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US Cites New Evidence of Iranian Support for Taliban

The Pentagon said Wednesday Iran is continuing to provide weapons and other material to Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, in addition to its alleged continuing support for Shiite militias in Iraq. Officials spoke to reporters Wednesday shortly after a second U.S. aircraft carrier strike group arrived in the Persian Gulf. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

The chief of operations for the senior U.S. military staff, Lieutenant General Carter Ham, says Iranian support for the Taliban, first reported last year, is continuing.

"There is indication that the Iranian support of the Taliban has continued," said General Ham. "Again, we don't believe it to be at the same level of which they have provided fighters and weapons into Iraq. But there is some clear evidence that it has occurred."

General Ham says the support involves "weapons and material," but he did not provide details of what Iran sends or how much. He did say there is no indication Iran is providing the high-powered roadside bombs it has given to insurgents in Iraq.

The new allegation comes as two U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups are in the Persian Gulf in an unusual display of American military power in the waterway along Iran's southwestern coast. Officials say one carrier group is relieving the other, and the overlap will not last long. On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates offered this characterization of the temporary double deployment.

"I don't see it as an escalation," said Secretary Gates. "I think it could be seen, though, as a reminder."

General Ham says the message is aimed at both U.S. allies and potential adversaries in the region, but he said it would be a mistake to view the carrier overlap as designed specifically to send a message to Iran.

"The message of commitment to the region is one that we think is important, but it's not intended to be any more than that," he said. "It's a message to all nations that the United States possesses the capability and the will to operate globally. So this is an opportunity to do that."

General Ham says the two carriers will enable U.S. commanders to order more air strikes in Iraq, as well as more reconnaissance flights and other missions.

He says it also provides an important training opportunity for the two carrier crews.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino explained it this way.

"These exercises are not aimed at Iran," said Dana Perino. "They reinforce that the U.S. has an enduring commitment to the region and to our allies and we continue to protect our allies and interests wherever necessary."

Also on Wednesday, the director of planning for the U.S. military staff, Lieutenant General John Satler, denied a news report that indicated there is increased planning for potential U.S. military action against Iran.

"There has been no order, specific order, to plan in any particular area of the world," said General Satler. "But I want to make it clear to everyone that we do plan. We challenge those plans. We challenge the assumptions of those plans, ongoing. And I would just leave it at that. We don't discuss, as you well know, specific plans that are ongoing or operations that are ongoing."

U.S. officials have said they do not want to have a military confrontation with Iran, and hope to work through allies and diplomatic channels to convince Iranian leaders not to support insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.