Iran is paying Taliban fighters $1,000 for each U.S. soldier they kill in Afghanistan, according to a report in a British newspaper.
The Sunday Times described how a man it said was a "Taliban treasurer" had gone to collect $18,000 from an Iranian firm in Kabul, a reward it said was for an attack in July which killed several Afghan government troops and destroyed an American armored vehicle.
The treasurer left with the cash hidden in a sack of flour, the newspaper said, and then gave it to Taliban fighters in the province of Wardak. In the past six months, the treasurer claimed to have collected more than $77,000 from the company.
The Sunday Times said its investigation had found that at least five Kabul-based Iranian companies were secretly passing funds to the Taliban.
The newspaper's correspondent, Miles Amoore, said he met and interviewed the treasurer, who he said had been an illiterate farmer who was taught to read and write, plus basic accountancy, by the Taliban last winter.
"We don’t care who we get money from," the treasurer was quoted as saying. He described the relationship with Iran as a "marriage of convenience." Iran is a predominantly Shiite country, while the Taliban is dominated by Sunni Muslims.
"Iran will never stop funding us because Americans are dangerous for them as well. I think the hatred is the same from both us and Iran. The money we get is not dirty. It is for jihad," the treasurer told Amoore.
In addition to the $1,000 bounty on U.S. troops, the unnamed man said Iran paid $6,000 for the destruction of a U.S. military vehicle.
"I have to sign off on all the receipts and I have to add up how much each fighter deserves after each operation. I also have to communicate in the Iranian language," the treasurer told the newspaper.
The report came as the Taliban threatened Sunday to derail elections this month and warned Afghans to boycott the vote in their first explicit threat against the poll.
The Sept. 18 parliamentary election is seen as a litmus test of stability in Afghanistan before U.S. President Barack Obama conducts a war strategy review in December that will examine the pace and scale of U.S. troop withdrawals from July 2011.
Despite the presence of almost 150,000 foreign troops, violence is at its worst across Afghanistan since the Taliban were ousted by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001.
"This (election) is a foreign process for the sake of further occupation of Afghanistan and we are asking the Afghan nation to boycott it," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.
"We are against it and will try with the best of our ability to block it. Our first targets will be the foreign forces and next the Afghan ones. So we are asking people to not take part," he told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.
Security is a major concern ahead of the vote, with four candidates killed already in recent weeks, according to the United Nations and government officials.
Another candidate was wounded, and 10 of his campaign workers killed, in an air strike in northern Takhar province on Friday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is investigating the incident but maintains it killed a senior member of the al-Qaida-linked Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in the air strike.