassador to the United States in Washington, D.C.  What has been largely overlooked, however, is the wealth of information prior to 2011 on the Qods Force’s global presence.  The Qods Force is responsible for bolstering Hezbollah over thirty years ago and they have been working together across the globe ever since.  In 2008, former Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff stated that “someone described Hezbollah like the A-team of terrorists in terms of capabilities, in terms of range of weapons they have, in terms of discipline.  Hezbollah makes Al Qaeda look like a minor league team.”[1]

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayayollah Ali Khamenei (Left) with Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah (Right), Iranian Regime Social Media, 2013.

The Qods Force has funded and supplied Hezbollah at the behest of Iran.  Much of what the media ignores is the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Qods Force’s direct connection with Hezbollah and countless nefarious activities occurring around the world.  This essay explores the timeline of the available research on the Qods Force, its presence in the Western Hemisphere, and any associations with the global drug trade.  The IRGC is responsible for the creation of the Qods Force, thus, a notable place to begin explaining its origins.

History of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was established immediately after the 1979 revolution in Iran by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.  They function as “both the primary internal

and external security force” with land, air and sea forces.[2]  The IRGC has five arms: air force, navy, army, Basij, and the Qods Force.  As Figure 1 shows, the IRGC at the top of the hierarchy helped establish the Qods Force and trigger the rise of Hezbollah, all of which happen to have similar flags.

Figure 1: Revolutionary Guards Development

The member figures are estimates since Iran does not officially reveal its numbers.  Numbers for Unit 400 are currently unknown, but it is believed that the Qods Force outsources operatives to Unit 400 to conduct clandestine missions against Western targets, which will be discussed further in this essay.  The 10,000 to 15,000 Qods Force personnel provide logistical support and weapons deliveries to pro-Iranian organizations in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Persian Gulf states, Gaza/West Bank, Afghanistan, and Central Asia.[3]  Additionally, FARS, Iran’s news agency, reported that Hezbollah has up to 65,000 fighters. The terror group also received substantial financial support as well as training from the IRGC, so much so that in the terror group’s 1985 founding manifesto, Hezbollah vowed loyalty to Iran’s Supreme Leader.[4]  Moreover, a 2015 Congressional Research report provides details on the substantial political influence the IRGC possesses.  Since 2007, Mohammad Ali Jafari has been Commander in Chief of the IRGC and is considered a “hardliner against political dissent and a close ally of the Supreme Leader.”[5]  The report continues that in 2009, the Iranian regime attributed greater authority in intelligence gathering to the IRGC, possibly over the regime’s Ministry of Intelligence.[6]

The Qods force was established shortly after the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war in 1980, operating Iran’s asymmetric warfare as well as collaborating with proxies, such as Hezbollah.  They have been known to train and supply other groups like Hamas, the Afghan Taliban, and other Shiite insurgents.  The IRGC and the Qods Force have historically denied any opposition from rising in the country and benefit economically through a variety of practices, both licit and illicit.  They currently “dominate most sectors of the economy, from energy to construction, telecommunication to auto making, and even banking and finance.”[7]

Additionally, they have actually benefited from global sanctions by tapping “into state funds and its relatively vast independent resources have provided a decisive advantage.”[8]  In 2005 with the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the IRGC received increased governmental loans and contracts as well as control of Iran’s “internal and national security organizations.”[9]  With current President Hassan Rouhani, the IRGC are continuing their relationship with the administration.  Overall, the IRGC is committed to promoting the revolution and will defend the Supreme Leader and his policies.

Nonetheless, the Qods Force remains a powerful military unit in Iran, operating outside of the country’s borders and having a strong influence where they go, “gaining experience, fighting insurgencies, waging asymmetrical war, and studying the United States and Israeli militaries.”[10]  The Qods Force can best be compared operationally to U.S. special forces.  They are well equipped to carry out attacks if they are commanded to do so by Iran’s Supreme Leader, simultaneously with proxies abroad.  Ultimately, the Qods Force was established to have a global influence on behalf of Iranian policies and it has thus far been successful in the Middle East, such as in Syria and Iraq, but also in Latin America, particularly in Venezuela and Bolivia.

The Qods Force

Though the IRGC is Iran’s formal military, the Qods Force is tasked with duties abroad, commanded by Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani since 1998.  Officially, the Qods Force is “an elite unit that conducts clandestine operations outside Iran; provides training, financial, and other support to Islamic militant groups; and collects strategic and military intelligence against Iran’s enemies, especially the United States.”[11]  The U.S. Justice Department defines the unit as a “branch of the IRGC that conducts sensitive covert operations abroad, including terrorist attacks, assassinations, and kidnappings, and is believed to have sponsored attacks against coalition forces in Iraq.”[12]  Much like the IRGC, the Qods Force has “corps” of its own, such as the Lebanon Corps, the Iraq Corps and Ansar Corps, which are regional factions designated with duties based on their geographical positions.[13]  Unit 400 is the most recent faction of the Qods Force with reports indicating their rise to prominence among the Force as early as 2012.  In 2007, the Qods Force was designated as a terrorist supporter for “providing material support to the Taliban and other terrorist organizations.”[14]  According to Bunker and Hazim (2007), as “soldiers of the Last Days,”[15] they represent “holy warriors who do the bidding of Iran’s Shia clerics.”[16]  As the previous authors suggest, the Qods Force can be described more as a non-state entity than a military force, which is the IRGC.[17]

Qods Force commander Qasem Soleimani (Left) with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (Right), Iranian Regime Social Media, September 2013.

Moreover, an unclassified Department of Defense (DOD) report on Iran’s military power in 2010 noted that the IRGC and the Qods Force have been behind, in some capacity, a number of the deadliest terror attacks of the past two decades.  These include the bombings of the U.S. Embassy, annex, and Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 and 1984, the attack on the AMIA Jewish Community Center in Bueno Aires in 1994, the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia in 1996, as well as many of the insurgent attacks on Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces in Iraq since 2003.[18]  As the report explains, the Qods Force merely guides or supports other groups that execute attacks, “thereby, maintaining plausible deniability within the international community.”[19]

The Qods Force Mark on the Western Hemisphere

The Pentagon’s 2010 report to Congress on Iran’s military power disclosed that the Qods Force is active in Latin America, stationing “operatives in foreign embassies, charities and religious/cultural institutions to foster relationships with people, often building on existing socioeconomic ties with the well-established Shia Diaspora and even carrying out paramilitary operations to support extremists and destabilize unfriendly regimes.”[20]  The DOD report indicated that Qods Force agents were noticed in Venezuela and were focused on “intelligence operations, paramilitary training for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and security assistance for the government of Venezuela.”[21]  Since former Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s “Tour of Tyrants Trip” to Latin America in 2012, the Qods Force increased their presence in the region.[22]

Moreover, Bunker and Hazim (2007) refer to Qods Force operatives as blended “criminal-soldiers,” because they represent pre-Westphalian soldiers, or “holy-warriors that exist somewhere within the blurring of crime and war that is taking place globally.”[23]  Such a place is Latin America, which is arguably the international capital for transnational organized crime.  Criminal groups, like drug trafficking organizations or cartels, are increasingly cooperating with terror groups.  For instance, Arbabsiar, a Qods Force associate, plotted with whom he believed was a member of the Mexican Los Zetas cartel. 

Latin America expert Luis Fleischman noted that “in April 2010, the Pentagon reported the presence of paramilitary Al Quds [Qods Force] operatives in Venezuela.”[24]  Though the Qods Force presence can be traced as far back as Hezbollah’s presence in Latin America, their activities were observed more closely during Ahmadinejad’s presidency.  In Venezuela, for instance, the Qods Force strengthened the country’s secret service and police.[25]  Additionally, it is believed that “Venezuela is the gateway for Iran in the Western Hemisphere.”[26]  Something similar is occurring in Bolivia, but more rapidly.  The defense school located in Warnes near the city of Santa Cruz was inaugurated in 2012 with a significant Qods Force presence, including the former Iranian defense minister, Ahmed Vahidi.  Therefore, not only does a steady presence of Qods Force members benefit Iran’s agenda in Latin America, but it also unsparingly serves the host country.

Involvement with the Global Drug Trade

The IRGC and Qods Force have been linked to the drug trade operating both in the Middle East and Latin America.  Kronenfield and Gorzansky (2013) sufficiently trace the link between the Qods Force and the international drug trade, which includes involvements with crime organizations in Latin America.  They explain that “these ties create operational and logistical platforms that support and enhance the ability of the Revolutionary Guards and specifically the Qods Force to pose a threat to their enemies’ territories and populations by forging documents, smuggling goods across borders, laundering money, supporting black banking, and so on.”[27]  Due to international sanctions, the IRGC and Qods Force have established a lucrative business out of the global drug trade.  Over the years, they have managed to successfully forge alliances with regional drug trafficking organizations or cartels to move drugs across borders and launder money.  In the Middle East, the border Iran shares with Pakistan and Afghanistan is “one of the world’s busiest drug smuggling corridors.”[28]

Most importantly, the IRGC and Qods Force partnership with Hezbollah continues the flow of illicit practices in the region, especially in Venezuela, Colombia, and Bolivia.  Hezbollah members have the skills and experience to employ rewarding operations in Latin America.  The overwhelmingly profitable drug trade in Latin America is only continuing to fund the Qods Force, while the rise in the number of members present in the region through cultural centers and in the form of diplomats furthers Iran’s policy strategy for the Western Hemisphere.

The 2011 Arbabsiar Plot

The most widely recognized link between the Qods Force and a cartel is the 2011 Arbabsiar plot.  Mansour Arbabsiar, a naturalized United States citizen, conspired with senior Qods Force members to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir.  Arbabsiar agreed to pay $1.5 million to a DEA informant posing as a Mexican Los Zetas member for the assassination.  The plan was to bomb a popular Washington restaurant, which many U.S. Senate and Congressional members dine, where al-Jubeir was to attend.  Reports indicate that Arbabsiar was acting “under the direction of the Qods Force external operations senior officer (who is also his cousin), Abdul Reza Shahlai, and his deputy, Gholam Shakuri.”[29]  Shahlai is of particular importance, having played a “central role in the Qods Force’s covert operations against and targeting of U.S. forces in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, and in 2007, he oversaw the kidnapping and assassination of five American service members from a U.S. base in Karbala, Iraq.”[30]  In 2008, the United States Treasury Department labeled him as a specially designated terrorist, which makes his link to the assassination attempt all the more noteworthy.  Shakuri, a senior Qods Force official, met with Arbabsiar, approving of the plan.  Arbabsiar admitted his involvement with the plot as well as his communication with Qods Force members, finally pleading guilty in New York City federal court on May 30, 2013.[31]  According to the complaint and indictment, Arbabsiar was in contact with Iranian co-conspirators based in Iran.  He wired about $100,000 to a U.S. bank account as a down payment for the assassination.

Latin America expert, Ilan Berman explained in his 2012 testimony that this foiled plot is “known to have been both orchestrated and facilitated via South America, suggesting that Iran increasingly finds the region to be an advantageous operational theater.”[32]  The Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper even stated in his Senate testimony that the “Iranian regime has formed alliances with Chavez, Ortega, Castro, and Correa that many believe can destabilize the Hemisphere.  These alliances can pose an immediate threat by giving Iran-directly through the IRGC, the Qods Force, or its proxies like Hezbollah-a platform in the region to carry out attacks against the United States, our interests, and allies.”[33]  Given an understanding of the Qods Force commands and operations, this assassination attempt would not have been developed or carried out without Iranian leadership’s knowledge.  In some way, it appears that Iran wants the international community to be made aware of their clandestine capabilities.  Even in a post-Chavez era, the region continues to harbor Qods Force members.

“Unit 400”

Both the IRGC and Qods Force have been secretive and Iran keeps most, if not all, of their activities and resources well guarded.  However, given the military unit’s expansive operations, they developed another section within the organization for more specialized operations.  This section is known as Unit 400, which is believed to be a clandestine unit of the Qods Force under the direct command of the Supreme Leader of Iran.  Specifically, this Unit is employed to seek out Western targets across the world.  A 2012 report investigated the botched Bangkok plot to assassinate Israeli diplomats in Thailand, revealing that Majid Alavi, a former deputy Iranian intelligence minister, “shifted to the Qods Force [2012] and along with [Hamed] Abdollahi, a commander accused in the Washington plot,”[34] operates Unit 400, which is “known as the Special Operations Unit.”[35]  According to State Department cables, Alavi also spied on dissidents living in London and Los Angeles.[36]  Additionally, the 2012 report obtained information from U.S. officials that Unit 400 “conducts sensitive covert operations abroad [that] include terrorist attacks, assassinations, kidnappings and sabotage.”[37]  They have also supplied Iraqi Shiite militants, as well as “weapons, equipment, training and money to Afghan insurgents…and also arranges the delivery of lethal aid into Syria and Lebanon and military training for Hezbollah and Palestinian militants.”[38]

Hence, the Qods Force has expanded its network to include a tight unit for the sole purpose of targeting westerners.  The Arbabsiar plot as well as those afterwards continue to show the IRGC and Qods Force ambitions, though also indicative of their limits.

Recent Qods Force Activities

In 2012, the Qods Force reportedly assisted with supplying the Houthi rebels in Yemen with AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades, and other arms.[39]  Additionally, “the Yemeni coast guard intercepted a boat smuggling arms, explosives, and antiaircraft missiles suspected to have originated in Iran.”[40]  Moreover, in 2014, the Treasury Department designated three Qods Force operatives as individuals who “threaten to commit, or support terrorism,”[41] for their part in planning attacks in Afghanistan with an Afghan associate.  The designation names Alireza Hemmati and Akbar Seyed Alhosseini for providing logical support to the Afghan associate, and Mahmud Afkhami to “highlight his influence over Afghan political affairs and his efforts to advance Iranian interests with the Government of the Islamist Republic of Afghanistan.”[42]  Today, the Qods Force is actively involved in the fight against ISIS in Syria, with at least “sixty to seventy Qods Force commanders” present in Syria to assist Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his forces.[43]  Other Shiite groups, such as Hezbollah and Iraqi Shiite militants are also active in the fight to preserve Assad’s reign in the country, under the guidance and command of the Qods Force.  In 2014, the Islamic State threated Iraq’s government and Iran responded almost immediately by sending Qods Force “advisers, intelligence drone surveillance, weapons shipments, and other assistance.”[44]  They are well funded considering Iran’s military budget between 2001 to 2009 was less than 4 percent of its GDP, and there is no additional data for the years that follow.  As one report explains, the budget for the Qods Force is classified, “directly controlled by Khamenei (the Supreme Leader), and is not reflected in the Iranian budget.  It operates primarily outside Iran’s borders.”[45]  Given that the budget remains undisclosed by the Iranian government and the available sources linking the IRGC to drug trafficking, they are relying to an unknown extent on the illicit economy to fund their operations as well as the operations of their proxies.

Nonetheless, the Qods Force is continuing to maintain a presence internationally, including in the opium poppy cultivation and opium and heroin production in Afghanistan.  In 2012, the Treasury Department designated Qods Force General Gholamreza Baghbani as a Specially Designated Narcotics Trafficker pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act (Kingpin Act), the first against an Iranian official.[46]  According to the Treasury report, Baghbani granted access to Afghan narcotics traffickers to smuggle opiates through Iran in return for assistance, such as moving weapons.[47]  Baghbani is a part of the Ansar Corps, located in the Sistan and Baluchistan province on the Iran-Afghanistan border, which holds about 4,000 Ansar Qods Force agents who are responsible for Afghanistan and Pakistan.[48]


Ultimately, the Qods Force has been a dominant military unit spreading Iran’s revolution across the Middle East and to Latin America.  They have been just as effective as any other comparable organization, such as drug trafficking groups like Los Zetas or terror groups like Hezbollah.  The United States has a number of sanctions against the Qods Force and many of its members for international terrorism-related activities.  Table 1[49] provides a list of individuals sanctioned by the United States put together by a 2015 Congressional Research Service report on Iran sanctions.

Table 1: Sanctions against IRGC-QF officials. Data source: Kenneth Katzman, “Iran Sanctions.” Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, 21 April 2015, https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/RS20871.pdf.

The United Nations Security Council implemented Resolution 1747 to further restrict Iran’s nuclear ambitions.  Executive Order 13382 froze assets of those proliferating weapons of mass destruction, similar to Executive Order 12938, which assisted with combatting the spread of unconventional weapons.  Executive Order 13224, signed on September 23, 2001, ordered to freeze “U.S.-based assets of and a ban on U.S. transactions with entities determined to be supporting international terrorism.”[50]  The entities and groups listed above funneled “Iranian money to Hezbollah, Hamas, PIJ, and other Iranian supported terrorist groups,” which also included the Afghan Taliban.[51]  Finally, Executive Order’s 13438 and 13572 are related to the war efforts in Iraq and now Syria.  Forouzandeh, for instance, was sanctioned as an entity who threatened the stabilization efforts in Iraq.  Specifically, Executive Order 13438 pertains to any entity or organization “fomenting sectarian violence in Iraq and of organization training in Iran for Iraqi militia fighters.”[52]  Under Executive Order 13572, the Qods Force and its members were sanctioned for repressing the Syrian people and being involved with human rights abuses in the country.

Overall, “more than twenty terror attacks by Hizballah [Hezbollah] or Qods Force operatives were thwarted over the fifteen-month period between May 2011 and July 2012; by another count, nine plots were uncovered over the first nine months of 2012.  The key to all these attacks, however, whether carried out by Hizballah [Hezbollah] or the Qods Force, was deniability.”[53]  What is certain with the development of Unit 400 and the Qods Force global presence and influence, “Iranian leaders appear committed to a policy of targeting Western interests, not only in places where countermeasures may be comparatively underdeveloped (e.g., Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, India, Georgia, Thailand) but, if opportunities present themselves, even in world capitals like Washington, D.C.”[54]  Additionally, “the IRGC, which is perhaps the most equipped and sophisticated terrorist group of our time, has the will and capability to build a worldwide illicit network,”[55] and continues to fund Iranian activities in the country and abroad.  Many experts agree that the United State should not allow the international Qods Force presence to go unnoticed.  The research available offers an exceptional outline of where the Qods Force, backed by the IRGC, has been operating, how it funds its operations and to what extent they have managed to forge unsavory alliances with criminal organizations, and what they are really capable of with the right resources and connections.

Further investigations are required, specifically in Latin America as the number of diplomats in the region continues to grow as well as the significant presence of Hezbollah members.  The diplomatic presence is indicative of Qods Force members taking on those roles to keep a watchful eye on the designated region they are assigned to.  Another point worth reiterating is that Hezbollah activity in Latin American has surged since the presidency of Ahmadinejad.  The 2011 link between Iran and Los Zetas should be of greater concern, since it can be argued that there may be an Iranian or Hezbollah presence in Mexico given past associations, diasporas in Central America, and drug trafficking activities.  Retired four-start Marine General James Mattis, former head of U.S. Central Command, stated in 2013 that the Arbabsiar plot was orchestrated “at the highest levels.”[56]  Former DEA Chief of Operations Michael Braun stated in his 2012 testimony before the House Committee on Homeland Security that the Qods Force learn from the “most sophisticated organized crime syndicates in the world: the Colombian and Mexican drug trafficking cartels, which include the FARC.  And these relationships most likely provide the Quds Force and Hezbollah with opportunities to leverage the transportation, money laundering, arms trafficking, corruption, human trafficking and smuggling infrastructures of the Colombian and Mexican drug trafficking cartels, as well as other organized crime and terrorist groups around the world.”[57]  Additionally, Braun explained that there is evidence proving Hezbollah and Qods Force operatives have crossed over into the U.S. through the Southern border.[58]  Given the rhetoric of experienced U.S. officials, this area certainly requires further exploration to expose the magnitude of IRGC and Qods Force presence not only across our Southern border, but in the Western Hemisphere in general.

End Notes

[1] “Chertoff: Hezbollah Makes Al Qaeda Look ‘Minor League.’” Fox News. 29 May 2008, http://www.foxnews.com/story/2008/05/29/chertoff-hezbollah-makes-al-qaeda-look-minor-league.html.

[2] Ali Reza Nader, “The Revolutionary Guards.” The Iran Primer. 2010 (August 2015 update), http://iranprimer.usip.org/resource/revolutionary-guards.

[3] Kenneth Katzman, “Iran, Gulf Security, and U.S. Policy.” Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, 28 May 2015: 32.

[4] Jonathan Masters. “CFR Backgrounders: Hezbollah.” Washington, D.C.: Council on Foreign Relations, Updated 3 January 2014, http://www.cfr.org/lebanon/hezbollah-k-hizbollah-hizbullah/p9155.

[5] Kenneth Katzman: 32.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Jonathan Masters: 3.

[8] Ibid: 4.

[9] Ibid: 5.

[10] Michael Cummings and Eric Cummings, “The Costs of War with Iran: An Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield.” Small Wars Journal.  31 August 2012, http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/the-costs-of-war-with-iran-an-intelligence-preparation-of-the-battlefield.

[11]Michael McBride, “Evolution of the Immortals: The Future of Iranian Military Power.” Small Wars Journal.  29 June 2014, http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/evolution-of-the-immortals-the-future-of-iranian-military-power.

[12] Department of Justice, “Manssor Arbabsiar Sentenced in New York City Federal Court to 25 Years in Prison for Conspiring with Iranian Military Officials to Assassinate the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States.” 30 May 2013. http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/manssor-arbabsiar-sentenced-new-york-city-federal-court-25-years-prison-conspiring-iranian.

[13] “The Qods Force, an elite unit of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, spearheads Iran’s global terrorist campaign.” The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Israeli Intelligence and heritage Commemoration Center. 21 August 2012: 14, http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/en/article/20521.

[14] Department of Justice, “Manssor Arbabsiar Sentenced in New York City Federal Court to 25 Years in Prison for Conspiring with Iranian Military Officials to Assassinate the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States.” 

[15] Robert J. Bunker and Hakim Hazim, “Are We Prematurely Designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as Criminal-Soldiers?” Small Wars Journal. 5 September 2007, http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/are-we-prematurely-designating-irans-revolutionary-guards-as-criminal-soldiers.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] United States Department of Defense, “Unclassified Report on Military Power of Iran.” April 2010, http://fas.org/man/eprint/dod_iran_2010.pdf.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ilan Berman, “Iran’s Influence and Activity in Latin America: Testimony before the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Peace Corps, and Global Narcotics Affairs.” 16 February 2012.

[21] “Iran: Quds Force in Venezuela.” STRATFOR Global Intelligence. 22 April 2010, https://www.stratfor.com/analysis/iran-quds-force-venezuela.

[22] Sandra Warmoth, “Iran’s Expanding Footprint in Latin America.” Small Wars Journal. 29 May 2012, http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/irans-expanding-footprint-in-latin-america.

[23] Robert J. Bunker and Hakim Hazim, “Are We Prematurely Designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as Criminal-Soldiers?”  

[24] Luis Fleischman. Latin America in the Post Chavez Era: The Security Threat to the United States. Potomac Books, 2013: 132.

[25] Ibid: 131.

[26] Author interview with Michael Braun. 16 December 2015.

[27] Sami Kronenfield and Yoel Gurzansky, “The Revolutionary Guards’ International Drug Trade.” American Center for Democracy. 1 November 2013, http://acdemocracy.org/the-revolutionary-guards-international-drug-trade/.

[28] Saeed Ghasseminejad, “How Iran’s Mafia-like Revolutionary Guard Rules the Country’s Black Market.” Business Insider. 10 December 2015, http://www.businessinsider.com/how-irans-mafia-like-revolutionary-guard-rules-the-countrys-black-market-2015-12.

[29] Scott Modell and David Asher, “Pushback: Countering the Iran Action Network.” Center for a New American Security. 5 September 2013, http://www.cnas.org/publications/pushback-countering-iran-action-network#.VnWjOktqrwI.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Department of Justice, “Manssor Arbabsiar Sentenced in New York City Federal Court to 25 Years in Prison for Conspiring with Iranian Military Officials to Assassinate the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States.” 

[32] Ilan Berman, “Iran’s Influence and Activity in Latin America: Testimony before the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Peace Corps, and Global Narcotics Affairs.” 

[33] Ibid.

[34] Sebastian Rotella, “Before Deadly Bulgaria Bombing, Tracks of a Resurgent Iran-Hezbollah Threat.”ProPublica. 30 July 2012,  http://www.propublica.org/article/before-deadly-bulgaria-bombing-tracks-of-a-resurgent-iran-hezbollah-threat.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Matthew Levitt. “Iran’s Support for Terrorism Worldwide.” Testimony submitted to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, 4 March 2014, http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/uploads/Documents/testimony/LevittTestimony20140304.pdf.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Executive Order 13224: Executive Order 13224 blocking Terrorist Property and a summary of the Terrorism Sanctions Regulations (Title 31 Part 595 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations), Terrorism List Governments Sanctions Regulations (Title 31 Part 596 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations), and Foreign Terrorist Organizations Sanctions Regulations (Title 31 Part 597 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations). https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/terror.pdf.

[42] Department of Treasury, “Treasury Targets Networks Linked to Iran.” 6 February 2014, https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/jl2287.aspx.

[43] Matthew Levitt. “Iran’s Support for Terrorism Worldwide.” 

[44] Kenneth Katzman, “Iran, Gulf Security, and U.S. Policy”: 34.

[45] Anthony H. Cordesman and Khalid R. Al-Rodhan, “Iranian Nuclear Weapons? The Threat from Iran’s WMD and Missile Programs.” Center for Strategic and International Studies. 21 February 2006, http://csis.org/files/media/csis/pubs/060221_iran_wmd.pdf.

[46] U.S. Department of the Treasury, “Treasury Designates Iranian Quds Force General Overseeing Afghan Heroin Trafficking Through Iran.” 7 March 2012, https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/tg1444.aspx.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Steven Hughes. “The Dirty Secret No One Talks About, Tehran’s Heroin Drug Trade/Its Narco-War Against America.” The Jerusalem Post. 11 March 2015, http://www.jpost.com/Blogs/The-Iran-Threat/The-Dirty-Secret-No-One-Talks-About-Tehrans-Heroin-Drug-Trade-its-Narco-War-Against-America-393542.

[49] Kenneth Katzman, “Iran Sanctions.” Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, 21 April 2015, https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/RS20871.pdf.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Matthew Levitt, “Hizballah and the Qods Force in Iran’s Shadow War with the West.” Washington, D.C.: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, January 2013: 9, https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/uploads/Documents/pubs/PolicyFocus123.pdf.

[54] Ibid: 10.

[55] Saeed Ghasseminejad, “How Iran’s Mafia-like Revolutionary Guard Rules the Country’s Black Market.”  

[56] Ken Dilianian, “Retired General Criticizes U.S. Response to Alleged Iranian Plot.” Los Angeles Times. 20 July 2013, http://articles.latimes.com/2013/jul/20/world/la-fg-wn-mattis-iran-obama-administration-20130720.

[57] Michael Braun, “Iran, Hezbollah and the Threat to the Homeland.” Testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Homeland Security. 21 March 2012, https://homeland.house.gov/files/Testimony-Braun.pdf.

[58] Author interview with Michael Braun. 16 December 2015.


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The Iranian UW strategy has taken a serious hit if the Syrian anti Assad and our MEK friends from Iraq field reporting is accurate.

FSA evidently hit the Qods Commander Soleimani's armored UAV with a TOW ambush seriously wounding him if he is even now still alive as the Iranians have been badly attempting to cover it up---along with the serious loses of a third of the IRGC in Syria in this last offensive ---initial video of the FSA TOW attack though seems to indicate no one survived the TOW strike.....

Coupled with these serious IRGC loses the loss of the sheer presence of their Qods Commander on the Syrian battlefield is now having a major impact as the remaining IRGC fighting élan inside Syria has slacked off markedly since Soleimani was hit.

There was on the day of the TOW strike a FSA field report that when just the rumor circulated about the possibility of the TOW hit IRGC troops fled the fighting.

Sounds pretty predictable. Iranian regular troops are inexperienced and their most effective officers probably tend to follow a personal leadership style. Qods, being smaller and more an ideological party-army, would be expected to have higher elan and general tradecraft proficiency. I think more and more that it is harder to inculcate a victory for the sake of victory professional mentality in troops without serious professionalization and indoctrination. Something most armies, including many parts of our own, are not effective in with regular troops.

One of the most sophisticated unconventional warfare forces in the world. This is one reason why Congress added Section 1097 to the 2016 NDAA. Note that the verbiage from the mark-up 10XX below did not make it into the final bill but Congress' intent is clear from the mark-up language.

https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/1735/text#toc-H5... SEC. 1097. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE STRATEGY FOR COUNTERING UNCONVENTIONAL WARFARE.
(a) Strategy Required.—The Secretary of Defense shall, in consultation with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the heads of other appropriate departments and agencies of the United States Government, develop a strategy for the Department of Defense to counter unconventional warfare threats posed by adversarial state and non-state actors.
(b) Elements.—The strategy required under subsection (a) shall include each of the following:
(1) An articulation of the activities that constitute unconventional warfare threats to the United States and allies.
(2) A clarification of the roles and responsibilities of the Department of Defense in providing indications and warning of, and protection against, acts of unconventional warfare.
(3) An analysis of the adequacy of current authorities and command structures necessary for countering unconventional warfare.
(4) An articulation of the goals and objectives of the Department of Defense with respect to countering unconventional warfare threats.
(5) An articulation of related or required interagency capabilities and whole-of-Government activities required by the Department of Defense to support a counter-unconventional warfare strategy.
(6) Recommendations for improving the counter-unconventional warfare capabilities, authorities, and command structures of the Department of Defense.
(7) Recommendations for improving interagency coordination and support mechanisms with respect to countering unconventional warfare threats.
(8) Recommendations for the establishment of joint doctrine to support counter-unconventional warfare capabilities within the Department of Defense.
(9) Any other matters the Secretary of Defense considers appropriate.
(c) Submittal To Congress.—Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Defense shall submit to the congressional defense committees the strategy required by subsection (a). The strategy shall be submitted in unclassified form, but may include a classified annex.

(d) Unconventional Warfare Defined.—In this section, the term “unconventional warfare” means activities conducted to enable a resistance movement or insurgency to coerce, disrupt, or overthrow a government or occupying power by operating through or with an underground, auxiliary, or guerrilla force in a denied area.


Section 10XX—Department of Defense Strategy for Countering Unconventional Warfare

This section would required the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the President and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to develop a strategy for the Department of Defense to counter unconventional warfare threats posed by adversarial state and non-state actors. This section would require the Secretary of Defense to submit the strategy to the congressional defense committees within 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act. The committee is concerned about the growing unconventional warfare capabilities and threats being posed most notably and recently by the Russian Federation and the Islamic Republic of Iran. The committee notes that unconventional warfare is defined most accurately as those activities conducted to enable a resistance movement or insurgency to coerce, disrupt, or overthrow a government or occupying power by operating through or with an underground, auxiliary, or guerrilla force in a denied area. The committee also notes that most state-sponsors of unconventional warfare, such as Russia and Iran, have doctrinally linked conventional warfare, economic warfare, cyber warfare, information operations, intelligence operations, and other activities seamlessly in an effort to undermine U.S. national security objectives and the objectives of U.S. allies alike.