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US Defense Secretary Says Iranian Weapons Reach Taleban


U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says Iranian weapons are now streaming into Afghanistan and the Taleban's military arsenal. Secretary Gates was in Afghanistan for an unannounced one-day visit. From Islamabad, VOA correspondent Benjamin Sand reports.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters in Kabul Monday that Iranian weapons are being supplied to Taleban insurgents and Afghanistan's powerful illegal drug cartels. But he added that there is no evidence the Iranian government is behind the weapons trade.

"There have been indications over the past few months of weapons coming in from Iran," he said. "We do not have any information about whether the government of Iran is supporting this, is behind it, or whether it's smuggling or exactly what's behind it."

Gates did not indicate what types of weapons have been flowing into Afghanistan from Iran.

Washington has repeatedly accused Iran of supporting anti-American insurgents in Iraq. Until recently Tehran was rarely, if ever, linked to the violence in Afghanistan.

The two countries share a long and largely unprotected border with countless roads and trails crisscrossing the rugged terrain.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai insisted Monday he thought it unlikely the Iranian government was behind the recent influx of weapons.

"We don't have any such evidence so far. We have a very good relationship with the Iranian government," he said. "Iran and Afghanistan have never been as friendly as they are today."

Gate's one-day visit focused primarily on military coordination between the United States and its allies in the region more than five years after U.S.-led forces ousted the hardline Taleban regime in 2001.

There are currently around 50,000 U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.

The Secretary said he remains confident the U.S.-led coalition will defeat the Taleban insurgency.

Nevertheless, militant activity has increased throughout much of the country in recent weeks, including a sharp rise in suicide and roadside bomb attacks.

Earlier in the day Afghanistan's military chief of staff, General Bismullah Khan said an independent and self-sustaining Afghan army would be a key to victory.

He said that with Washington's support the national army should have more than 70,000 soldiers by the end of next year but added even that might not be enough.

He said he hoped the United States would accelerate its training programs for new Afghan soldiers so the army could ultimately face the enemy without any outside support.

Secretary Gates has taken the lead in pressing Washington's NATO allies to contribute an additional 3,000 troops to help expand training operations in Afghanistan.