Reuters: Iran may be becoming involved in Afghanistan in an “unhealthy way”, a senior U.S. official said on Wednesday, pointing to signs of Iranian arms supplies to the Taliban and other contacts. By David Brunnstrom
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Iran may be becoming involved in Afghanistan in an “unhealthy way”, a senior U.S. official said on Wednesday, pointing to signs of Iranian arms supplies to the Taliban and other contacts.
The comments by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Richard Boucher came a day after America’s top general said Iranian weapons headed for Taliban fighters had been intercepted in Afghanistan in the last month.
Tensions are high between Washington and Tehran. The United States and others accuse Iran of seeking nuclear weapons behind the cover of a nuclear energy program, a charge Tehran denies.
Boucher said Iran had played a positive role in the international process to establish a post-Taliban government in 2001 and in fighting the drugs trade from the country.
But he said there had been increasing concerns about Iran’s behavior in Afghanistan in the past year.
“We have been seeing a series of indicators that Iran is maybe getting more involved in an unhealthy way in Afghanistan,” Boucher told a news briefing in Brussels, where he had held talks with EU officials.
He said these included reports of involvement in “political areas” and of contacts and arms supplies to the Taliban.
Echoing comments by U.S. Gen. Peter Pace, he said: “We don’t know exactly who is doing this and why but we know that these are Iranian-origin weapons that have shown up in the hands of the Taliban.”
Asked to expand on evidence of Iranian interference, he said:
“I don’t want to overstate it. We have seen these things that I’ve noted; the weapons that General Pace talked about show up in Afghanistan; seen reports of political involvement from Iran, and these are things that we are watching very carefully.”
Iran has yet to respond to Pace’s accusations. It has dismissed U.S. accusations that it is fuelling the chaos in Iraq by providing weapons and training to Shi-ite militants.
Boucher did not respond when asked whether he thought it was unusual that Shi’ite Muslim Iran could be helping the Taliban, which adheres to the rival Sunni sect of Islam.
During the years that the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, Iran supported Afghan groups fighting the group, including the Northern Alliance which played a crucial role in toppling Taliban after the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.
In 1998, Iran almost went to war with Afghanistan after the Taliban government killed 10 Iranian diplomats.
Pace said Iranian-made mortars and C-4 explosives were intercepted in Kandahar by coalition forces. He did not provide further details, saying he knew only that the weapons were made in Iran and were on their way to the Taliban.