WASHINGTON—Iran has sent arms and dispatched paramilitary operatives to help Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro maintain his hold on power, the top U.S. military commander for Central and South America said Wednesday.
“We see a growing Iranian influence in there,” Adm. Craig Faller, the head of the U.S. Southern Command, told reporters, citing the “alarming and concerning” presence of military personnel from the elite Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Tehran has used the force to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and other foreign allies and proxies.
Iran’s and Venezuela’s missions to the United Nations didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Iran is just one U.S. adversary backing the embattled Venezuela leader. Thousands of Cubans have been “basically owning” the country’s intelligence service and guard force that protects Mr. Maduro, Adm. Faller said. Hundreds of Russians have also been instrumental in providing support to “keep key elements of Maduro’s military just ready enough,” he added.
Adm. Faller’s comments on Iran come amid rising tensions between Washington and Tehran and represent a rare instance in which a senior U.S. military official has publicly accused Iran of shipping arms to Venezuela.