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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

SAS seize Iranian rockets destined for Taliban fighters

British Special Forces in Afghanistan have seized a convoy of powerful Iranian rockets destined for Taliban fighters.

By Ben Farmer, Kabul
The haul is the strongest evidence yet of a significant escalation in Tehran's support for the Taliban, military officials said.

The consignment of 48 rockets hidden in three trucks was intercepted last month after a fierce fire fight which left several insurgents dead in the remote southern province of Nimroz, bordering Iran.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said the British ambassador has raised the matter with officials in Tehran.

"I am extremely concerned by the latest evidence that Iran continues to supply the Taliban with weaponry – weapons clearly intended to provide the Taleban with the capability to kill Afghan and ISAF soldiers from significant range," he said.

"It is not the behaviour of a responsible neighbour. It is at odds with Iran's claim to the international community and to its own people that it supports stability and security in Afghanistan."

The 122mm rockets have twice the range and twice the blast radius of the Taliban's more commonly used 107mm missiles and have not been seen in action against Nato forces for the past four years.

The 48 weapons had been deliberately disguised to appear manufactured elsewhere, but tests by weapons experts had determined they were from an Iranian factory.

Lt Col John Dorrian, a spokesman for Nato forces in Afghanistan, said the rockets had been found on Feb 5 and had been undergoing tests since then.

He said: "This is the first time that Iranian manufacture 122mm rockets have been discovered in this country. They had been deliberately sanitised to hide their origin.

"It is indeed an escalation, while increasing the dangers to Afghan and Nato forces, as well as civilians."

The rockets have a range of more than 12 miles and shower shrapnel to a radius of nearly 100 feet.

Nato officials have frequently accused elements within the Iranian revolutionary guard of supplying low levels of weaponry and training to the insurgency.

Diplomats believe Shia Iran has no desire to see the radical Sunni Taliban take power in Afghanistan, but instead are providing enough support to harass Nato.

Last month, a senior American officer in Afghanistan said Iran wanted "to be in the game" and could increase its support "overnight" through well-established smuggling networks.

"This is a really significant indication of Iranian support for the insurgency," said one British military source. "I'm not aware that we have had so strong evidence as this in the past."
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Battle on Haifa Street, Baghdad, Iraq

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