Afghanistan's defense minister says his government is gathering evidence on the source of sophisticated weapons found in the hands of Taliban fighters. But unlike the top American commander in Afghanistan, the minister is not ready to say the material comes from Iran. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.
The Afghan Defense Minister, Abdul Rahim Wardak, says in a meeting with him about a month ago Iranian officials denied allegations they are sending high-powered explosives to insurgents in Afghanistan. But the minister says such material is making its way into Afghanistan, and the Afghan intelligence agency is seeking evidence about where it is coming from.
"Some type of that armor-piercing IED [Improvised explosive device] and some other weapons are at the disposal of the Taliban in Afghanistan, so we are very carefully monitoring this development," he said.
Minister Wardak called it a "very significant development," but several times during a Pentagon news conference, he declined to accuse Iran of sending in the advanced explosives.
"There is no doubt that there is something coming from our western border," said Wardak. "There are weapons and maybe some financial support and others. But to be completely clear about it I think it will take a little bit of time to come up with the right conclusion."
Earlier Thursday, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he also believes Iran is helping the Taliban, although he did not say exactly how.
"I think the Taliban are getting support from Iran, both weapons and money," he said. "They are clearly getting support from elsewhere outside of Afghanistan."
But also on Thursday, the NATO commander in Afghanistan, U.S. General Dan McNeil, said a shipment of high-powered bomb material intercepted early last month did come from Iran. And the general said he can not imagine such a shipment could be made without "at least the knowledge of the Iranian military."
U.S. officials have made similar charges regarding sophisticated explosives flowing to insurgents in Iraq. But the newly appointed top U.S. military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, says the issue should be dealt with through diplomatic channels.
"There is a significant amount of activity right now to try to influence them diplomatically," he said. "I'm not one to take options off the table, and wouldn't do that. However, I really do consider that military option one of the last resort."
U.S. officials are working to get more international help for Afghanistan to respond to the Iranian and Taliban activity. Secretary Gates noted that he will attend a NATO defense ministers' meeting next week, at which he said the top priority will be to get Afghanistan all the help that has been promised, particularly more trainers for its army.
Minister Wardak says it makes sense for the western countries to provide more training and equipment for the Afghan army to speed the day when Afghanistan can take primary responsibility for its own defense.