Iraq-style bomb found in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan – A powerful and sophisticated type of roadside bomb prevalent in Iraq but not seen before in Afghanistan was discovered near a university in Kabul last week, prompting a rare countrywide warning to NATO and Afghan troops.

The bomb, known as an EFP, or explosively formed projectile, was notable for its level of sophistication and similarity to those seen in Iraq, said Maj. John Thomas, a spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force.

NATO officials say they don’t know where the bomb came from.

“The kind that we’re talking about is machined. It has to be fabricated to pretty certain specifications … by somebody who knows what he’s doing,” Thomas said. “The next question is how similar is it to those made in Iraq, and the answer is considerably similar.”

Thomas said there was no evidence to suspect a certain manufacturer, nation or even region as the source. He said  Iran or al-Qaida elements in Iraq or Pakistan were all possibilities.

NATO sent out a warning to international and Afghan troops to watch out for EFPs. The warning, shown to The Associated Press by a security official who asked not to be named because it is an internal document, said the sophisticated bomb was found May 26 near a Kabul university. It said lesser-quality EFPs were found in Herat, near the Iran border, in April.

Thomas confirmed that NATO issued the warning, saying the rare Afghanistan-wide message showed it was concerned.

“The guys who are working counter-IEDs (improvised explosive devices) are professionally alarmed in the sense they were hoping they wouldn’t see these” in Afghanistan, Thomas said. “I don’t think people are completely overwhelmed by the idea, because we knew it was a pretty good possibility.”

Military officials and analysts say Taliban militants have long copied Iraqi insurgents’ tactics, but suicide and roadside bombs here have never been anywhere near as deadly or sophisticated as those in Iraq, where armor-piercing EFPs have killed hundreds of U.S. soldiers.

U.S. military officials have been saying for months that Iran, a Shiite country, has been supplying EFPs to Shiite militias in Iraq, despite strong denials by Tehran. U.S. officials say EFPs also have been found in Sunni weapons caches in Iraq. The Taliban are primarily Sunni.

Small arms weapons with Iranian markings have been discovered in Afghanistan over the last few months, though NATO’s top commander, Gen. Dan McNeill, has said there’s no proof of direct Iranian involvement in their presence here, Thomas said.

Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in April that U.S. forces had intercepted Iranian-made mortars and explosives in Afghanistan, although it was not clear they were shipped directly from Iran.

Britain’s Ministry of Defense has also said it was working with the international community to “step up pressure on Iran … over its role in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

“We know about illegal movements of munitions across the border from Iran to Afghanistan, destined for the Taliban,” the ministry said in a statement Thursday. “We are concerned that some of these munitions are of Iranian origin.”

The ministry refused to give any details about the number or type of weapons.

A NATO official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject said there was “real concern” about the possibility of advanced weapons moving over the Afghan-Iranian border — saying it “would change the game quite significantly” here because of the higher level of technology.

Iran’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Mohammad R. Bahrami, said he “strongly denies” any allegations that Tehran is helping arm the Taliban.

Bahrami told the AP on Thursday that Iran wants stability in Afghanistan, saying it benefits his country’s security. He also said Iran hasn’t forgotten when the Taliban killed 11 Iranians in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif in 1998, suggesting Iran has no reason to help the hardline militia.

“We strongly deny the rumors that Iran is supporting opposition groups to the government of Afghanistan,” he said.

Bahrami said Iran believes “some of the countries that like to increase these kinds of rumors want to find some kind of cause for their unsuccessful activities.”

He did not name any nation directly, but said one had supported a failed peace agreement in Musa Qala in Helmand province between local elders and Taliban fighters, a clear reference to Britain. Taliban fighters stayed out of the town for several months after the agreement last fall, but broke the pact in February and have occupied the town since.

He also mentioned the increase in drugs in southern Afghanistan. Opium poppy cultivation is booming in Helmand province, where British forces are located.

The top U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan, Lt. Col. David Accetta, said Iranian weapons are likely in the country as a result of decades of war in the region, and that he hadn’t seen any evidence Iran was sending in new weapons.

“There’s a lot of Russian weapons here, but that doesn’t mean Russia is flying them in in packing crates,” he said.

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