- The Washington Times - Monday, June 4, 2007

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Iranian weapons have begun flowing into Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today, but he and Afghan President Hamid Karzai agreed involvement by Tehran cannot yet be proved.

Mr. Gates told a news conference at the presidential palace that he and Mr. Karzai had discussed the Iranian weapons issue.

“There have been indications over the past few months of weapons coming in from Iran,” Mr. Gates said. “We do not have any information about whether the government of Iran is supporting this, is behind it, or whether it’s smuggling, or exactly what’s behind it.”

The Iranian weapons are being supplied to the Taliban insurgents, he said, adding that some also may be headed to criminals involved in Afghanistan’s drug trade. Mr. Gates did not specify what types of weapons were involved.

A NATO spokesman told reporters last week that a powerful type of roadside bomb like those used in Iraq was found recently in Kabul. The bomb, never before seen here, is known as an EFP, or explosively formed projectile. It was notable for its level of sophistication and has characteristics similar to the type in Iraq that have borne Iranian manufacturing markings.

Asked separately whether he believed Tehran was behind the flow of weapons, Mr. Karzai suggested it was unlikely.

“There’s no reason that any of our neighbors should support the Taliban,” Mr. Karzai said. “We don’t have any such evidence so far” regarding possible Iranian government involvement, he said, adding that relations between the two nations were improving.

“Iran and Afghanistan have never been as friendly as they are today,” Mr. Karzai said.

At the news conference, Mr. Gates also said U.S. commanders have been relieved that an expected spring offensive by the Taliban has been less intense than some feared. He said it was thwarted by an “Afghan alliance offensive that has put the Taliban off their game.”

Mr. Gates later flew to the southern city of Kandahar, accompanied by Abdul Rahim Wardak, the Afghan defense minister. They held closed meetings with senior American commanders, including Maj. Gen. Robert Durbin, who is in charge of training Afghan security forces, and British Maj. Gen. Jacko Page, the top NATO commander for southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban was expected to make a strong push this spring.

In their joint news conference in Kabul, Mr. Gates and Mr. Karzai said they regretted the number of American air strikes that have taken the lives of innocent Afghan civilians, and they pledged to work together to reduce such incidents.

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