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Afghanistan: Official Says Iranian Mines Found In Taliban Commander's House

An earlier cache of Iranian-made mines was found in Afghanistan in June 2007 (RFE/RL) A provincial police chief says authorities have discovered a weapons cache in western Afghanistan containing 130 land mines of different types that appear to have been imported from Iran.

The cache, discovered in Farah Province near the Iranian border, includes about 40 sophisticated remote-controlled mines.

Farah's provincial police chief, General Khailbaz Sherzai, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan today that the cache was found in the house of a Taliban commander named Mullah Abdul Ghani.

"We discovered a cache containing a large collection of land mines -- antipersonnel and antitank mines -- in the Anardara district of Farah Province," Sherzai said. "They were recently brought from Iran and the man who was responsible for that has escaped. We completely destroyed the cache and the room it was contained in."

It's the latest in a series of weapons caches found in Afghanistan that the U.S. military, NATO, or the Afghan government has said were either made in Iran or transported through Iran and into the hands of Taliban militants.

Tehran has consistently denied providing weapons to the Taliban. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said Afghan officials have no evidence linking the Iranian government to weapons shipped to the Taliban.

In June, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said there is no evidence confirming any direct role of the Iranian government in smuggling weapons to the Taliban, and that militants could be using funds from the opium trade to purchase weapons from criminal groups.

But Gates has also said the large quantity of Iranian-made weapons discovered in Afghanistan during the past year makes it difficult to believe that the weapons are being smuggled without the knowledge of Iranian authorities.

From China Via Iran

In September, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said Washington had also complained to Beijing about Chinese weapons shipped to Iran that appear to be turning up in Afghanistan in the hands of Taliban fighters.

Independent analysts agree that it would be difficult to smuggle the volume of weapons now being found in western Afghanistan without the knowledge of some senior officials in Tehran.

Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist and author of the book "Taliban," insists he has no doubt that Iran has been involved in channeling money and weapons to various elements in Afghanistan -- including the Taliban -- for several years.

"They have long-running relations with many of the commanders and small-time warlords in western Afghanistan," Rashid told RFE/RL recently. "I think Iran is playing all sides in the Afghan conflict. If the Iranians are convinced that the Americans are undermining them through western Afghanistan, then it is very likely that these agents of theirs have been activated."

Alex Vatanka, the Washington-based Iran analyst for Jane's Information Group, says recent discoveries in Afghanistan of several large caches of Chinese and Iranian-made weapons suggests Tehran has had at least an indirect role.

Vatanka says drug traffickers and smugglers are not capable of sending to Afghanistan the volume of weapons that are turning up in the hands of Taliban fighters -- unless, he says, they have approval from at least one senior government official in Tehran.

(RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan contributed to this report.)

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