Taliban's bombs came from US, not Iran
By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON - In support of the official United States assertion that Iran is
arming its sworn enemy, the Taliban, the head of the Office of the Director of
National Intelligence (ODNI), Dennis Blair, has cited a statement by a Taliban
commander last year attributing military success against North Atlantic Treaty
Organization (NATO) forces to Iranian military assistance.
But the Taliban commander's claim is contradicted by evidence from the US
Defense Department, Canadian forces in Afghanistan and the Taliban themselves
that the increased damage to NATO tanks by Taliban forces has come from
anti-tank mines provided by the United States to the jihadi movement against
the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
The Taliban claim was cited by the ODNI in written responses to
questions for the record from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence
following testimony by Blair before the committee on February 12, 2009. The
responses were released to the Federation of American Scientists under the
Freedom of Information Act on July 30.
ODNI wrote that Iran was "covertly supplying arms to Afghan insurgents while
publicly posing as supportive of the Afghan government". As evidence of such
covert Iranian arms supply, the ODNI said, "Taliban commanders have publicly
credited Iranian support for their successful operations against coalition
That statement was taken almost word-for-word from the subtitle of an article
published on the website of London's DailyTelegraph and Sunday Telegraph on
September 14 last year. "A Taliban commander has credited Iranian-supplied
weapons with successful operations against coalition forces in Afghanistan,"
read the sub-heading of the article "Taliban claim weapons supplied by Iran".
The single Taliban commander quoted became plural in the ODNI version.
In the article, British journalist Kate Clark quoted an unnamed Taliban
commander as saying, "There's a kind of landmine called a Dragon. Iran's
sending it. It's directional and it causes heavy casualties." The commander
said the new mine would "destroy" large tanks "completely", whereas "ordinary"
anti-tank mines had only caused "minor damage".
If true, the revelation that an improved Iranian anti-tank weapon had been
killing US and NATO troops in larger numbers would have been a major
development in the war in Afghanistan. Roadside bomb attacks are acknowledged
by US and NATO officials to be the cause of most of the casualties and deaths
of foreign troops in the country.
The rapid rise in casualties over the past two years is attributed in part to
the increased lethality of the Taliban mines.
But according to the Pentagon agency responsible for combating roadside bombs
in Iraq and Afghanistan, the increased Taliban threat to US and NATO vehicles
comes not from any new technology from Iran but from Italian-made mines left
over from the US Central Intelligence Agency's military assistance to the
anti-Soviet jihadists in the 1980s.
In response to an inquiry from Inter Press Service (IPS), the Joint Improvised
Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), a unit of the US Department of
Defense, said in an e-mail that Italian-manufactured TC-6 anti-tank mines are
"very common" in the Taliban-dominated areas of the country and that they had
been modified to increase their lethality in improvised explosive device
The JIEDDO response said TC-6 mines were being "arrayed in two or three in
tandem to ensure the charge is large enough to inflict damage against coalition
vehicles". The TC-6 mines "continue to pose a significant threat to coalition
forces", JIEDDO said.
The combining of two or three anti-tank mines into a single, more destructive
bomb would account for the increased lethality of the anti-tank mines being
used by the Taliban.
The claim by the alleged Taliban commander of new, more effective weaponry
supplied by Iran appears to have been deliberate misinformation for the Western
British writer Jason Elliot, who has traveled extensively in Afghanistan since
1979, reported in a 2001 book Min(d)ing Afghanistan that the
Italian-made TC-6 was the most commonly used anti-tank mine used in
Afghanistan. The seven kilogram charge of TNT, wrote Elliot, could "flip a tank
the way a seagull flips a baby turtle".
Millions of mines remained buried in the ground from the Soviet occupation
period, Elliot observed. However, only about 20,000 anti-tank mines have been
destroyed since 1989, according to the United Nations.
Further evidence that the Taliban are relying heavily on the TC-6 to damage
NATO tanks is a picture published by al-Jazeera on May 1, 2007, of a Taliban
storeroom of explosives in Helmand province. The photograph, taken by a
cameraman accompanying correspondent James Bays, showed two insurgent
bomb-makers working on what was clearly identifiable as an Italian TC-6
The insurgents told the photographer that the explosives in the room were in
the process of being converted into "anti-tank bombs".
Canadian forces in Kandahar province have encountered some of the heaviest
Taliban use of anti-tank mines in Afghanistan. According to casualty data on
the website of the Canadian Forces, since the beginning of 2007, 57 out of the
81 deaths of Canadian troops in Afghanistan had come from roadside bombs and
Captain Dean Menard, a spokesman for Canadian forces in Kandahar, told IPS in a
telephone interview that some of the ordnance used by the Taliban against
Canadian tanks "are definitely attributable to the Soviet occupation era" - a
reference to mines supplied by the US through Pakistan during the anti-Soviet
The insurgents have obtained anti-tank weapons from "legacy minefields" dating
from the period of Soviet occupation, according to Menard. Canadian forces also
have intelligence that the Taliban obtain such mines from a "vast black
market", he said.
The Canadian spokesman confirmed that the Taliban were "making bigger mines"
from the ordnance obtained from those sources.
In 2007 and 2008, Afghan military and police discovered two major caches of
weapons in Herat province on the Iranian border that included anti-tank mines
which some Afghan officials suggested had originated in Iran.
But one picture of mines discovered in Herat, published by the Revolutionary
Women's Association of Afghanistan, clearly shows nine Italian TC-6 mines and
one that resembles the top from a US M-19 landmine, which was among those found
in Afghanistan over the past two decades. One mine cannot be clearly identified
from the picture, but it does not resemble any known Iranian mine.
A picture of the 2007 cache in Herat published by Agence France-Presse shows
more Italian C-6 mines, along with a number of what appear to be US M-19
anti-tank mines. The picture shows an Afghan policeman pointing to a mark on
one of the latter, suggesting that it is of Iranian origin.
A copy of the US M-19 mine has been manufactured by Iran, according to Jane's
Mines and Mine Clearance 2005-2006. However, long-buried Iranian-made M19s
provided to the Jamiat-I Islami faction fighting more extremist Hezb-e Islami
fighters in the 1992-96 period exploded accidentally in Kabul as recently as
Moreover, a 2009 study of arms deliveries to Afghanistan in the 1990s by the
Moscow-based Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies shows that
Iran's large-scale arms aid to the Northern Alliance forces in 1999 included
The prominence of the Italian-made mines among weapons found in Herat indicate
that the anti-tank mines discovered in Herat in 2007 and 2008 were not
assistance from Iran to the Taliban but weapons provided either to the
mujahideen during the Soviet occupation or to the Northern Alliance troops
fighting the Taliban in the late 1990s.
Former Central Intelligence Agency officer Phil Giraldi, who monitors US
intelligence analysis on Iran, told IPS he doubted the ODNI statement on
Iranian policy in Afghanistan accurately reflected the analysis.
"If you were to read the original analytical report," said Giraldi, "you would
probably find that it's caveated like mad."
Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specializing
in US national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book,
Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was
published in 2006.