By Gareth Porter Sep 5, 2009
WASHINGTON - In support of the official United States assertion that Iran is arming its sworn enemy, the Taliban, the head of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), Dennis Blair, has cited a statement by a Taliban commander last year attributing military success against North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces to Iranian military assistance.
But the Taliban commander's claim is contradicted by evidence from the US Defense Department, Canadian forces in Afghanistan and the Taliban themselves that the increased damage to NATO tanks by Taliban forces has come from anti-tank mines provided by the United States to the jihadi movement against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
The Taliban claim was cited by the ODNI in written responses to questions for the record from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence following testimony by Blair before the committee on February 12, 2009. The responses were released to the Federation of American Scientists under the Freedom of Information Act on July 30.
ODNI wrote that Iran was "covertly supplying arms to Afghan insurgents while publicly posing as supportive of the Afghan government". As evidence of such covert Iranian arms supply, the ODNI said, "Taliban commanders have publicly credited Iranian support for their successful operations against coalition forces."
That statement was taken almost word-for-word from the subtitle of an article published on the website of London's Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph on September 14 last year. "A Taliban commander has credited Iranian-supplied weapons with successful operations against coalition forces in Afghanistan," read the sub-heading of the article "Taliban claim weapons supplied by Iran". The single Taliban commander quoted became plural in the ODNI version.
In the article, British journalist Kate Clark quoted an unnamed Taliban commander as saying, "There's a kind of landmine called a Dragon. Iran's sending it. It's directional and it causes heavy casualties." The commander said the new mine would "destroy" large tanks "completely", whereas "ordinary" anti-tank mines had only caused "minor damage".
If true, the revelation that an improved Iranian anti-tank weapon had been killing US and NATO troops in larger numbers would have been a major development in the war in Afghanistan. Roadside bomb attacks are acknowledged by US and NATO officials to be the cause of most of the casualties and deaths of foreign troops in the country. The rapid rise in casualties over the past two years is attributed in part to the increased lethality of the Taliban mines.
But according to the Pentagon agency responsible for combating roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan, the increased Taliban threat to US and NATO vehicles comes not from any new technology from Iran but from Italian-made mines left over from the US Central Intelligence Agency's military assistance to the anti-Soviet jihadists in the 1980s.
In response to an inquiry from Inter Press Service (IPS), the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), a unit of the US Department of Defense, said in an e-mail that Italian-manufactured TC-6 anti-tank mines are "very common" in the Taliban-dominated areas of the country and that they had been modified to increase their lethality in improvised explosive device attacks.
The JIEDDO response said TC-6 mines were being "arrayed in two or three in tandem to ensure the charge is large enough to inflict damage against coalition vehicles". The TC-6 mines "continue to pose a significant threat to coalition forces", JIEDDO said.
The combining of two or three anti-tank mines into a single, more destructive bomb would account for the increased lethality of the anti-tank mines being used by the Taliban.
The claim by the alleged Taliban commander of new, more effective weaponry supplied by Iran appears to have been deliberate misinformation for the Western press…
(Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specializing in US national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was published in 2006.)