SLUG: 2-294506 Pentagon/Afghanistan L-O)
TITLE=PENTAGON/AFGHANISTAN (L ONLY)
BYLINE= ALEX BELIDA
INTRO: A senior defense official says Iran has no reason to be upset about the presence of U-S troops in western Afghanistan, close to the Iranian border. More from V-O-A Correspondent Alex Belida at the Pentagon.
TEXT: The dismissal of possible Iranian concerns follows publication of a report alleging that a small group of U-S soldiers has moved into a town 40 kilometers from the border, just west of the Afghan provincial city of Herat.
The report, carried by the Reuters news agency, quotes unidentified military sources as saying more American troops are expected to join what is described as an advance party of around 20 soldiers.
A senior defense official, responding to questions about the report, declines to comment on specific troop movements in Afghanistan, citing security concerns.
However the official says U-S forces have been in Herat and the border area before and will continue to move through the region as commanders deem necessary.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, goes on to say Iran can only be upset about such U-S movements if it has reason to fear what the Americans might uncover about Iranian activities. He says if Iran is not engaged in any support of terrorism in western Afghanistan, then it has nothing to fear from the U-S military.
The Reuters report linked the movement of U-S troops to the border area to a recent visit to Herat by the head of American forces in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General Donald McNeill. The General was reported to have brought Kandahar's provincial governor with him to meet Herat's governor in a move described as an attempt to mediate between the two men, members of rival ethnic groups and allegedly at odds over financial and military issues.
The senior defense official downplays suggestions the involvement of the U-S commander marks an expanded role for the military beyond the hunt for fugitive al-Qaida and Taleban fighters linked to terrorist activities.
But the official tells V-O-A that while the military does not view itself as a broker between political rivals in Afghanistan and is not taking sides in any local disputes, part of the American job in the country is to promote stability.
The official notes the U-S military also has teams of soldiers stationed with various regional authorities to ensure channels of communication are kept open. He calls it an effort to avoid possible misunderstandings and to keep the peace. (Signed)
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