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US adds Qods Force general as ‘Narcotics Kingpin’ for heroin, weapons smuggling in Afghanistan

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By Bill RoggioMarch 7, 2012

Today the US Department of the Treasury added an Iranian Qods Force general to the list of Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers for supporting heroin and opium smuggling in Iran and Afghanistan “as part of a broader scheme to support terrorism.” The Iranian general supported the drug smugglers in order to arm the Taliban in Afghanistan.

General Gholamreza Baghbani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Qods Force’s branch in the Iranian city of Zahedan, “allowed Afghan narcotics traffickers to smuggle opiates through Iran in return for assistance,” Treasury stated in a press release that announced the designation. The “assistance” was given to the Taliban.

“For example, Afghan narcotics traffickers moved weapons to the Taliban on behalf of Baghbani,” Treasury said. “In return, General Baghbani has helped facilitate the smuggling of heroin precursor chemicals through the Iranian border. He also helped facilitate shipments of opium into Iran.”

General Baghbani is not the first Qods Force general to be designated by the US for supporting terrorist activities in Afghanistan, but he is, as Treasury noted, the first to be designated under the Kingpin Act. The US has designated other Iranian Qods Force officers, including General Hossein Musavi and Colonel Hasan Mortezavi, for aiding the Taliban.

General Hossein Musavi is the commander of Qods Force’s Ansar Corps, “whose responsibilities include IRGC-QF activities in Afghanistan,” Treasury stated in the Aug. 3, 2010 designation. “As Ansar Corps Commander, Musavi has provided financial and material support to the Taliban.”

Colonel Hasan Mortezavi is described as a senior Qods Force officer who “provides financial and material support to the Taliban.”

Qods Forces’ Ansar Corps is the command that is assigned to direct operations in Afghanistan. The Ansar Corps is based in Mashad in northeastern Iran. Ansar Corps operates much like the Ramazan Corps, which supports and directs Shia terror groups in Iraq. [See LWJ report, Iran's Ramazan Corps and the ratlines into Iraq.]

Al Qaeda is also known to facilitate travel for its operatives moving into Afghanistan from Mashad. Al Qaeda additionally uses the eastern cities of Tayyebat and Zahedan to funnel its operatives into Afghanistan. [See LWJ report, Return to Jihad].

Several Taliban commanders based in western Afghanistan have stated that they have received weapons, cash, and training from Iranian forces. Taliban commanders and units train inside Iran to conduct attacks against NATO and Afghan forces. In addition, al Qaeda operatives are also known to receive support from the Ansar Corps; Mashad is a transit point for al Qaeda operatives en route to Afghanistan.

US commanders have accused Iran of directly supporting the Taliban. On May 30, 2010, former ISAF commander General Stanley McChrystal said that Iran is training Taliban fighters and providing them with weapons.

“The training that we have seen occurs inside Iran with fighters moving inside Iran,” McChrystal said at a press conference. “The weapons that we have received come from Iran into Afghanistan.”

ISAF has targeted Iranian-supported Taliban commanders in at least 14 raids in western Afghanistan between June 2009 and February 2011, according to Coalition press releases compiled by The Long War Journal. (Note: ISAF inexplicably stopped reporting on raids against Iranian-supported Taliban commanders in early February 2011; LWJ‘s queries to ISAF on this subject have gone unanswered). ISAF officials have directly linked Qods Force to several of the Taliban commanders.

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Sterling Declares Force Majeure in its Blocks Offshore Romania

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Sterling Resources Ltd. has declared Force Majeure on its Midia and Pelican Blocks in the Black Sea after the Company has been unable to undertake Petroleum operations for reasons outside of its control.

In early 2011, after extensive and lengthy efforts, the Company finally obtained from the relevant Governmental authorities the environmental and drilling permits necessary for operations on the Midia and Pelican Blocks. The National Agency of Mineral Resources (“NAMR”) has given approval to a 2011 work program based on which Sterling is obligated to undertake certain offshore activities which include the drilling of 2 offshore wells, acquiring 1,050 linear kilometers of 2D seismic and undertaking investigations and studies to bring the Ana and Doina discoveries forward for development.

However, in July 2009 the Romanian Parliament passed a law requiring construction permits for certain offshore activities. Sterling has sought clarification of this requirement from relevant authorities, as the activities contemplated under the 2011 work program clearly appear to have aspects that will require a construction permit. It is Sterling’s view that, after having received responses from certain relevant governmental authorities, that the authorities are currently unable or unwilling to provide construction permits for offshore oil and gas activities.

The effect of this situation, which the Company views as political in nature, is to render it impossible for the Company to undertake Petroleum Operations at the present time. Sterling has thus issued a notice to NAMR, stating that the total lack of clarity on the applicable procedure and authority for issuance of construction permits constitutes an event of Force Majeure under the Concession Agreement.

Under the terms of the Concession Agreement NAMR must, within 15 days of this notification, either agree with the invocation of Force Majeure, the effect of which would be to extend the duration of the Concession Agreement, or reject the Company’s invocation putting the two parties into a dispute resolution procedure which could ultimately be decided in international arbitration.

Mike Azancot, Sterling’s Chief Executive Officer, said: “Despite this unfortunate situation we look forward to working with the NAMR and other Romanian authorities to find a resolution that will allow the Company to fulfill its obligations, preserve its rights and ultimately achieve success for the Company and the people of Romania. With a satisfactory resolution achieved, we are hopeful that we can advance our plans to undertake further exploration on these very prospective blocks and bring Ana and Doina to production within 3 years. This will bring significant benefits to Romania in terms of greater energy self-sufficiency, the likely award of construction and oil service contracts to local companies, and encouraging a wide range of companies to explore offshore Romania.”

Sterling Resources Ltd. is a Canadian-listed international oil and gas company headquartered in Calgary, Alberta with assets in the United Kingdom, Romania, France and the Netherlands. The shares are listed and posted for trading on the TSX Venture Exchange under the symbol “SLG”.

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