Cheney's Iran-Arms-to-Taliban Gambit Rebuffed
A media campaign portraying Iran as supplying arms to the Taliban guerrillas fighting U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, orchestrated by advocates of a more confrontational stance toward Iran in the George W. Bush administration, appears to have backfired last week when Defence Secretary Robert Gates and the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Dan McNeil, issued unusually strong denials.
The allegation that Iran has reversed a decade-long policy and is now supporting the Taliban, conveyed in a series of press articles quoting "senior officials" in recent weeks, is related to a broader effort by officials aligned with Vice President Dick Cheney to portray Iran as supporting Sunni insurgents, including al Qaeda, to defeat the United States in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
U.S.-IRAN: New Arms Claim Reveals Cheney-Military Rift
Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns declared in Paris Jun. 12 that Iran was "transferring arms to the Taliban in Afghanistan", putting it in the context of a larger alleged Iranian role of funding "extremists" in the Palestinian territories, Lebanon and Iraq. The following day he asserted that there was "irrefutable evidence" of such Iranian arms supply to the Taliban.
The use of the phrase "irrefutable evidence" suggested that the Burns statement was scripted by the office of Vice President Dick Cheney. The same phrase had been used by Cheney himself on Sep. 20, 2002, in referring to the administration's accusation that Saddam Hussein had a programme to enrich uranium as the basis for a nuclear weapon.
But the NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Dan McNeill, pointed to other possible explanations, particularly the link between drug smuggling and weapons smuggling between Iran and Afghanistan.
Gen. McNeill repeated in an interview with U.S. News and World Report last week a previous statement to Reuters that he did not agree with the charge. McNeill minimised the scope of the arms coming from Iran, saying: "What we've found so far hasn't been militarily significant on the battlefield."
He speculated that the arms could have come from black market dealers, drug traffickers, or al Qaeda backers and could have been sold by low-level Iranian military personnel.