April 19th, 2007 05:08 EST
Afghanistan, Iranian-Made Weapons Seized
Washington – U.S. forces in Afghanistan have intercepted a shipment of Iranian-made weapons and explosives intended for the Taliban, raising new concerns in Washington as NATO forces begin a new spring offensive, U.S. officials say.
“What I would be able to say is that Iran obviously is trying to spread its elbows out and have more influence in the region, and it's not anything good,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters April 18.
In an April 17 statement, Marine General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reported possible links between the government in Tehran and Taliban insurgents. Pace said it was unclear whether the Iranian government expressly had authorized the mortars and plastic explosives that were seized in March by U.S. forces in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.
“We know there are munitions that were made in Iran that are in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Pace said. “Either the leadership of the country knows what their armed forces are doing, or that they don’t know. And in either case that’s a problem.”
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the level at which this has been approved by the Iranian government remains unknown. “We don't know the magnitude of the assistance,” he said April 18 while traveling in the Middle East.
But Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher said in Brussels, Belgium, April 18 that the incident, as well as interference in what he called “political areas,” may be part of “a series of indicators that Iran is maybe getting more involved in an unhealthy way in Afghanistan.”
“The more that they sponsor terrorism, the more innocent life is ruined,” in Iraq and Afghanistan, Perino said.
“It’s obviously troubling and worrisome that the Iranians may be deciding to counter the efforts of some 42 nations in Afghanistan trying to help the Afghan government establish a strong democratic state,” Gates said.
A transcript of Gates’ remarks in Cairo, Egypt, on the Iranian arms in Afghanistan is available on the Defense Department Web site. A transcript of Perino’s comments at the press briefing is available on the White House Web site.