Casey Chairs Foreign Relations Committee Hearing: Jamming the IED Assembly Line: Impeding the Flow of Ammonium Nitrate in South and Central Asia

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), Chairman of the Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today chaired a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee entitled “Jamming the IED Assembly Line: Impeding the Flow of Ammonium Nitrate in South and Central Asia.”

Witnesses at the hearing included Mary Beth Goodman, Senior Economic Adviser to the Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan at the U.S. Department of State, John Woods, Deputy Assistant Director for Homeland Security in the Investigations National Security Division at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, David Sedney, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia at the U.S. Department of Defense and Brig. Gen. Michael Shields, Deputy Director for Operations and Requirements at the Joint Improvised Explosive Devise Defeat Organization (JIEDDO).

Senator Casey’s opening statement is below.


November 18, 2010

“Jamming the IED Assembly Line:
Impeding the Flow of Ammonium Nitrate in South and Central Asia”

Last week, Army Specialist Anthony Vargas, 27, of Reading, Pa., lost his life in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit using an improvised explosive device.  He was assigned to 1st Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.  Vargas is survived by his wife, Luisa, and three children who live in Clarksville, Tennessee.  His father, Julio Vargas, and mother, Maria Vargas, live in Reading.  

Marine Lance Corporal Larry Johnson, from my home town of Scranton, was killed in Afghanistan last February.  Lance Corporal Johnson was trained as a combat engineer whose job it was to seek and destroy improvised explosive devices (IEDs).  He was 19 years old.

In March, Pakistani police seized 6,600 pounds of ammonium nitrate stashed in a fruit market in Lahore. Investigators believe the three men arrested in the seizure were connected to a series of suicide bomb blasts that killed more than 50 people.  

The main explosive ingredient used in most of the IED attacks against our troops, coalition forces, and Afghan and Pakistani civilians is ammonium nitrate.
Today the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs meets to examine the grave implications of the threat posed by ammonium nitrate and other precursor ingredients in IEDs.  AN is a common threat that is faced by Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States and we need to collectively do more to restrict the flow of AN in the region.  

The statistics on IEDs in Afghanistan are sobering.  In 2009 alone, more than 6,000 IEDs were discovered, the vast majority of which used ammonium nitrate as their main explosive ingredient.  A recent Pentagon report said that fully 80% of IEDs in Afghanistan are made using AN.  According to CSIS, IEDs are the number one killer of U.S. and coalition forces – through the first nine months of 2010, 190 U.S. forces have perished and an astounding 2,459 have been wounded by IEDs.  Since January 1st of this year, more than 1,200 Afghan civilians have been killed by IEDs.

In response, the Afghan government banned the use of AN as a fertilizer earlier this year.  Despite this effort and vigilance by Afghan National Security Forces, IED incidents and casualties have steadily increased.  The Afghan government appears committed to this fight and has enacted the appropriate legal measures and enforcement efforts.  But ammonium nitrate is still ubiquitous in Afghanistan due to smuggling along supply routes from its neighbors, particularly from Pakistan.  

The amounts of AN reportedly ferried into Afghanistan from Pakistan are staggering. The Los Angeles Times reported in May that as much as 85 tons of ammonium nitrate was smuggled into Afghanistan from Pakistan in a single night, a shipment that could yield more than 2,500 IEDs.

What can Pakistan do to address this common threat?  
First, the Pakistani parliament should pass legislation that better restricts ammonium nitrate and other explosive precursor materials like potassium chlorate.  While I understand that farmers in Pakistan rely on AN as a fertilizer, especially of cotton, Pakistani officials may want to consider a temporary ban during this precarious period.  A local ban was instituted in the Multan district earlier this year as militant attacks were on the rise.  At a minimum, Pakistani authorities need a coherent legislative framework in order to better regulate this dangerous chemical.

Second, more needs to be done to track the flow of ammonium nitrate inside of Pakistan.  I referenced the seizure of ammonium nitrate in Lahore last March.  Zulfiqar Hameed, the senior Lahore police official in charge of that investigation said that his officers could have tracked down the middlemen who supplied the ammonium nitrate to the militants if Pakistan required manufacturers to put tracking numbers on each fertilizer bag.

"It's a totally undocumented market," Mr. Hameed said. "There's no reliable way of finding out who bought those bags. That's a huge problem."

Finally, the U.S. needs to work more closely with Pakistan to ensure that AN does not flow across the border to Afghanistan.  The British have been very helpful in working with Pakistani border guards to provide training and equipment that better detect and interdict AN and other illicit materials as they cross the border.  This focus on border security could also have positive spillover effect on restricting the flow of other illicit material across the border.  The Afghan Pakistani border is famously porous and there is little expectation that it can be completely sealed.  However, the major crossings, especially at Chaman and Torkham, should receive special priority since so many trucks pass through them on a daily basis.

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses for their recommendations on what more the United States and Pakistan can do together.

I have reached out to numerous senior officials in Pakistan and the United States to implore them to focus on this fundamental threat to our troops and civilians in the region. I spoke with General David Petreaus on the very day that he was confirmed here in the Senate for his current post in Afghanistan about the threat posed by AN.  Former U.S. Ambassador to Anne Patterson was a stalwart leader on this issue in Islamabad, working to ensure that AN was part of bilateral discussions with the Pakistanis.  I look forward to continuing this dialogue with her very distinguished successor Ambassador Cameron Munter.  

In the Senate, I led a bi-partisan resolution in June calling for governments in the region to effectively monitor and regulate the manufacture, sale, transport, and use of ammonium nitrate fertilizer. This resolution passed by unanimous consent and was joined by Senators McCaskill, Levin, Kyl, Kaufman, Webb, Reed, and Snowe.  

We have witnessed positive developments in recent months.  Ambassador Holbrooke’s team has focused in on this problem and has intensified its engagement on this issue.  DHS is playing a lead role in Project Global Shield, which if successful will stem the international flow of precursor chemicals that can be used in homemade bombs.  JIEDDO and the Department of Defense have played important leadership roles in attacking IEDs and their supply networks.  And later this month, the Pakistani government will host a National Counter-IED forum, an essential step towards establishing a whole of government approach to address the problem.  

Pakistan has suffered horrific losses of security personnel and civilians over the past few years.  This fact is not acknowledged enough in our deliberations on the war in Afghanistan.  But in recognizing this tragedy, we must also do all that we can to address the supply lines that lead to these attacks. By working together, I believe that we can make progress on this issue and deny extremists a key material that is killing our troops. We know that we cannot completely eradicate AN overnight.  But, if through our collective efforts, we can make it that much harder for the bomb-maker, then we will have accomplished a lot.

We must exercise extraordinary vigilance in stemming the unregulated flow of ammonium nitrate in this region because of its importance to U.S. national security and the lives of our troops and our allies.  I want to thank our witnesses for their work on this issue and I look forward to their testimony.   

We are honored to be joined by two distinguished panels to help us assess these issues and evaluate policy options.  First, we will hear from Mary Beth Goodman, Senior Economic Adviser to Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan.  

Second, we will hear from John Woods, Deputy Assistant Director for Homeland Security Investigations, National Security Division, within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.  

Next Mr. David Sedney, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia will share the perspective of the Pentagon U.S. Department of Defense.  Welcome back, Mr. Sedney.
Finally, we will hear from Brigadier General Michael Shields, the Deputy Director for Operations and Requirements, Joint Improvised Explosive Devise Defeat Organization (JIEDDO).  I have a great deal of respect for JIEDDO’s work and appreciate their willingness to brief me on my staff on a regular basis.

Before we start, I should say that I'm aware of the sensitive nature of this issue, and so I understand that we may need to return to some aspects of it in a closed setting.