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Sunday, 27 January, 2002, 02:18 GMT
Herat commander denies Iran arms claims
Northern Alliance troops near Herat
The US says weapons are still coming from Iran
By BBC world affairs correspondent David Loyn in Herat

A senior commander in western Afghanistan has denied claims that the region is receiving military help from Iran.

Following continual suspicion about Iranian intentions in the region, interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai is planning to go to the western city of Herat next week.

Ismail Khan
Ismail Khan says he supports the interim government
Now a leader of a minority party in the coalition governing the western region, Mohammed Ali, has denied that Iran is doing any more than providing humanitarian help.

Mr Ali is a former mujahideen commander who now heads a tank unit for the governor of Herat, Ismail Khan.

He is also the leader of the Hezbollah Afghani, a mainly Shia political party.

But he strongly denied recent claims in the western media that his Hezbollah is anything like the Iranian-backed party of the same name in Lebanon, which has been waging a long war against Israel.

Mr Ali told me that Iran has cultural influence in Afghanistan, particularly among the Shia minority in Herat, and has sent humanitarian aid.

Battered tanks

But he said that in contrast to American involvement in Afghanistan, Iranian military assistance ended with the fall of the Taleban.

American officials have claimed that weapons are still coming here from Iran.

But I saw no new military equipment in the barracks which we were allowed to visit - only a line of the same, battered ex-Soviet tanks which have changed hands time and again since the ill-fated Russian invasion, now more than 20 years ago.

Like his boss, the regional governor, Ismail Khan, Mr Ali said that Afghans should be strong and united, and he backs the central government in Kabul.

But the disagreements will not go away.

Without careful management, this could become the front line of a new cold war between America and those Islamic countries like Iran which are suspicious of American motives in the world.

See also:

26 Jan 02 | Middle East
Iran backs Afghan peace
11 Jan 02 | Middle East
Iran hits back at Bush
10 Jan 02 | Americas
Bush warns Iran on terror
11 Jan 02 | South Asia
Iran defends role in Afghanistan
27 Nov 01 | South Asia
Herat leader warns of relief crisis
28 Nov 01 | South Asia
Herat holds historic election
28 Nov 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
In the wake of the Taleban
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