The commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan General Stanley McChrystal has said that Iranian assistance to Afghanistan is "natural" but that some of that aid is military aid to Taliban fighters.
McChrystal told reporters at a news conference on May 30 that the training of Taliban fighters takes place "inside Iran" and that weapons from Iran are crossing into Afghanistan.
"The training that we have seen occurs inside Iran with fighters moving inside Iran," he said at a news conference in response to a question on Iran's influence, according to Reuters. "The weapons that we have received come from Iran into Afghanistan."
U.S. defense and civilian officials in the past have cited the presence of Iranian-made weapons in the hands of Taliban elements but have stopped similarly short of alleging direct Iranian government involvement.
Tehran has consistently denied supporting militants who oppose the central government in Kabul.
Speaking amid reports of an anticipated offensive by international forces to wrest greater control of Kandahar in the south, McChrystal also predicted progress toward genuine stability in Afghanistan would be slow and that foreign forces would probably be in the country for some time. Speaking to RFE/RL
about about military operations in Kandahar, McChrystal said that "a number of things have begun."
He said that while "people are looking for conventional military operations, they don't sometimes see what is happening." He cited greater cooperation inside the city of Kandahar with Afghan police and a "ring of security" around the city, as well as with the Afghan National Army in the area.
"This will be a very gradual process -- not an event," McChrystal said. "So it will take months to happen. But that security will continue to improve with each passing day."
McChrystal also commented on U.S. President Barack Obama's plan to start withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan in 2011, saying that reduction would take place but that fighting in Afghanistan, increasingly involving Afghan government troops, would continue long after 2011.compiled from agency and RFE/RL reports