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US Captures Taliban-Bound Iran Weapons.

Gen Peter Pace, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, on April 17 said: "We have intercepted weapons in Afghanistan headed for the [Neo-Salafi] Taliban that were made in Iran. It's not as clear in Afghanistan which Iranian entity is responsible". The shipment involved mortars and plastic explosives and was seized in March near Kandahar. Markings indicated they were produced in Iran. The Taliban are Neo-Salafis like al-Qaeda. Iran has detained - and is said to have freed some - al-Qaeda fugitives from Afghanistan.

US military chiefs in Baghdad have repeatedly asserted that Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has provided powerful roadside bombs and other weapons to both Shi'ite and Sunni militants in Iraq, including al-Qaeda. Tehran denies those allegations.

Iran has played a complicated role in Afghanistan. When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, Iran was a bitter foe. When Taliban-controlled forces seized the northern Afghan town of Mazar-i-Sharif in 1997, Iranian diplomats there were executed. Iran provided support to the Northern Alliance, which sought to overthrow the Taliban. It co-operated with the US in picking the current Afghan leader, President Hamid Karzai. But as relations between Iran and the US have become more confrontational, some intelligence reports have said the IRGC was arming the Taliban/al-Qaeda to weaken and tie down the US military in Afghanistan.

Asked how he thought the US should respond to the supposed Iranian support for militant groups opposed to US interests, Pace said it should take military action against Iranian-sponsored networks, adding: "I think we should continue to be aggressive inside of Iraq, and aggressive inside of Afghanistan, in attacking any element that's attacking US and coalition forces, regardless of where they come from". He said the US and other powers should use diplomacy with the Iranian government "to address Iranian interference" in Afghanistan.

The Bush administration has charged that Iran has been supplying lethal support to Shi'ite and Sunni militants in Iraq. Five IRGC officers who were captured in a US raid in January in the northern Iraqi town of Arbil are still in American custody. Iran has demanded their release, insisting they are diplomats and not intelligence or military operatives.

The New York Times on April 18 quoted US intelligence officials as saying the support to militant groups in Iraq is so systematic that it could not be carried out without the knowledge of some senior Iranian officials. It quoted a "senior intelligence official as saying: "Based on our understanding of the Iranian system and the history of IRGC operations, the intelligence community assesses that activity this extensive on the part of the [IRGC] Quds Force would not be conducted without approval from top leaders in Iran".

Pace was much more cautious about asserting involvement by senior Iranian officials, saying: "We know that there are munitions that were made in Iran that are in Iraq and in Afghanistan. And we know that the Quds Force works for the IRGC. We then surmise from that one or two things. Either the leadership of the country knows what their armed forces are doing or that they don't know. And in either case that's a problem".
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Publication:APS Diplomat News Service
Date:Apr 23, 2007
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