AFP – Feb 28 – KABUL, AFGHANISTAN – The NATO force in Afghanistan on Monday spelled out the support it believes Iran is providing to insurgents in the violence-wracked country, warning it was keeping a wary eye out.
Tehran opposes the presence of thousands of US troops in the region, with American soldiers stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which border Iran, an Islamic republic.
“They (Iran) are giving them a limited amount of bullets, technical pieces of IEDs, rockets, RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades), through networks well established through the border,” said US Rear Admiral Gregory Smith.
IEDs are home-made bombs – the weapon of choice for increasingly emboldened militants in Afghanistan.
Smith, deputy chief of staff of ISAF, the International Security Assistance Force, added of Iran: “They want to be in the game.”
There are 140,000 foreign troops, most of them American, deployed in Afghanistan to help defeat the Taliban, who have waged an increasingly bloody insurgency since they were ousted from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.
“They are building networks,” Smith said of Iran.
That comes despite the age-old rivalry between Shia Muslims, who make up the vast majority of the Iranian population, and Sunnis, the denomination of almost all the Afghan Taliban.
Tehran gives Afghan insurgents “some support in training, financial support, and equipment, mostly ammunition”, Smith said, but less than they provide to Shia groups in Iraq.
“Today it’s not a major concern for the coalition,” he said, but added that Iran could increase its support “overnight” should it choose to do so.
ISAF was monitoring Iranian activity carefully, he added. “We are watching what in the longer term Iran is up to. Destabilising Afghanistan is not good for Iran,” Smith said.
ISAF is due to start limited withdrawals in safer parts of Afghanistan in July, a process which could start in the west of the country, on the border with Iran.