With roadside bombs by far the leading killer of US troops in Afghanistan, US President Barack Obama’s administration has started a worldwide effort to stop the flow of ammonium nitrate, the fertilizer that is their basic ingredient, into the war ravaged country.
However, the campaign, dubbed Operation Global Shield, is running up against stubborn hurdles in Pakistan, where the police routinely wave tonnes of ammonium nitrate shipments across the border into Afghanistan despite that country’s ban on imports of the chemical. It is unclear whether the border guards are fooled by clever attempts to disguise the shipments as benign or are paid to turn a blind eye, or both.
The problem is compounded by lax enforcement in Afghanistan. While the Afghan government has at least passed a law banning the chemical, Pakistan has not yet done so.
Ammonium nitrate is commonly used in agriculture as a fertilizer. However, most Pakistani farmers use urea, an organic chemical, to fertilize their crops and there is only one factory in Pakistan that manufactures ammonium nitrate. That suggests, US officials said, that some of the caravans of trucks rumbling over the border into Afghanistan are carrying shipments imported into Pakistan, usually under false pretenses.
As a result, Operation Global Shield also seeks to curtail exports of the chemical to Pakistan by European allies like Germany and Sweden. Under the voluntary program, they have agreed to tighten customs procedures to try to make sure that ammonium nitrate does not end up in the hands of the Taliban or other insurgents.
The program also focuses on other so-called precursor chemicals, like potassium chloride, which can be used to make bombs.
“It’s long and it’s slow and it’s tough,” said Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, in describing the plan devised by his office in cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies.
“My goal would be to have detection devices at the borders, so that every shipment would be inspected and verified,” Holbrooke added. “To do that requires the cooperation of the Afghans and Pakistanis. The Afghans are quite willing, but we have a lot of work to do with the Pakistanis.”
Earlier this year, Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed a decree banning the import of ammonium nitrate. He gave Afghans 30 days to turn over supplies and ordered training for the police to detect illegal shipments.
Pakistani officials said that legislation regulating the use of ammonium nitrate and monitoring shipments of it was making its way through the Pakistani parliament. However, they also contend that pinning the blame solely on Pakistan is unfair, since some shipments of these chemicals were funneled into Afghanistan from Iran, over which the US has little control.
Smugglers have also become increasingly sophisticated, US administration officials said, masking the shipments by packaging them in wheat bags. Given the host of thorny security issues that divide Pakistan and the US, the issue of ammonium nitrate shipments can get lost in the shuffle.
However some US officials believe it needs to move up the list of priorities, since nearly two-thirds of combat fatalities among US and allied troops are caused by so-called improvised explosive devices, many of which use the chemical.
In a letter in August to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, US Senator Robert Casey, who has championed efforts to crack down on the ingredients for roadside bombs, implored Zardari to do more to regulate the fertilizer and tighten border controls with Afghanistan.
“I cannot overemphasize the urgency of this issue,” he wrote.
Citing the seizure of 21.8 tonnes of ammonium nitrate by NATO troops in Afghanistan in recent weeks, Casey said some interdiction efforts were working. The Pakistani floods also temporarily cut back the flow of the chemical.
However, Casey said there were still reports of hundreds of tonnes a month flowing across the border from Pakistan.
VULNERABLE: Many women do not report sexual harassment by their landlord over fears they could lose the roof over their head, an expert said A growing number of landlords are asking tenants for sex in exchange for housing as COVID-19 lockdowns and job cuts have left many struggling to pay their rent, housing experts said. A survey by the National Fair Housing Alliance of more than 100 fair housing groups combating discrimination across the US found that 13 percent had seen an increase in sexual harassment complaints during the pandemic. “If I did not have sex with him, he was going to put me out,” one woman facing eviction by her property manager told the alliance in an podcast on its Web site. “As a single
HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES? An institute of the Chinese Ministry of Public Security and a company are to be sanctioned over ‘human rights violations and abuses’ The US Department of Commerce on Friday said that it would sanction a Chinese government institute and eight companies over alleged human rights abuses against Uighurs and other minorities in China’s western Xinjiang region. “These nine parties are complicit in human rights violations and abuses committed in China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, forced labor and high-technology surveillance against Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs and other members of Muslim minority groups in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region,” the department said in a statement. The Chinese Ministry of Public Security’s Institute of Forensic Science and Aksu Huafu Textiles Co are to be sanctioned “for
‘OBVIOUS DIFFERENCE’: The Wuhan Institute of Virology has been researching bat coronaviruses to trace the SARS pathogen, which is 80 percent similar to SARS-CoV-2 The Chinese virology institute in the city where COVID-19 first emerged has three live strains of bat coronavirus on-site, but none match the new contagion wreaking havoc around the world, its director has said. Scientists think COVID-19 — which first emerged in Wuhan and has killed more than 340,000 people worldwide — originated in bats and could have been transmitted to people via another mammal. However, the director of the Wuhan Institute of Virology told state broadcaster China Global Television Network that claims made by US President Donald Trump and others that the novel coronavirus could have escaped from the facility were
Former US vice president Joe Biden on Friday said he “should not have been so cavalier” after he told a radio host that African Americans who back US President Donald Trump “ain’t black.” In a call with the US Black Chamber of Commerce that was added to his public schedule, Biden said he would never “take the African American community for granted.” “I shouldn’t have been such a wise guy,” Biden said. “No one should have to vote for any party based on their race or religion or background.” Biden faced criticism after his comments earlier on Friday on The Breakfast Club, a