- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan said Monday that Iran is continuing to back Taliban forces, but its supply of training and weapons is insignificant.

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of U.S. and allied forces, said Iran’s “reach into Afghanistan, first, is fairly legitimate” and includes money and education support.

“There is evidence, intelligence that indicates some malign activity as well: some training of insurgents, Taliban, and of shipments of some levels of arms,” the four-star general told reporters at the White House. “But they are not significant in numbers, and they have not been enough to change the basic calculus of the fight at this point.”

The general’s comments contrast with a recent Pentagon report to Congress that said Iran is seeking to counter U.S. influence by expanding ties to terrorists and insurgents.

“Iran is attempting to secure political, economic and security influence in Iraq and Afghanistan, while undermining U.S. efforts by supporting various political groups, providing developmental and humanitarian assistance, and furnishing lethal aid to Iraqi Shia militants and Afghan insurgents,” the report said.

The report said Iran is helping nongovernmental organizations in Afghanistan, but also backing terrorist groups, including those headed by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Ismail Khan.

“Arms caches have been recently uncovered with large amounts of Iranian-manufactured weapons, to include 107 mm rockets, which we assess [Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Qods Force] delivered to Afghan militants,” the report said, noting that manufacturing dates indicate “lethal support is ongoing.”

On U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, Gen. McChrystal said progress in defeating the Taliban will take time. Current military efforts are focused on undermining Taliban control in the southern part of the country and Kandahar, he said.

“We will encounter increased violence as our combined security forces expand into Taliban-controlled areas,” he said, adding that the new strategy is seeking to shift the momentum of military and civilian reconstruction efforts to Afghan forces.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Karl W. Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, offered a cautious assessment of U.S. and allied efforts in Afghanistan, declining to say whether a recent surge of troops over the past several months has produced progress.

“We’re confident that we’re much better postured to help deliver the progress needed in the months ahead,” he said.

Both officials spoke before the U.S. visit of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, whom President Obama recently pressured to curb corruption in his government. In response at one point, Mr. Karzai suggested he would join the Taliban to protest U.S. intervention.

The Karzai visit appears designed to patch up differences between the U.S. and Afghanistan. U.S. officials said they hope to use the visit to focus on the shared goals of security and fostering reconciliation with some members of the Taliban.

White House officials sought to tamp down perceptions of tension Friday in a conference call with reporters.

“We will expect occasionally — as we do with other allies and partners — occasional ups and downs, but these aren’t going to deter us from meeting our common objectives,” said Gen. Douglas Lute, special assistant to the president for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Mr. Obama last December ordered an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to the country, nearly 5,000 of which have deployed and another 18,000 set to ship out before summer, with the remainder arriving this fall.

Kara Rowland contributed to this report.

• Bill Gertz can be reached at bgertz@washingtontimes.com.

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