The Observer: British special forces operating on the border between Afghanistan and Iran have uncovered fresh evidence that Tehran is actively backing insurgents fighting UK troops.
Mark Townsend, defence correspondent
British special forces operating on the border between Afghanistan and Iran have uncovered fresh evidence that Tehran is actively backing insurgents fighting UK troops.
Documented proof that Iran is supplying the Taliban with devastating roadside bomb-making equipment has been passed by British officials to Tehran, prompting fears that the war in Afghanistan may escalate into a regional armed conflict.
Days after Prime Minister Gordon Brown warned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that Britain would freeze the assets of Iran's largest bank to discourage Tehran from developing nuclear weapons, Whitehall sources revealed that they had forwarded 'documentation' that the Iranian authorities were supplying enemy forces in Afghanistan.
'We have given Tehran documentation of things that we are concerned about, but of course they have denied it,' a Whitehall source said.
Nato spokesman James Appathurai echoed concerns that elements in Iran are providing support to insurgents fighting British troops. He said: 'Weapons of Iranian origin have turned up in Afghanistan in significant numbers.'
The situation is so serious that the UK government is believed to have asked Russia and India to raise the issue with Tehran, and to emphasise its wider implications. Evidence found by UK special forces is understood to concern the supply of the same bomb-making equipment Iran provides to insurgents in Iraq, namely components for explosively formed projectiles, or EFPs.
Senior Whitehall sources said they were concerned about Iran's 'nefarious' influence in the supply of 'lethal aid' in the form of EFPs, which are capable of penetrating the strongest British armour and have killed at least 17 British soldiers in Iraq.
EFPs work by concentrating explosive force through a concave copper plate, which is projected as a molten missile through a vehicle's armour. EFPs are so effective they have even penetrated a British Challenger 2 tank in Iraq. A sophisticated machining process traced to Iran is needed to manufacture their components.
It is not clear whether the bomb that last week killed four British SAS reservists in Helmand province was such a device, although British military commanders fear that increasing Iranian involvement in Afghanistan may render irrelevant attempts to increase the number of armoured vehicles in the conflict. Yesterday four coalition soldiers were killed by a bomb in the province of Kandahar.
Ideological differences between Iran, a Shia Muslim state, and the Taliban, a Sunni militia, are thought to have been settled in light of the shared aim in attacking coalition forces.
Meanwhile, as investigations continue into the use of Snatch Land Rovers in southern Afghanistan in which the four UK troops died last week, new figures obtained by The Observer reveal that more than 700 armoured vehicles that could be deployed to protect British personnel in Helmand are out of action. In total, 712 of the 2,136 Warrior and Saxon vehicles, as well as highly mobile types such as the Scimitar, owned by the armed forces are either being repaired or have been destroyed. Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, said the punishing environment of Afghanistan and need to cannibalise vehicles for parts was partly to blame.
A spokesman for the MoD said: 'The safety of our personnel is a prime concern. We have done a lot in the last two years to ensure that commanders have a variety of vehicles with different capabilities at their disposal.'