An Iranian border guard patrols Iran's Dogharoun border with Afghanistan on 1 June. In the face of increased attacks on its security forces by Jaish al-Adl and other militant groups, Iran has strengthened security at its border with Afghanistan. Source: PA
- Iran frequently accuses Pakistan of failing to stop cross-border attacks on its forces by Sunni militants, such as Jaish al-Adl (JA), and of providing them with a haven.
- The JA has not expressed interest in attacking other provinces, but its activities raise the risk of Iranian-Pakistani border incidents.
- Iran-Pakistan border incidents are likely to become more frequent, but a war is unlikely.
Jaish al-Adl's (JA) attacks on Iranian border guards and military vehicles in Sistan and Baluchistan province have become more frequent since October.
Jaish al-Adl (JA), formed in 2012, has increased the frequency of its attacks on Iranian border guards, police vehicles, and stations in the Sistan-Baluchistan province. The JA has claimed responsibility for seven attacks in Sistan-Baluchistan in October alone, having claimed approximately four attacks from January to September. On 8 October, the JA claimed responsibility for the ambush and killing of three Iranian police officers in Sistan-Baluchistan. On 19 October, the group claimed to be responsible for an attack on an Iranian police station in the same province. Most recently, on 8 December, the JA claimed a roadside improvised explosive device (IED) attack on Iranian police vehicles.
Iran accuses Pakistan of failing to stop the JA's cross-border attacks, and of providing the group with a haven. The Iranian-Pakistani border is porous and it is difficult to determine the exact location or movement of the JA. However, the JA's attacks have been largely limited to the Iranian border districts of Sarbaz and Saravan. On 24 October, Iran initiated an exchange of mortar fire with Pakistan. However, no further exchanges of fire have occurred since.
There is a history of insurgency in Iran. Two other groups, Jundullah and Harak al-Ansar al-Furqan, also operate in Sistan-Baluchistan. Other militant separatist groups exist and occasionally carry out attacks or engage in fighting with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) in the Arab-dominated Khuzestan, West Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, and Kermanshah provinces. IHS has not found any evidence indicating increased frequency of attacks in these other provinces.
Although the JA's frequency of attacks has increased, the group has not to date demonstrated new tactics or more sophisticated IEDs. It continues to use primarily roadside IEDs and rifles to carry out its attacks. On 12 October, the JA claimed the downing of an Iranian Turbo Commander light aircraft, killing seven passengers, including three senior officers. Iranian officials have claimed that technical failure and collision with an unspecified object caused the crash. IHS finds Iran's account credible, as the country has been unable to purchase new parts because of the economic sanctions. Moreover, the JA has not provided any evidence to support its claim, such as images of anti-aircraft weapons in its possession or video or photographic footage of the incident. There is no confirmed precedent of an insurgent attack on aviation in the province. Attacks by insurgent groups in the province traditionally consist of kidnapping, shooting, and roadside IED attacks targeting border guards and security forces.
We assess that the increased frequency of the attacks reflects the group's ability to recruit more members. Iran has regularly accused foreign countries, primarily Saudi Arabia, of funding Sunni militant groups in Sistan-Baluchistan. An IHS source claims that Jundullah, another Sunni militant group in the Sistan-Baluchistan province, has received funding from Saudi Arabia and used it to recruit more experienced militants from other groups in Pakistan. IHS could not independently corroborate this claim and Saudi Arabia has denied such allegations. Jundullah's capabilities have been reduced since 2011, after Iran captured and killed its leader, Abdolmalek Rigi. The JA was formed after that incident. It is possible that the two groups pursue similar avenues of funding, or rely on Gulf Co-operation Council donors.
Threat to Iran
We assess that the JA's threat to Iran remains low, and limited to security personnel and assets in the Sistan-Baluchistan province. The JA claims to fight for the rights of Sunni people. The group has not declared allegiance to the Islamic State, nor is the Islamic State likely to have the ability to transfer resources to the group. The nature of the JA's rhetoric is Baluchi nationalist, but it is also highly focused on Sunni grievances. However, the group has to date not used the typical language used by 'takfiri' Sunni groups to refer to Shia civilians, nor has it adopted a policy of targeting Shia civilians, as is typical for groups close to the Islamic State. The JA would probably need to make several changes to its tactics and rhetoric before it would be considered a credible Sunni movement by a group such as the Islamic State.
The JA is unlikely to expand its operations beyond Sistan-Baluchistan for a number of reasons. Firstly, the JA claims to fight for Sunni and Baluchi rights and independence. Secondly, its ability to operate in Sistan-Baluchistan is largely due to the fact that the province is not of great strategic or economic importance to Iran. The province's mountainous terrain provides the JA the opportunity to carry out attacks. Any indication of the JA's intentions to extend its operations beyond Sistan-Baluchistan is likely to be mitigated by increased Iranian security in the region.
The JA's capabilities and threat to Iran would probably increase if it co-operated with other militant groups in other regions in Iran. Militant groups exist in Khuzestan, Kermanshah, Kurdistan, and West Azerbaijan.
However, collaboration among these groups is unlikely because of a number of factors. Firstly, they are all separated geographically. Therefore, Iranian forces are likely to interrupt any transfer of militants or resources from one region to another. Secondly, the groups' intentions vary. The JA claims to fight for the right of the Sunni people. The majority of Iran's Sunni population resides in Sistan-Baluchistan, and the JA's statements largely focus on the Sunni Baluchis. Militants in Khuzestan fight for the Arabs in the province. The militants in Kermanshah and Kurdistan fight for the Kurds in each province. Azeri militancy in West Azerbaijan is largely eliminated, owing to Azeris' increased influence in the Iranian government.
The JA's increasingly frequent attacks are unlikely to affect Iran beyond the Sistan-Baluchistan region. The group is likely to receive more funding and recruit additional members because of its ability to carry out attacks against Iran's security and defence personnel and assets. The attacks are likely to be limited to ambush and killing, as well as roadside IEDs. In the unlikely event of a successful attack and infiltration on an arms supply vehicle or a military base, this would indicate that the JA's threat to Iran is increasing, although it would probably remain localised in the Sistan-Baluchistan province.
Iran and Pakistan are unlikely to engage militarily, despite the incident invoving the exchange of mortar fire in October. Iran has other priorities, such as fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and along its eastern border. In addition, the JA does not pose a serious threat to Iran. Its targets comprise security forces and assets, indicating that Iran is unlikely to be under civilian pressure to retaliate across the Pakistani border. If the JA extends its target set to Iranian civilians, then Iran is likely to intensify its counter-terrorism efforts in Sistan-Baluchistan, with a higher risk of border incidents with Pakistani security forces.
Increasing frequency of Jaish al-Adl attacks in Iran raises risk of Iranian-Pakistani border incidents - IHS Jane's 360