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Nato troops are active in Kandahar's Zheri district, where the suspect is said to have been held

A member of the elite al-Quds force of Iran's Revolutionary Guard has been captured in southern Afghanistan accused of arms smuggling, Nato says.

He was detained last Saturday in southern Kandahar province, the current focus of Nato offensives.

The man was a “key Taliban weapons facilitator” involved in smuggling arms from Iran to Afghanistan, said a Nato statement.

It is not the first time Iran has been accused of backing Afghan insurgents.

The man was detained “for facilitating the movement of weapons between Iran and Kandahar through [southern] Nimruz province,” a spokesman for the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) said.

He was held in the Zheri district of Kandahar, a province known as the birthplace of the Taliban movement.

“The now-detained man was considered a Kandahar-based weapons facilitator with direct ties to other Taliban leaders in the province,” the Isaf statement added.

A senior Afghan security official in Kandahar said coalition forces had been monitoring the man for some time.

He told the BBC: “Iranian intelligence officers are helping the Taliban and drug dealers in the south. We deal with it every day. This is a known fact now.

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Iranian-Afghan relations
Iran opposed Taliban government 1996-2001; backed opposition Northern Alliance

Taliban killed eight Iranian diplomats and an Iranian reporter in 1998

Iran concerned about drug trafficking across shared border

More than one million Afghan refugees and many illegal migrants still in Iran

Iran says it is a major investor in Afghanistan. It has built roads, bridges, power lines and border stations

Iranian influence in Afghan affairs is a growing concern to the US and its allies

Cash and control in Afghanistan
“It was the international forces who arrested him. They had been listening to him for some time and monitoring his electronic communications.”

The BBC's Bilal Sarwary, in Kabul, says the Iranians are widely suspected of having supplied the Taliban in south and south-western Afghanistan with roadside bombs and other weapons.

Afghan intelligence officials privately suspect Iranian intelligence of meddling, our correspondent says, but are sensitive about making the accusation publicly.

Landlocked Afghanistan's reliance on its western neighbour was highlighted on Thursday when Iran – without any explanation – stopped fuel supplies from going over the border.

A source from the Afghan domestic intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security, told the BBC some of Afghanistan's border guards were last week jailed in Iran after crossing over the border, apparently by mistake.

The Kabul government handed over some Iranian intelligence officers they had previously detained in order to get their border guards released, the source said.

Earlier this year, it emerged President Hamid Karzai's government had been receiving bags of cash from Iran.

The US voiced concern about the donations, but analysts said a number of foreign governments were running what amounted to slush funds for Afghan officials in an effort to court influence.