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Iranian-Made Weapons Intercepted In Afghanistan

The intercepted weapons were mortars and C-4-type explosives.

the irony of cross-border trade
by Jim Mannion
Washington (AFP) April 17, 2007
Coalition forces have intercepted Iranian-made mortars and explosives in Afghanistan destined for the Taliban, the top US military chief said Tuesday, suggesting an expanding Iranian challenge to US forces in the region.

General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the weapons were intercepted in the Kandahar region within the past month, but it was not known if any elements of the Iranian government were involved.

"It is not as clear in Afghanistan which Iranian entity is responsible. But we have intercepted weapons in Afghanistan headed for the Taliban that were made in Iran," he told defense reporters here.

"We do not know with the same clarity that we know in Iraq who was involved. So the fact that we know is: made in Iran, being delivered to the Taliban in Afghanistan, being intercepted by coalition forces. That's all we know about." he said.

Pace said the weapons intercepted were mortars and C-4-type explosives.

He said it was unclear whether they were shipped directly from Iran or via another more tortuous route.

Senior US officials have repeatedly accused the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' elite Quds Force of arming and training Shiite militias in Iraq for attacks on US forces.

But Pace's remarks suggest high level concern that the Iranians may now be expanding those operations into Afghanistan, where a NATO-led force is confronted with the biggest Taliban resurgence since its ouster in 2001.

Iran's Shiite regime supported the Northern Alliance led by Ahmed Shah Massoud against the Taliban during a decade of internal conflict that left the country awash in weapons. It initially cooperated with US forces in Afghanistan.

As recently as mid-February, a former top US commander in Afghanistan, Lietuenant General Karl Eikenberry, said there was no evidence that Taliban fighters had received Iranian weapons although Iranian security organizations maintained contacts with them.

"We don't know if Iranians are providing weapons to the Taliban but there are reports about efforts being made by Iranians to make contacts with Taliban and other circles," an Afghan defense ministry official said Tuesday in Kabul.

Asked how the United States should respond to Iranian-backed attacks on US forces, Pace said: "I think we should continue to be aggressive inside Iraq, we should continue to be aggressive inside Afghanistan, in attacking any element involved in attacking US and coalition forces regardless of where they come from."

But he said the use of direct military force against Iran was a tool of last resort.

"There is a lot more diplomacy -- I mean not between the United States and Iran but by all the nations of the world and Iran -- that can still be brought to bear to change Iran's policies," he said.

"Military force is the last tool, not the first tool," he said.

His comments came as US Defense Secretary Robert Gates was in the Middle East to discuss Iran with Arab allies in the region.

US Iranian-tensions have been on the rise over Tehran's nuclear program and what the Washington says is a flow of sophisticated Iranian explosives and other weapons and training to groups in Iraq.

The US military is holding five Iranians captured in the northern Iraqi city of Arbil who it says were Quds Force operatives involved in a network carrying out bomb attacks against US forces.

Washington, meanwhile, has stationed a second aircraft carrier battle group in the Gulf, raising its military profile there to its highest levels since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Pace has been careful to narrow US charges to hard evidence of Iranian involvement, stepping in to correct unidentified US military briefers when they asserted in February that the Iranian government was involved "at the highest levels."

"What we know is that in aggressively going after the IED (improvised explosive device) network in Iraq, we policed up some Iranian Quds Force members," he said.

"We know that there are munitions that were made in Iran that are in Iraq and Afghanistan. We know that the Quds Force works for the IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps). Full stop."

"We then surmise from that one of two things: either the leadership of the country knows what their armed forces are doing, or they don't know. In either case it's a problem," he said.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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