Iran seen providing more training, weapons to Afghan insurgents 

The recent arrest of a Taliban fighter suspected of trafficking weapons from Iran to Afghanistan comes at the end of a year in which Iran greatly increased its efforts to disrupt the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, military and intelligence officials say.

Over the past year, military officials have uncovered evidence of Iran training Afghan insurgents to make less detectable bombs out of plastic and supplying them with automatic rifles and other small arms. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard has also tutored Taliban sympathizers in guerrilla warfare tactics.

The Afghan man captured last week in Nimroz province was seen crossing from Iran into Afghanistan by a joint security team that had targeted him for capture. He was found to be working closely with the Quds force, a special unit within the Revolutionary Guard tasked with exporting Tehran's Islamic revolution throughout the Middle East and Southwestern Asia. And he had connections to high-level Taliban leaders, coalition officials told The Washington Examiner. Two other people were detained during the operation, officials said.

"Insurgents are getting better training from Iran and being influenced by them," a U.S. military official said. "We know that they are providing weapons to the insurgents and teaching them to be more efficient."

The arrest of the Taliban trafficker is a significant step for military officials, who can gain intelligence on Iranian operations from him, the military official added.

Iranian trainers are suspected of working in insurgent camps in the provinces of Herat, Farah, Helmand and Nimroz, and evidence suggests that trainers are also in areas of northern Afghanistan, according to numerous Afghan and U.S. officials.

The Defense Department's "Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan," released in November, stated that Iran "continues to provide lethal assistance -- including weapons and training -- to elements of the Taliban."

The Shiite-led Iranian regime and the Sunni Taliban do not have a lot in common, but "Tehran's actions support its overall strategy of backing many groups to ensure a positive relationship with potential leaders and hedging against foreign presence and the host government," the report said.

In October, The Examiner reported that Iranian military advisers have been training Taliban fighters in Afghanistan on the use of surface-to-air missiles. Military officials said that could be a potential game changer in the war if insurgents can use such weapons effectively.

A Western intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that while Iran is aiding Taliban insurgents, the Iranians are cautious of them as well.

The official, who works in South Asia, said that "generally, weapons that are provided by Iran are the older stuff -- or stuff that is difficult to trace back to [Iran]. First, you don't see the [explosively formed projectiles] like in Iraq where we've been able to trace serial numbers back to Iran," the official said. "Iranians fear that the Afghans could use the weapons against them in the future."

Afghan warlords notoriously hoard weapons, "so that is a big issue for Iran," he said.

The Dec. 15 double suicide bombing in Chabahar, Iran, by a Sunni militant group based in Baluchistan, Pakistan, may also influence the extent to which Iran aids the Taliban, because many Taliban leaders have found safe haven in that region. The bombings killed 39 people and wounded more than 100, so "[the Iranians] are treading lightly," the Western official said.

Despite Iranian apprehension, their assistance to the Taliban has also affected the civilian population of Afghanistan.

Bombs made of plastic parts are being used more frequently in the southern and western provinces to evade detection by coalition forces, a military official told The Examiner

. Those bombs are characteristic of the type used by Iranian forces, and American intelligence officers believe that Taliban sympathizers are being trained in using the devices by Iranian guerrilla warfare experts.

At least one recent explosion of an improvised bomb of the type used by Iran left several young Afghans injured. That has led to concerns that Iranian trainers are increasing their presence in some parts of Afghanistan.

"The kids in this country are innocent witnesses to insurgent acts of terror, and it's a tragedy they are continuously on the wrong end of these indiscriminate attacks," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Patrick Hynes, director of the ISAF Joint Command's Combined Joint Operations Center.

Sara A. Carter is The Washington Examiner's national security correspondent. She can be reached at scarter@washingtonexaminer.com.

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