The fertilizer bags have been used by Afghan insurgents to make bombs that have so far injured 3200 US soldiers in 2011, up 22 percent over 2010, according to the Pentagon.
“We are sweeping more and more of this stuff off the battlefield,” Lt. Gen. Michael D. Barbero, head of US military command said of the fertilizer bombs. “But it just keeps coming, and it keeps growing.”
Almost all of the ammonium nitrate used in the Taliban’s bombs comes from two big fertilizer plants across the border in Pakistan. Barbero concluded that the best way to slow the Taliban killing was to make it harder for the insurgents to obtain the fertilizer, which is banned in Afghanistan because it can be made into explosives, Washington Post sad in a report on Saturday.
In August, the general called Fawad Mukhtar, the chairman of the Fatima Group, which owns the fertilizer plants, and asked to meet with him in Pakistan.
Mukhtar replied that Barbero did not need to travel. He was planning to visit the United States to drop off his son at college and promised to stop by Barbero’s office in Arlington. The two met for about 30 minutes.
Barbero told the Pakistani businessman that the fertilizer from his plants was responsible for most of the U.S. deaths in Afghanistan. Mukhtar countered that less than 1 percent of his product fell into insurgents’ hands and was fashioned into bombs. The vast majority of the fertilizer was used for farming; people depended on his product to eat and live.
“He is not a radical,” Barbero said of Mukhtar. “I think he wants to be part of the solution.”
Meanwhile, expert from fertilizer industry described how the Taliban convert fertilizer into explosives, a process he has studied for years by making and detonating crude bombs himself.
The first step is to remove calcium carbonate, which the industry began adding to ammonium nitrate fertilizer in the 1970s to make it less explosive. Taliban bomb-makers remove the calcium by pouring the fertilizer granules into a large pot of hot water. The insoluble calcium carbonate sinks to the bottom of the container.
The insurgents then dry the ammonium nitrate solution. The final product, which looks like laundry detergent, is packed in yellow plastic jugs. Blasting caps are fashioned out of ballpoint pens or glass tubes full of acid. The bombs contain no metal, making them exceptionally hard to detect.