- The Washington Times - Friday, June 22, 2007

THE WASHINGTON TIMES KABUL, Afghanistan — A police commander for three provinces near the Iranian border says Iran is arming Taliban fighters, backing charges by U.S. officials that had been discounted by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Col. Rahmatullah Safi, police commander for the three western provinces of Farah, Baghdis and Herat, said he had intelligence indicating that more than 20 armed men had crossed the border from Iran into Afghanistan in Farah”s Anardara district — the first such claim by a senior official.

Based on the intelligence, he said the militants were heading toward the Zirkoh area of Farah province where Taliban activity was escalated in recent weeks. Police were unable to stop the small convoy.

“I can say with certainty that the vehicles came from Iranian soil, and if they came from Iran with ammunitions and explosives, of course, they are supported by the Iranian government,” Col. Safi told the DPA news agency on Tuesday.

He added: “If the Iranian border forces really want to stop them, they can. They have one outpost every 5 to 10 kilometers.”

Iran yesterday rejected charges that it is arming the Taliban in Afghanistan.

“These accusations are baseless and illogical,” Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mahdi Safari was quoted as saying by the official Islamic Republic News Agency.

Iran’s role in reconstructing Afghanistan has always been confirmed by friends and enemies alike,” he said.

Col. Safi said that after fierce clashes over the weekend between Taliban militants and Afghan police in Herat, remnants of Iranian-made bullets littered the ground. Two weeks ago, five anti-tank mines with Iranian markings were also seized at the border, he said.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai also rejected accusations that the Iranian government may be involved in funneling weapons and to destabilize his country amid heavier clashes with the Taliban, saying the two countries “have never been as friendly as they are today.”

But U.S. officials maintain that there is substantial evidence linking Iran to shipments of advanced weaponry destined for militants trying to bring down the Afghan government.

In April, Gen. Peter Pace, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced that NATO forces in Afghanistan had confiscated Iranian-made mortars and other explosives bound for the Taliban. Gen. Pace said that armor-piercing explosives are now also being used by insurgents.

The United States has also said Iran was involved in exporting such weapons to insurgents in Iraq.

Last week, Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns told CNN that the United States has “irrefutable evidence” that Iran is arming Taliban foot soldiers.

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates has been more measured, acknowledging that Iranian-made weapons are crossing the border but stopping short of charging government complicity.

“Given the quantities that we”re seeing, it is difficult to believe that it is associated with smuggling or the drug business or that it”s taking place without the knowledge of the Iranian government,” Mr. Gates said, adding that he wasn”t sure whether Iran was trying to “play both sides of the street.”

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