KABUL – Taking aim at the U.S., Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Wednesday that it's the United States that is playing a "double game" in Afghanistan, fighting terrorists it once supported.
At a news conference in the Afghan capital, Ahmadinejad was asked to respond to U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who earlier in the week accused Tehran of "playing a double game" by trying to have a good relationship with the Afghan government while undermining U.S. and NATO efforts by providing some support to the Taliban.
Tehran has said it supports the Afghan government and denies allegations that it helps the Taliban. Iran calls the accusation part of a broad anti-Iranian campaign and says it makes no sense that its Shiite-led government would help the fundamentalist Sunni movement of the Taliban.
"I believe that they themselves," who are now fighting militants in Afghanistan, "are playing a double game," he said. "They themselves created terrorists and now they're saying that they are fighting terrorists."
During the 10 years the that the Soviet Union fought in Afghanistan, the U.S. supplied rebels with supplies ranging from mules to advanced weaponry, including Stinger anti-aircraft missiles that played a crucial role in neutralizing Soviet air power. The U.S. money spigot, however, was later turned off and the world watched Afghanistan plunge into chaos and eventually harbor Al Qaeda terrorists.
Gates, who left Afghanistan shortly before Ahmadinejad spoke, called Ahmadinejad's visit to Kabul "certainly bothersome."
"We think Afghanistan should have good relations with all its neighbors, but we want all of Afghanistan's neighbors" to deal fairly with President Hamid Karzai's government," Gates said.
Karzai said Iran was assisting Afghanistan with reconstruction projects, improving education and helping provide electricity.
"We are very hopeful that our brother nation of Iran will work with us in bringing peace and security to Afghanistan so that both our countries will be secure," Karzai said, adding that Afghanistan has a very good relationship with Tehran.
"We have mentioned several times to our brother nation, Iran, that we don't want any one to use our soil against any of our neighbors," he said.
Ahmadinejad and Karzai both spoke at the presidential palace, but it was the Iranian leader who did nearly all of the talking.
He said the best way to fight terrorists was not on the battlefield, but through the use of intelligence, which does not result in the death of troops or civilians.
He repeatedly he raised the Iranian capture of Abdulmalik Rigi, former leader of an insurgent group known as Jundallah. Iran has accused the U.S. and Britain of supporting Jundallah in an effort to weaken the Iranian government — a charge that both nations deny.
He said the U.S. and other nations would be better off using intelligence, not military force, to fight militants in Afghanistan.
"Iran didn't kill any innocent civilians," in the arrest of Rigi, he said, adding later that the U.S. was trying to bring civilization to Afghanistan "by gun and bomb."