* Land drills come after naval exercise in Gulf
* Iran plays down U.S. rescue of Iranian sailors
TEHRAN Jan 7 Iran launched a military
manoeuvre near its border with Afghanistan on Saturday, the
semi-official Fars news agency reported, days after naval
exercises in the Gulf increased tensions with the West and
pushed up oil prices.
Mohammad Pakpour, commander of the Revolutionary Guards'
ground forces, said the "Martyrs of Unity" exercises near Khvat,
60 km (40 miles) from Afghanistan, were "aimed at boosting
security along the Iranian borders," Fars reported.
The Revolutionary Guards' naval forces' 10-day exercise in
the Gulf that ended last Monday worsened relations with
Washington days after U.S. President Barack Obama approved
sanctions that aim to stop countries buying Iranian oil.
Threats that Iran could close the Strait of Hormuz, which
leads out of the Gulf and provides the outlet for most oil from
the Middle East, pushed up oil prices and Iran warned Washington
not to send an aircraft carrier back into the Gulf.
Forces with the USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier strike
group, the target of Tehran's threat, rescued 13 Iranian
fishermen from Somali pirates days after passing through the
Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi played down the political
significance of the rescue.
"On some occasions, Iran has helped and secured the released
of many other countries' sailors that had been caught by
pirates," he told state-run Press TV.
"This is a humanitarian gesture and it is not related to the
countries' relations with each other."
(Reporting By Mitra Amiri; Editing by Janet Lawrence)