KABUL -- A cache of Iranian-made weapons found in the Taliban's possession in Ghazni Province offers clear evidence that Iran is working to expand the scope of the war in Afghanistan, officials and analysts say.
Afghan security forces discovered the arms cache December 9 in an operation outside Ghazni city.
"In a joint operation based on intelligence reports, the security forces have discovered and confiscated a cache of Iranian-made weapons and ammunition belonging to the Taliban," Ghazni provincial police chief Ghulam Daud Tarakhil told Salaam Times.
Army, police and the National Directorate of Security (NDS) "discovered and seized the arms in a carefully planned operation", he said.
"The seized cache includes nine types of Kalashnikov rifles, five handguns, one rocket launcher and some other ammunition, all of which had been stored by the Taliban militants for the sake of terrorist activities in Ghazni Province," he said.
Ghazni Governor Wahidullah Kalimzai confirmed that "nine light weapons" were made in Iran, Radio Farda reported.
"When these weapons arrived from Iran in Afghanistan and were distributed among hostile forces in various provinces, our reconnaissance and intelligence partners informed us that some of the weapons had been transferred to Ghazni," Tarakhil said.
"Iranian-made weapons have been flowing into Afghanistan to prolong the war," Tarakhil said, adding that such weapons are often brought into districts that are not under the Afghan government's control.
"Iran is 100% involved in the recent events that created insecurity in Ghazni," he said.
This fact was evident when the Taliban attacked Ghazni city in August, he said.
"All these activities are clear indications of Iran's blatant interference in Afghanistan's internal affairs," he said. "There is a great deal of evidence and of Iran's support for terrorists."
"Iran constantly interferes in Afghanistan's internal affairs, which includes providing financial and military assistance to the Taliban, training the group's militants, and providing shelter to the Taliban members inside Iran," said Aref Kyani, a Herat-based political and military analyst.
"This means Iran is directly in a war with Afghanistan," he told Salaam Times.
"The recruiting of young Afghan immigrants and sending them to fight within the Taliban ranks in Afghanistan are quite evident and undeniable," he said. "There are credible reports that some Iran-based Taliban commanders often travel to western provinces of Afghanistan such as Farah and Nimroz."
"At the moment, Iran's strategy is to support the insurgency and create divisions among ethnic groups in Afghanistan in order to achieve its political and military objectives in our country," Kyani said.
Training Afghan youth
Afghan forces have increased offensive operations in Ghazni to weed out the Taliban militants and defeat Iran's subversive machinations.
"This is not the first time that Iranian made weapons have been found by security forces in Ghazni," said Mohammad Arif Noori, spokesman for the Ghazni provincial governor. "In fact, Afghan security forces have seized Iranian weapons from the Taliban on numerous occasions on the battlefield."
In addition, Iran has been targeting vulnerable Afghan youth and handing them over to the Taliban.
"Some young Afghans who have gone to work in Iran and whom the Iranian authorities arrest inside Iran or threaten to deport are instead handed over to Taliban groups based in Iran so that they can recruit those youth," Noori said.
"These young men then undergo military training provided by Iranian operatives in Zahedan city and in other regions that share the border with Afghanistan," he said. "Following the training, the young men are sent back to Afghanistan to fight."
"We received this information from a number of young Afghans who have deserted the Taliban," Noori said.
"Ghazni has a strategic location," he said. "Therefore, the Taliban believes that if they are in charge of this province, they can find logistical routes to eight neighbouring provinces."
The eight provinces include Daikundi, Bamiyan, Uruzgan, Zabul, Paktia, Paktika and Kandahar provinces, he said, without identifying the eighth.
"That's why Iran supports Taliban militants in Ghazni," he said.
Iran expanding scope of war
Iran has a history of supporting instability in Afghanistan, said Aminullah Shariq, former governor of Paktika Province.
"During the Afghan civil war [1992-1996], which destroyed Kabul and killed thousands of civilians, [Iran] provided the warring parties with weapons and other military facilities," he told Salaam Times.
Now, Iran's support for the Taliban in Afghanistan is expanding, he said.
"Previously, Tehran provided weapons and military assistance to the Taliban in the western provinces, including Farah, Nimroz, Herat, Badghis and Ghor, as well as in the southern provinces of Helmand, Uruzgan and Kandahar," Shariq said.
"Our security forces, especially forces from NDS, have presented to the media the Iranian made weapons, including in Ghazni, which shows that Iran is working to expand the scope of the war in Afghanistan," he said.
"Iran's arms supply to the Taliban in the central and northern provinces means the expansion of the war to cover all of Afghanistan, which is extremely concerning," he said. "The Afghan government and the international community should stop those countries that support the Taliban."