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U.S. Military Top Brass Contradict Bush Administration's  Iranian Information

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 Defense 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.

An article in the Guardian published May 22 quoted an anonymous U.S. official as predicting an "Iranian-orchestrated summer offensive in Iraq, linking al Qaeda and Sunni insurgents to Tehran's Shia militia allies" and as referring to the alleged "Iran-al Qaeda linkup" as "very sinister".

That article and subsequent reports on CNN May 30, in the Washington Post Jun. 3 and on ABC news Jun. 6 all included an assertion by an unnamed U.S. official or a "senior coalition official" that Iran is following a deliberate policy of supplying the Taliban's campaign against U.S., British and other NATO forces.

In the most dramatic version of the story, ABC reported "NATO officials" as saying they had "caught Iran red-handed, shipping heavy arms, C4 explosives and advanced roadside bombs to the Taliban for use against NATO forces."

Iran has long regarded the Taliban regime as its primary enemy and was the first external power to support Afghan forces in an effort to overthrow it. It is not merely a sectarian Sunni-Shiite divide but the Pakistani government patronage of the Taliban that has made it an irreconcilable enemy of Iran.

The line being pushed by the Cheney group in the administration that Iran is supplying the Taliban with arms appears to be based on a highly imaginative reading of some recent intelligence reporting on Iranian contacts with the Taliban. A source with access to that reporting, who insists on anonymity because he is not authorised to comment on the matter, told IPS that it indicates Iranian intelligence has had contacts with the top commanders of the Taliban's inner Shura - the leadership council located in Kandahar.

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