Feb 9, 2007
SEVILLE, Spain (AP) -- Serial numbers and markings on explosives used in Iraq provide "pretty good" evidence that Iran is providing either weapons or technology for militants there, Defense Secretary Robert Gates asserted Friday.
Offering some of the first public details of evidence the military has collected, Gates said, "I think there's some serial numbers, there may be some markings on some of the projectile fragments that we found," that point to Iran.
At the same time, however, he said he was somewhat surprised that recent raids by coalition and Iraqi forces in Iraq swept up some Iranians.
Just last week, Gates said that U.S. military officers in Baghdad were planning to brief reporters on what is known about Iranian involvement in Iraq but that he and other senior administration officials had intervened to delay the briefing in order to assure that the information provided was accurate.
Speaking to reporters at a defense ministers conference here, Gates said Friday, "I don't think there was surprise that the Iranians were actually involved, I think there was surprise we actually picked up some."
He and other U.S. officials have said for some time that Iranians, and possibly the government of Iran, have been providing weapons technology, and possibly some explosives to Iraqi insurgents.
The improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have been a leading killer of U.S. forces in Iraq, where more than 3,000 servicemen and women have died in the nearly four-year-old war.
Gates, who is attending his first NATO defense ministers meeting, said Iran is "very much involved in providing either the technology or the weapons themselves for these explosively formed projectiles. Now they don't represent a big percentage of the IED attacks but they're extremely lethal."
Gates said the raids combined with the movement of an additional U.S. aircraft carrier into the Persian Gulf have created a stir, but said the Bush administration has no intention of attacking Iran.
Meanwhile, the defense secretary has been getting a lukewarm response here to his plea for allies to send more troops and aid for a spring offensive in Afghanistan.
Gates said the U.S. made no additional commitments for more troops of its own. He recently extended the tour of a brigade in Afghanistan, where the U.S. has 27,000 troops -- the most since the war began in 2001.
U.S. and NATO military leaders in recent months have repeatedly called on alliance members to send reinforcements and lift restrictions on where their troops can serve. On Thursday, Gates secured smaller offers from some nations, but he met resistance from key allies.
France and Germany are questioning the wisdom of sending more soldiers, while Spain, Italy and Turkey have also been wary of providing more troops.
"When the Russians were in Afghanistan, they had 100,000 soldiers there and they did not win," German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung told reporters.
The meeting in southern Spain did produce some offers, however.
Lithuania, which already has 130 troops in Afghanistan, offered to send an unspecified number of special forces, helping to fill a key shortfall.
Germany says it will provide six Tornado reconnaissance jets but not significantly augment its 3,000 troops in the north. The Italian government said it would send a much-needed transport plane and some unmanned surveillance aircraft, but it is struggling to secure parliamentary backing for the finances needed to maintain a contingent of 1,950.
Spain also said it would send four unmanned planes and more instructors to help the Afghan army.
Gates said that after nearly five years at war with the Taliban, this spring will be critical because it could give the people of the country more hope.
"Each spring for the last several years, the Taliban have been more aggressive and there has been an increasing level of violence," he said. "There is a consensus on the part of the ministers that it is important that this year we knock the Taliban back."
The end of winter has traditionally brought an upsurge in attacks by Taliban militants in Afghanistan. U.S. commanders have already predicted that this spring will be even more violent than last year, when a record number of attacks included nearly 140 suicide bombings.
About 15,000 of the American troops are serving in the NATO-led force, which now totals about 36,000, while the other 12,000 are special operations forces or are training Afghan troops.