The Afghan daily "Anis" has said a recent counterterrorism operation in Afghanistan revealed how Iran is being used by militants as a major transit route out of Iraq and into Afghanistan via Pakistan's tribal regions.
The state-owned newspaper said three foreign militants were captured in the operation -- two from the Middle East and one from Turkey. It said investigations have shown that all three militants crossed Iran in order to get to Pakistan's tribal regions before moving on into Afghanistan.
An editorial in "Anis" described Iran as a "tunnel for terrorists" to the Pakistan's Waziristan region. "The people of Afghanistan can't remain silent against such Iranian behavior because this country sends those individuals to Afghanistan who kill and murder Afghans," it said.
The newspaper also said that Iran has become the easiest way for terrorists from the Middle East to get into Afghanistan. It called on the Afghan government to "blockade this tunnel by whatever means."
Sakhi Munir, the editor in chief of "Anis," tells RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that "two Arab nationals and one Turkish national were arrested after being wounded by a coalition air strike in southern Afghanistan." He says that Afghan security sources confirmed that "these three had come to Afghanistan after crossing through Iran. They all confessed to this after they were arrested."No Evidence Of Official Iranian Role
U.S. forces have found numerous weapon caches in Afghanistan near its western border with Iran -- including land mines, mortar shells, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, assault rifles, and stockpiles of ammunition.
Some of those weapons carried markings indicating that they had passed through Iran.
But the Iran's Shi'ite government has repeatedly denied that it funds or arms the radical Sunni militants who are fighting U.S.-led forces and Afghan government troops in Afghanistan.
So far, the Pentagon has said it has no evidence proving that Tehran has been involved in sending weapons or ammunition to militants in Afghanistan.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has suggested that smugglers or other criminal groups in Iran could be responsible for the weapon shipments.
Munir says he has no doubt that factions within Iran are involved in sending along both weapons and fighters that eventually go into Afghanistan.
"It is obvious that there are certain circles and groups in Iran that arm these terrorists and feed them militarily," he says. "The recent arrests of the three [foreign nationals] and their confessions prove the fact that they had entered Afghan soil after entering Pakistan's [tribal area of] Waziristan via Iran."
Stratfor, an online publisher of geopolitical intelligence and strategic forecasts, says it's likely that Tehran is routing and rerouting jihadist traffic to Pakistan and Afghanistan in order to pressure the United States and become a more important player in the region.
Stratfor analysts say Iranians know the security situation in Iraq is stabilizing and moving toward some kind of a settlement.
They say that as the attention of U.S. officials increasingly turns from Iraq to Afghanistan, Tehran wants to be able to play a bigger role in the Afghan theater -- especially at a time when the principal U.S. ally in the region, Pakistan, is increasingly seen as unreliable.RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Mustafa Sarwar contributed to this report from Prague