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    Elite Iranian troops start exercise near Afghan border

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    Ground forces of Iran's elite Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) have started military exercises near the border with Afghanistan, Iranian media said.

    Ground forces of Iran's elite Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) have started military exercises near the border with Afghanistan, Iranian media said.

    The exercises were launched as Tehran's tensions with the West continue to escalate after Western powers threatened new sanctions against the Islamic Republic over its controversial nuclear program. Iran retaliated by saying that it would block the strategic Strait of Hormuz where an estimated 40 percent of the world's seaborne oil passes, in response to the West's oil embargo plans.

    "The wargames are aimed at boosting security along the Iranian borders and are part of the IRGC ground forces' routine drills staged to maintain and boost combat preparedness of the IRGC units," the Fars news agency quoted Commander of the IRGC Ground Force Brig. Gen. Mohammad Pakpour.

    The exercises, codenamed codenamed "Shohaday-e Vahdat (Martyrs of Unity)" were officially launched on Saturday, but the active phase is to begin on Monday.

    The Press TV said the exercises will be held near the eastern Iranian Khaf city with an aim to increase the readiness of IRGC forces under extreme climatic conditions.

    "Shohaday-e Vahdat maneuvers are taking place in Khaf where the temperature drops 15-21 degrees below zero," Press TV quoted Pakpour as saying.

    The United States on Saturday approved sanctions targeting Iran's oil industry, and the European Union will consider banning Iranian oil imports during a meeting of EU foreign ministers in late January.

    On Friday, Iranian lawmaker Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh said the country's maneuvers were a response to external threats, particularly those posed by the U.S. He accused Washington of using the language of threat against Iran, and said its moves in the region can only be described as hostile.

    On Monday, Iran test-fired one surface-to-surface missile and one surface-to-sea missile in a drill its navy chief said proved Tehran was in control of the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

    Iran announced on Friday it was planning to hold new "massive" naval exercises near the strategic Strait of Hormuz within the next few weeks. The drills, codenamed The Great Prophet, may coincide with major naval exercises that Israel and the United States are planning to hold in the Persian Gulf in the near future.

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