Iran plans major war games near Afghan border
01:01 p.m Aug 26, 1998 Eastern
TEHRAN, Aug 26 (Reuters) - Iran's Revolutionary Guards will soon hold large-scale military exercises near the country's tense border with Afghanistan, a military commander said in remarks published on Wednesday.
Brigadier-General Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of the guards' ground forces, said 70,000 of his troops would take part in the war games in an area near Torbat-e Jam, about 60 km (40 miles) from the Afghan border, the daily Resalat reported.
The forces will test the ``latest ground and air battle and defence equipment'' of the Revolutionary Guards during the 15-day manoeuvres, said Jafari without announcing the date of the exercises.
The war games will include ``the transfer of military hardware and fresh forces into the depth of pre-determined areas in the shortest possible time,'' he added.
The exercises come amid heightened tension between Iran, which backs the Afghan opposition, and the Taleban movement which now controls the majority of Afghanistan.
Iran has been angered by the alleged capture of dozens of Iranians by the militant Moslem militia during its recent sweep of northern Afghanistan.
Iran has repeatedly called for the release of 11 diplomats, a journalist and 35 lorry drivers who disappeared when the Taleban captured the northern city of Mazar-i-Sarif earlier this month.
The Taleban has acknowledged holding the drivers but has denied knowing the whereabouts of the others.
The commander of the Revolutionary Guards in Khorasan province, where the exercises will be held, said last week his forces were on a heightened state of alert.
Iran held similar exercises near the Afghan border in late August last year. Those exercises, held 180 km (110 miles) from the border, were intended to demonstrate Iran's military ability to its eastern neighbours and send a sharp warning to potential Afghan drug smugglers, officials said.
Iran is a key transit route for opium and heroin headed to Europe from Afghanistan and Pakistan -- the so-called ``Golden Crescent.''
Shi'ite Moslem Iran has accused the Sunni Moslem Taleban movement of giving Islam a bad name. Human rights groups have expressed concern at the Taleban's severe restrictions on women and harsh punishments for offences deemed ``un-Islamic.''
Iran, like the United Nations, refuses to recognise the Taleban and still sees former President Burhanuddin Rabbani as the legitimate ruler of Afghanistan. Only three countries -- Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- recognise the Taleban.