Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Iran is shipping arms and explosives to Afghanistan, in addition to providing deadly armor-piercing bombs covertly to Iraqi insurgents, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said yesterday.

“It is not as clear in Afghanistan which Iranian entity is responsible, but we have intercepted weapons in Afghanistan headed for the Taliban that were made in Iran,” Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace told reporters at a breakfast meeting.

The four-star general said the arms included mortars and C-4 plastic explosive that were found in Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan within the past month. He did not provide details on the quantities of the intercepted materials or say if it was a new discovery of Iranian-made arms in that country.

A U.S. official with access to intelligence data confirmed that there are new signs of Iranian arms shipments to the Taliban in recent months. “We are concerned about Quds Force links to the Taliban, and there is reason to believe that shipments of rockets, mortars, small arms and other weapons are making their way from Iran to Afghanistan,” the official said.

Gen. Pace repeated earlier claims that Iran was sending Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) units known as Quds Force members to supply weapons and bombs to Iraqi insurgents.

The bombs included deadly shaped-charge explosives with Iranian markings that have been used to kill and maim U.S. troops in roadside bombings.

“We know that there are munitions that were made in Iran that are in Iraq and in Afghanistan,” Gen. Pace said. He noted that members of the Quds Force are part of the IRGC, which is under the direction of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“We surmise from that, one of two things: Either the leadership of the country knows what their armed forces are doing, or they don’t know. In either case, that’s a problem,” Gen. Pace said.

There are also reports Iran is stepping up support for Iraqi insurgents. Army Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of Multinational Corps-Iraq, told reporters Friday there are new signs that Iran is “not only providing support to Shia groups, but also Sunni insurgent groups.”

“We don’t have any specific proof of that yet, but there’s been some indications that that could in fact be the case,” he said.

Asked why the Iranians would be supporting Sunnis, when in the past their support was primarily for Shi’ites, Gen. Odierno said: “I think it’s mainly because they want to continue to create chaos in Iraq. They do not want this government potentially to succeed.”

Iran also is trying to “try to tie down coalition forces here,” Gen. Odierno said.

Asked how the United States will respond to the Iranian backing for insurgents, Gen. Pace said: “We will continue to be very aggressive … inside of Iraq and inside of Afghanistan against any elements that are posing a threat to our own forces.”

Gen. Pace said direct military action against Iran is not the first choice of U.S. leaders.

“There is a lot more diplomacy, not only between the United States and Iran, but between all the nations of the world and Iran, that can still be brought to bear to change Iran’s attitude,” he said.

“Military force is your last tool, not your first tool,” Gen. Pace said. “There are still many international tools available to address Iranian interference.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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