Asia Crisis

Iran main entry route for militants -Afghan paper

KABUL, July 27 (Reuters) - Iran has become the main transit route for militants trying to join insurgents in Afghanistan, an Afghan government daily said on Sunday.

Some Western nations with troops in Afghanistan have said that Iranian weapons destined for the Taliban have been seized in Afghanistan, although they are unsure whether Tehran knew about the shipments.

The Shii'te Islamic Republic, which is facing growing international pressure over its nuclear programme, has denied funding or arming the radical Sunni Taliban in Afghanistan.

The daily Anis said three foreign militants, two from the Middle East and one from Turkey, were captured during a recent operation in Afghanistan and investigations of the three showed they had come via Iran.

It said Iran had become a "tunnel for terrorists" to Waziristan, the tribal region of Pakistan, where the militants have sanctuaries and from where they enter Afghanistan to attack foreign and Afghan forces.

"The people of Afghanistan can't remain silent against such Iranian behaviours since this country sends those individuals to Afghanistan who kill and murder Afghans," Anis said.

The government daily in its editorial also said Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the former key backers of the Taliban, had not taken serious steps to curb their nationals joining the Taliban or al Qaeda.

It said the Afghan government should act.

"Iran under present conditions has become as the easiest entry for terrorists from the Middle East to Afghanistan and the government has to blockade this tunnel by whatever means."

Violence has escalated sharply in Afghanistan since 2006 when the Taliban, removed from power in a U.S.-led invasion in 2001, regrouped and launched an insurgency against Afghanistan's Western-backed government and foreign forces.

Nearly 15,000 people, including more than 450 foreign troops, have been killed in Afghanistan in the past two years, the bloodiest period since Taliban's ouster.

The newspaper's comments coincide with the recent threat by Iran to hit U.S. interests in the region, should Washington attack Iran over its nuclear ambitions. U.S. officials in the past have also accused Iran for arming militants in Iraq. Iran has denied the charge.

The Afghan government has openly accused elements in Pakistan's military and intelligence networks for organising a series of attacks in Afghanistan, including a bid to kill President Hamid Karzai in April. Islamabad has rejected the accusations.

The violence in Afghanistan comes despite the presence of more than 71,000 foreign forces under the command of NATO and the U.S. military and some Western officials have warned the country could slide back into anarchy. (Editing by David Fogarty)