Ahmadinejad criticises NATO troops, mocks Gates



Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (R) review a Guard-of-Honour in Kabul.

KABUL: Iran’s outspoken president on Wednesday accused the United States of playing a double game in Afghanistan and mocked the US defence secretary during their overlapping visits to the country.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lashed out at arch foe the United States while paying his first visit to Afghanistan since he and his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai were re-elected last year in controversial polls.

“We do not see the presence of foreign military forces in Afghanistan as a solution for peace in Afghanistan,” Ahmadinejad told a joint news conference with Karzai.

The United States has spearheaded a major troop surge in a last-ditch bid to end an eight-year Taliban insurgency against more than 120,000 NATO and US-led troops supporting Karzai’s government.

“Our policy is full support for the Afghan people and Afghan government and reconstruction of Afghanistan and we will continue this support in the future,” Ahmadinejad said.

His visit overlapped with one by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, who was in Afghanistan to review the surge of US and NATO troops set to bring their numbers to 150,000 by August.

Ahmadinejad has repeatedly called on US-led troops to leave Afghanistan, which has close ethnic and religious ties to Iran, while US officials have long accused Iran of maintaining links to Islamist insurgents in Afghanistan.

Asked about accusations from Gates in the past that Iran is playing a double game in the war-torn country, Ahmadinejad responded: “The question is what are you (Gates and troops) doing here in this region?

“You are 12,000 kilometres (7,500 miles) away on the other side of the world. You are on the other side of the world. What are you doing here? This is a serious question,” he added.

“They are playing a double game. They themselves created terrorists and say they want to fight against terrorism,” he said.

On the third day of his latest visit to Afghanistan, Gates toured a training centre for Afghan soldiers on the outskirts of the capital.

“We think Afghanistan should have good relations with all of its neighbours. But we also want all of Afghanistan’s neighbours to play an up-front game when dealing with the government of Afghanistan,” Gates told reporters.

Despite their rivalry, Washington and Tehran are both sworn enemies of the extremist Sunni Muslim Taliban militia, which ruled in Kabul from 1996 before being overthrown in the 2001 US-led invasion.

Asked about regional countries turning Afghanistan into a battleground for proxy wars, Ahmadinejad said Iran plays no role in destabilising Afghanistan.

“Iran has no role in Afghanistan’s insecurity but stands beside Afghanistan’s government and people for their security,” he said.

Karzai later arrived in Pakistan for two days’ of talks with Pakistani leaders to bolster ties between the two neighbours battling Taliban militants.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband was to deliver a speech in the United States on Wednesday pressing the Afghan government to step up efforts for a political solution with the Taliban to bring the conflict to an end.

On Wednesday, a rocket attack killed an Afghan soldier at a security post in Paktika, the eastern province which has become a flashpoint for a Taliban insurgency and which borders militant strongholds in Pakistan.

Earlier reports that the attack was caused by a car bomb and killed five people were wrong, said provincial police chief Dawlat Khan Zadran.

In the southern province of Helmand, three men were killed by a bomb blast in Marjah town, the focus of a massive offensive launched against Taliban militants last month by about 15,000 US, NATO and Afghan troops.

“A minivan struck a roadside bomb this morning that was planted by the opposition… three civilians were killed and four were wounded,” said Daud Ahmadi, a spokesman for the governor of Helmand.

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