Miles Amoore in Kabul
TALIBAN commanders have revealed that hundreds of insurgents have been trained in Iran to kill Nato forces in Afghanistan.
The commanders said they had learnt to mount complex ambushes and lay improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which have been responsible for most of the deaths of British troops in Helmand province.
The accounts of two commanders, in interviews with The Sunday Times, are the first descriptions of training of the Taliban in Iran.
According to the commanders, Iranian officials paid them to attend three-month courses during the winter.
They were smuggled across the border to the city of Zahidan, in southeast Iran, an hour’s drive from training camps in the desert.
Instructors in plain clothes provided daily exercises in live firing. The first month was devoted largely to teaching the Taliban how to attack convoys and how to escape before Nato forces could respond.
During their second month they were shown how to plant IEDs in sequence so that the rescuers of soldiers wounded in one blast would be caught in further explosions.
The third month was spent on storming bases and checkpoints. A hilltop fort was among the locations used for practice by a Taliban platoon.
Local mediators persuaded the commanders to travel to Kabul to tell their stories. They were interviewed on separate occasions on the edge of the city.
Western officials troubled by growing Iranian support for the Taliban describe the accounts as credible. A military crackdown in Pakistan is thought to have encouraged Taliban leaders to look to Iran for more help.
One of the commanders said: “The military is pressuring the Taliban in Pakistan. It is certainly harder to reach places that were once easy to get into. I think more of my fighters will travel to Iran for training this year.”
Karl Eikenberry, the American ambassador to Afghanistan, recently described signs of co-operation between Iran and the Taliban as disturbing.
“Iran or elements within Iran have provided training assistance and some weapons to the Taliban,” he said.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran has publicly backed his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai. But American and British officials have accused Iran of playing a double game by giving covert backing to the Taliban.
Shi’ite Iran had long opposed the Sunni-dominated Taliban. The reason for the change was summarised by one Taliban commander who said of the Iranians: “Our religions and our histories are different but our target is the same. We both want to kill Americans.”
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