Iran TerrorismGates: Iran leaders likely know of arms shipments

Gates: Iran leaders likely know of arms shipments

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USA TODAY: Iran’s government likely knows about the shipment of weapons from Iran to Taliban militants in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday.
USA TODAY

By Jim Michaels, USA TODAY

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Iran’s government likely knows about the shipment of weapons from Iran to Taliban militants in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday.

Gates said the volume of weapons shipments makes it “difficult to believe” they’re coming from smugglers “or that it’s taking place without the knowledge of the Iranian government.”

However, Gates said, there is no specific intelligence linking the Iranian government to the shipments.

He made the comments on his way to a NATO conference in Brussels where he said he would encourage allies to meet earlier pledges to boost the alliance’s mission in Afghanistan.

A number of U.S. officials, including Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns on Tuesday, have accused Iran of supplying weapons to Taliban militants fighting NATO and U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. Burns said Iran was trying to “flex its muscles” in the region at the expense of other nations.

In earlier comments, Gates had stopped short of linking the weapons flow to the Iranian government, but he said he has since seen additional analysis that suggests a “fairly substantial flow of weapons” into Afghanistan from Iran.

The U.S. government has also accused Iran of supplying armor-piercing roadside bombs to militants in Iraq. Gates did not detail the types of Iranian-supplied weapons in Afghanistan, but said they were “pretty much the gamut” of available weapons.

The roadside bombs, also known as explosively formed penetrators, are powerful enough to blast through the armor of any military vehicle, including an Abrams tank.

Afghanistan’s government has said it has good relations with Tehran, and Iran had backed groups that fought the Taliban before its ouster in 2001. “What their motives are other than causing trouble for us, I don’t know,” Gates said.

The United States has pushed allies to contribute more troops to NATO’s mission in Afghanistan. NATO has said it still needs several battalions and more advisers for police and army training. Battalions have between 500 and 1,000 troops.

Last year, the alliance took control of most of Afghanistan, expanding into the violent eastern and southern reaches of the country. There are 36,750 troops under its command, including about 15,000 U.S. forces. Its mission is mainly stability and reconstruction.

Another force of more than 10,000 mostly U.S. troops remain outside NATO command. That force is focused on counterterrorism.

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