Afghanistan — Old Ammunition Poses Problem in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON, June 1, 2010 — Some homes have attics, base­ments or garages full of extra things that sim­ply don’t get thrown away. Inter­na­tion­al forces in Afghanistan have found that such a hoard­ing men­tal­i­ty applies to ammu­ni­tion, regard­less of its qual­i­ty.

Dur­ing a May 28 “DoD Live” blog­gers round­table, Army Col. Ronald L. Green, logis­tics direc­tor for Com­bined Secu­ri­ty Tran­si­tion Com­mand Afghanistan, dis­cussed the dan­gers sur­round­ing old ammu­ni­tion stock­piles and the chal­lenges the NATO train­ing mis­sion faces in get­ting rid of them.

Over the past three years, the train­ing com­mand has iden­ti­fied 6,325 met­ric tons of unsafe and sur­plus ammu­ni­tion, Green said, but its removal and destruc­tion requires approval from the Afghan defense min­istry and an OK from Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai. New reports of ammu­ni­tion stock­piles, some near­ly 40 years old, con­tin­ue to come in, the colonel added. “The lat­est one was at an air­field sup­ply port, where we found anoth­er 380 met­ric tons,” he said.

Green said it’s com­mon for armies to destroy expired ammo, as its use, even in train­ing sit­u­a­tions, could put sol­diers’ lives in dan­ger. “Quite frankly, we destroy a lot of [our] ammo, because it just goes bad,” he said. “And our hands are tied right now, because we can­not destroy one ounce of [this expired Afghan] ammo.”

Though he has tried to influ­ence the defense min­istry offi­cials to destroy the old ammo, Green said, the “cul­tur­al affin­i­ty toward hoard­ing” in Afghanistan tends to over­ride his sug­ges­tions.

“They don’t want to be the one that destroyed it, and it could be used against them lat­er on, because [the stock­piles are] a nation­al trea­sure in their eyes.”

While the hoard­ing of old ammu­ni­tion most­ly amounts to a waste of stor­age space that could be bet­ter used, Green said, some in the Afghan defense min­istry think the ammu­ni­tion is suit­able for use. “If you can clean off a 40-year-old round and buff it down, to a point where it looks like new brass, they believe it’s good,” he said.

Inter­na­tion­al forces in Afghanistan will have spent about $1.2 bil­lion for ammu­ni­tion, fac­tor­ing in the next four years, Green esti­mat­ed, for both NATO forces and for the Afghan army. Because they can’t remove old ammu­ni­tion, he said, they’re run­ning out of space quick­ly.

About 1.3 mil­lion pounds of ammonite, an explo­sive com­pound, is being stored in Her­at. It was placed there by the Indi­an gov­ern­ment to help with the con­struc­tion of a dam — “a very good rea­son to have that type of com­mer­cial-grade explo­sives,” Green said.

How­ev­er, Green said, the mate­r­i­al has degrad­ed over the year or two it’s been there, and it could be used for nefar­i­ous pur­pos­es. He not­ed that the April 19, 1995, bomb­ing of a fed­er­al build­ing in Okla­homa City was accom­plished with 3,000 pounds of low-grade explo­sives.

“This is com­mer­cial-grade,” he said of the explo­sive mate­r­i­al being stored in Her­at. “And we’re talk­ing 1.3 to 1.5 mil­lion pounds. So this is what keeps me up at night.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)