The US is set to deliver US$3 billion worth of equipment aimed at countering Taliban-made crude bombs used in the Afghan war, a US official said yesterday.
Improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, have become the main weapon used against international and Afghan forces fighting to end an insurgency increasingly seen as bogged down in favor of the Taliban.
The equipment was “at least doubling” current counter-IED capacity as forces did not have all they needed to take on an escalating threat, said Ashton Carter, US undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.
The new equipment, including tethered surveillance blimps, heavily armored vehicles and detection machinery such as robots and mine detectors, would arrive in Afghanistan in coming months, he told reporters.
Carter said the equipment would be accompanied by about 1,000 counter-IED experts, including laboratory technicians, intelligence analysts and law enforcement officials.
“This is an enormous plug of extra effort,” he said, adding that the equipment would be shared with coalition and Afghan forces.
IEDs are the biggest threat facing troops engaged in the war in Afghanistan, now well into its ninth year.
They are easy and cheap to produce, often using ammonium nitrate fertilizer that is produced in Pakistan and trucked across the border into Afghanistan, Carter said.
The bombs are difficult to detect, often buried by roadsides and remotely detonated to devastating effect. Many of the more than 330 foreign soldiers killed so far this year have died of wounds sustained in IED attacks. Those who do not die often suffer life-changing injuries.
A UN report last month marked an “alarming” 94 percent increase in IED incidents in the first four months of this year compared to last year, as the military says intensifying efforts against the Taliban are being matched by more attacks.
“Most ammonium nitrate comes from Pakistan and some IEDs are built across the border, some here in Afghanistan,” Carter said.
Afghan authorities had banned the use of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and were tightening the border to restrict its flow into Afghanistan, Carter added.
“The United States and Afghanistan have asked that Pakistan monitor its production and export of ammonium nitrate and other explosives precursors,” Carter said.
“As Pakistan itself begins to suffer from the same homemade IEDs ... their willingness to act is growing. This is a very, very welcome sign given how much of this stuff comes over the border from Pakistan,” he said.
Pakistan has long been implicated in the violence in Afghanistan, with the government’s intelligence arm and its military blamed for supporting and collaborating with militant groups based on its side of the border.
Afghanistan’s national security advisor Rangin Dadfar Spanta this week called on Pakistani authorities to take action against the groups, which he said included al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the Haqqani network.
Afghan officials have blamed a number of major attacks on Pakistani-based groups whom they say are supported by Pakistan’s intelligence and military.
Carter said a recent spike in casualties among international troops was not a sign the Taliban were becoming more effective, rather a result of greater allied efforts against the insurgents.
“It is fair to say we have been intensifying our operations so much in the last few months, this is the cause of the lion’s share of increased IED activity,” Carter said.
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