- Associated Press - Sunday, May 30, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan | The commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan said on Sunday there is “clear evidence” that some Taliban fighters have trained in Iran.

Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal told reporters in the Afghan capital that Iran — Afghanistan’s western neighbor — has generally assisted the Afghan government in fighting the insurgent group.

“There is, however, clear evidence of Iranian activity — in some cases providing weaponry and training to the Taliban — that is inappropriate,” he said. Gen. McChrystal said NATO forces are working to stop both the training and the weapons trafficking.

Last month, Gen. McChrystal said there were indications that Taliban were training in Iran, but not very many and not in a way that it appeared it was part of an Iranian government policy. He did not give details on how many people have trained in Iran at Sunday’s news conference.

A recent Pentagon report to Congress on Iran’s military said arms caches found recently in Afghanistan included large amounts of Iranian weapons, including 107 mm rockets that were sent by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force. Manufacturing dates on the arms “suggest lethal support is ongoing,” the report said.

“Tehran’s support to the Taliban is consistent with their historic enmity, but fits with Iran’s strategy of backing many groups to ensure that it will have a positive relationship with the eventual leaders,” the report said.

The U.S. command confirmed that an American service member was killed Sunday in a small-arms attack in southern Afghanistan. May is already the deadliest month this year for U.S. troops with 33 deaths — two more than in February when American, NATO and Afghan forces seized the Taliban stronghold of Marjah in Helmand province.

The month also brought the 1,000th U.S. military death in the Afghan war since it began in 2001 when Marine Cpl. Jacob Leicht was killed Thursday by a roadside bomb in Helmand.

Eight Afghan police were wounded Sunday by a suicide bomber who struck a checkpoint on the outskirts of Khost City, southeast of Kabul, officials said.

In Ghazni, also in the south, militants on Sunday attacked a convoy of fuel tankers on a road regularly used as a resupply route for NATO forces. The assault left the trucks burning but caused no injuries.

“I saw the convoy moving in the morning and then, suddenly, I heard an explosion. Fighting started and lasted for 30 to 45 minutes. They burned a lot of containers,” said local resident Azrat Shah.

Gen. McChrystal stressed to reporters that the Afghanistan fight will extend long beyond July 2011, when President Obama plans to start drawing down forces.

In recent meetings with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Mr. Obama “reaffirmed the strategic partnership, which is way beyond July 2011,” Gen. McChrystal said. “I think President Obama’s decision to begin the reduction of U.S. forces in 2011 really needs to be viewed in that context.”

However, the strategic partnership depends on being able to transfer some responsibility to Afghan forces, which are still plagued by a lack of training and distrust of the people despite years of training programs funded by the international community.

The Marjah offensive has been followed by the reinfiltration of Taliban forces into the area despite a continuing strong U.S. Marine presence.

“We’ve dramatically changed the state of the insurgency in that region,” Gen. McChrystal said, while acknowledging that “progress there is not yet fully established.”

A summer offensive planned for the Taliban birthplace of Kandahar will be similarly painstaking, Gen. McChrystal said. The plan is to focus on delivering services like electricity and water, he explained.

“Progress will be measured in months, rather than days,” he said.

Also on Sunday, Canada said the chief of its forces in Afghanistan, Brig. Gen. Daniel Menard, was being relieved following allegations of an inappropriate relationship. Col. Simon Hetherington, the acting commander of Canada’s forces, said Gen. Menard’s dismissal would not have an effect on the Canadian mission in southern Afghanistan.

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