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Thursday, October 1, 1998 Published at 00:12 GMT 01:12 UK

World: South Asia

Iran stages war games on Afghan border

Some 200,000 troops are expected to take part

Iran has announced the start of another series of major military exercises near its border with Afghanistan.

The manoeuvres are biggest Iran has ever staged - some 200,000 troops are expected to take part.

Middle East Correspondent Jim Muir: "Considerable application of psychological pressure on the Taleban"
They started with a heavy artillery bombardment on imaginary enemy positions, before armoured and infantry units began a mock advance with support from assault helicopters.

Iranian television, showing pictures of the exercises, said the first phase involved an area of some 50,000 square kilometres.

The exercises, codenamed Zulfaqar 2, are the second to be held this month and come at a time of high tension between the two countries.

They follow recent victories by the Taleban militia in northern Afghanistan and the murder of nine Iranian diplomats and a journalist there in August.

[ image: Taleban has warned Iran of its military might]
Taleban has warned Iran of its military might
The BBC Middle East Correspondent, Jim Muir, says Iran wants the Taleban to halt their drive for dominance in the region and agree to form a broad-based government in Afghanistan.

But the Taleban, who now control some 95% of Afghanistan, are starting to press strongly for international recognition of their purist Islamist regime.

That is a position they are expected to put to the United Nations special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, when he arrives next week on a mission aimed at easing tensions.

He will be visiting Iran and Pakistan, as well as Afghanistan.

Taleban on guard

Taleban leaders say they have moved 20,000 troops to the border in response to Iran's war games.

A spokesman for the movement said earlier the Taleban would "target Iranian cities if our territory is attacked".

The Taleban's representative to the UN warned Iran about the Taleban's arsenal.

Correspondents say the Taleban have Russian-made Scud missiles, of the same type that Iraq used to target Israeli cities during the Gulf War.

"We have deployed our soldiers with all kinds of weapons," warned the Taleban representative.

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