Iran arming Taliban, says top Afghan general

Afghan commandos participate in a combat training exercise at Shorab Military Camp in Lashkar Gah in Helmand province. Marines in Helmand say President Donald Trump’s decision to keep boots on the ground indefinitely gives them ‘all the time in the world’ to retake the province, once the symbol of US intervention but now a Taliban stronghold. (AFP)
Updated 08 September 2017

Iran arming Taliban, says top Afghan general

KABUL: Iran provides arms and military equipment to Taliban guerrillas in Afghanistan, an army chief has claimed, marking the first confirmation from a high-ranking official of the war-torn country.
President Ashraf Ghani raised the matter with his Iranian counterpart during his recent visit to Tehran, Lt. Gen. Mohammed Sharif Yaftali, chief of general staff for the Afghan National Army, told the BBC Persian Service.
Yaftali said Kabul had documents showing “Iran was providing arms and military equipment to the Taliban in western Afghanistan.” He gave no further details.
Some local officials in western Afghanistan in the past had spoken about Iran’s role in the Afghan war and its backing of the insurgents.
Yaftali’s comments are however the first from a high-ranking Afghan official pointing to Iran’s alleged support for the Taliban.
Taliban spokesmen were unavailable for comment, and the Iranian embassy in Kabul could not immediately be reached. Tehran, which opposes the presence of US troops in Afghanistan, has in the past rejected claims that it backs the Taliban.
Dawlat Waziri, the chief spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense on Thursday said Yaftali’s comments were “misquoted” and that he expects a correction. He told Arab News that Afghanistan had “reports, not evidence about Iran’s involvement” and that it was verifying the reports.
Others say however that there is firm evidence that Iran is supporting the fundamentalist political group.
“Iranian land mines and weapons are used by the Taliban and it is directly engaged in supporting the Taliban militarily and financially,” analyst Bashir Bezhen told Arab News.
“It has its reservations over water distribution with Afghanistan and secondly is locked in a deep rivalry with the US in Afghanistan. It wants to see the US defeat and ignominious withdrawal from Afghanistan.”
Iran has long been at loggerheads with Kabul, often over water disputes.
Much to Kabul’s anguish, Iran has in recent years officially hosted mid-ranking Taliban commanders at gatherings of Islamic scholars. Reports of its military and financial backing of the Taliban have increased ever since Ghani’s government signed a strategic security pact with Washington in 2014.
Former Taliban leader Akhtar Mansour, who was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan last year, was reportedly en-route there from Iran where, according to media reports, many mid-ranking Taliban commanders have transferred their families to live.
Some Afghan observers say Iran is part of a regional block pushing the withdrawal of US troops that overthrew the Taliban regime 16 years ago in Afghanistan.


Hong Kong police fire tear gas to break up anti-government protest

Updated 35 min 14 sec ago

Hong Kong police fire tear gas to break up anti-government protest

  • Hong Kong police intervened promptly when the rally turned into an impromptu march
  • The protests had lost some of their intensity in recent weeks

HONG KONG: Police fired tear gas on Sunday to disperse thousands of anti-government protesters who gathered in a central Hong Kong park, but later spilled onto the streets in violation of police orders.
Out in numbers before the demonstration began, police intervened promptly when the rally turned into an impromptu march. Several units of police in riot gear were seen chasing protesters and several arrests were made.
A water cannon truck drove on central streets, flanked by an armored jeep, but was not used.
Organizers initially applied for a permit for a march, but police only agreed to a static rally in the park, saying previous marches have turned violent.
Once protesters spilled onto the streets, some of them, wearing all-black clothing, barricaded the roads with umbrellas and street furniture, dug up bricks from the pavement and smashed traffic lights.
The “Universal Siege Against Communism” demonstration was the latest in a relentless series of protests against the government since June, when Hong Kongers took to the streets to voice their anger over a now-withdrawn extradition bill.
The protests, which have since broadened to include demands for universal suffrage and an independent investigation into police handling of the demonstrations, had lost some of their intensity in recent weeks.
In an apparent new tactic, police have been showing up ahead of time in riot gear, with officers conducting “stop and search” operations near expected demonstrations.
“Everyone understands that there’s a risk of stop-and-search or mass arrests. I appreciate Hong Kong people still come out courageously, despite the risk,” said organizer Ventus Lau.
On Jan 1, a march of tens of thousands of people ended with police firing tear gas to disperse crowds.
The gathering in the park was initially relaxed, with many families with children listening to speeches by activists.
In one corner, a group of volunteers set up a stand where people could leave messages on red cards for the lunar new year to be sent to those who have been arrested. One read: “Hong Kongers won’t give up. The future belongs to the youth”.
Authorities in Hong Kong have arrested more than 7,000 people, many on charges of rioting that can carry jail terms of up to 10 years. It is unclear how many are still in custody.
Anger has grown over the months due to perceptions that Beijing was tightening its grip over the city, which was handed over to China by Britain in 1997 in a deal that ensured it enjoyed liberties unavailable in the mainland.
Beijing denies meddling and blames the West for fomenting unrest.