US, Pak to work together on 'new fertilizer' to thwart bomb makers

Last Updated: Tue, Feb 26, 2013 18:08 hrs

Washington: The United States and Pakistan will begin working together on a new fertilizer formula that could be a significant technological step to limit the ability of terror groups to make improvised explosives and car bombs using the ingredient.

An agreement to try to make a product more inert was reached last week after Pakistani officials from Fatima Group, a major fertilizer manufacturer, met with Pentagon officials, reports the CNN.

Lt. Gen. Michael Barbero, the head of the Pentagon's Joint Improved Explosive Device Defeat Organization, met with Fatima representatives to urge them again to take steps to control fertilizer inventories. Fatima Group is the Pakistani-based producer of calcium ammonium nitrate (CAN). It was developed as a non-explosive alternative to ammonium nitrate, long a key ingredient in homemade bombs used widely in Pakistan and in Afghanistan. But it can be converted into an explosive mixture.

Pakistan and the US will now work on a "reformulated" CAN product in hopes of reducing its effectiveness in homemade bombs.

It is produced by two factories in Pakistan that are both owned and operated by Fatima. It also has now confirmed to the Pentagon in writing that it has suspended sales of CAN fertilizer products in the border provinces to 228 dealers in the area.

It is also working on plans for more readily visible bagging of CAN in hopes Pakistani border control agents will stop smuggling when they see it.

According to the Pentagon, homemade explosives continue to be the main charge of IEDs found in Afghanistan. Most of the roughly 87 percent of IEDs that contain homemade explosive material are comprised of ammonium nitrate derived from Pakistani-produced calcium ammonium nitrate fertilizer.

Even with the impending drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the threat of those explosives remains significant.

The Pentagon says more than 1,900 U.S. troops were killed or wounded in such IED attacks in 2012, accounting for more than 60 percent of American combat casualties.

There were nearly 14,500 IED-related events in Afghanistan last year, including both detection and attacks. 

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