Since 2008, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have accounted for more than half of coalition casualties in Afghanistan. In 2010, the country outlawed calcium ammonium nitrate (CAN), the explosive ingredient used in around 80 percent of IEDs. A 110-pound bag of calcium ammonium nitrate is good for 82 pounds of bomb-ready explosive material – enough to destroy an armored vehicle.
But because of its use as fertilizer by farmers and by insurgents for its high explosive yield, the demand keeps smugglers busy bringing it into the country hidden among other goods.
Pakistan is the primary source of CAN entering Afghanistan (China and Iran are said to be suppliers too). The country’s two CAN factories produce thousands of pounds of the material per year and the 1,500-mile border between Pakistan and Afghanistan has a “history of smuggling goods in both directions at many points.”
The U.S. provided assistance to Pakistan as it adopted a counter-IED strategy in 2011, sending trainers and equipment and helping establish a public awareness campaign but bureaucratic challenges often stand in the way to progress, says a new GAO report.
Visa delays for U.S. trainers and ensuring timely delivery of counter-IED equipment are key difficulties listed by the GAO. “According to officials, visa renewals sometimes take up to 6 weeks, which can force trainers to leave the country until they get their visa renewed. This has sometimes resulted in disruptions and canceled training courses,” says the report.
Counter-IED equipment, like electronic jammers, often have problems clearing customs or get stuck in transit. As of April, about $12 million worth of jammers sent to Pakistan were still in Karachi waiting to be released by customs officials. The U.S. originally planned to send double that amount, but kept rest of the order in storage after realizing the delay.
U.S. law requires agencies to make sure that states receiving security assistance aren’t committing human rights violations so trainees must be vetted. U.S. officials told the GAO, “Pakistan has not always been timely in releasing the names of officials who are to receive the training,” causing at least one class to be canceled last October.
Clearing the bureaucratic hurdles to stopping IEDs is just a small part of the broader IED problem, however. Substitutes like potassium chlorate, another fertilizer chemical, are readily available and can be used as access to CAN becomes more difficult.
“According to State officials, other substitutes for CAN, including potassium chlorate and urea, are exported by countries other than Pakistan,” says the GAO report.
Read full report at the GAO Web site.
photo from isafmedia