Was it a coincidence that the story about Iranian guided missiles in the hands of the Taliban that appeared everywhere yesterday happened to come while Iran's interior minister, Mustafa Mohammad Najjar, was in Kabul to emphasise his country's opposition to permanent foreign bases in Afghanistan?
Personally, I am sceptical of the claims of the Iranians supplying the Taliban with missiles. Why would the Taliban trust the Iranians? And why would the Iranians supply weapons that can so easily be traced back to them? The evidence that the 48 rockets were Iranian apparently comes down to the fact that they had green fuses. Where are the pics? And isn't it convenient that everyone involved in transporting them in three lorries in the remote south-west Nimruz region of the country was killed by special forces?
This is not the first time it has been reported that the Iranians are supplying weapons to the Taliban. In May 2007, reports appeared saying that Iran's Revolutionary Guards were supplying SA7 anti-aircraft missiles to the Taliban: "There is reporting that lead us to believe a number of agencies, that possibly include Iranian organisations, are significantly supporting the Taliban," a military intelligence source told The Daily Telegraph. Hardly a strong statement, but enough for media organisations to run lurid headlines.
Again the story resurfaced in March 2009 in the Sunday Times, when Michael Smith reported this time that the Iranians were supplying SA-14 Gremlin missiles. The evidence was "parts from two of them" discovered by special forces in western Afghanistan. The UK Ministry of Defence at the time said it was not aware of any threat from SA-14 missiles.
This is a story with a long and unflattering history. In July last year a leaked US cable claimed that Hezbe Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and an al-Qaeda leader called Dr Amin (oooh, scary) had flown from Iran to North Korea in 2005 to buy ground to air missiles. Iran, North Korea, al-Qaeda and a hated insurgent leader all in one story. How convenient! Not surprisingly, the story was later discredited and put down to a rogue source.
Another leaked cable that surfaced last summer was a 'threat report' - that's gossip to you or me - dating from 1 April 2007, that referred to reports that in 2006 Iran had bought seven anti-aircraft missiles from Algeria and that these had been transported across the Iranian border into Afghanistan. It mentioned previous reports that Iran had supplied the Taliban with MANPADs - hand-held anti-aircraft missiles - although the report added: "Despite the reporting, we have yet to see any of these alleged MANPADS actually being used."
Another leaked document did actually refer to a Chinook being fired at with a missile, but there is no evidence about where that missile came from or even if it was a missile. It could just have easily been one of those left over from the anti-Soviet jihad or one of the heavy machine guns favoured by the Taliban.
Another report appeared in October last year in the Washington Examiner claiming that Iran was training Taliban fighter to fire missiles. Yet again, there was no evidence beyond claims by an unnamed intelligence official.
There have been other stories suggesting that Iran has supplied new batteries for Stinger missiles in Afghanistan. However, despite a great deal of hot air there is little, if any, proof. Something stinks here.
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