WASHINGTON, Dec. 7, 2010 — Stopping the construction and use of improvised explosive devices is more than a military problem and must be addressed broadly by all governments, the director of the agency devoted to that effort said yesterday.
IEDs are the biggest killers of coalition forces in Afghanistan, where the crude, but effective, devices are made of homemade explosives, usually fertilizer ingredients like ammonium nitrate, said Army Lt. Gen. Michael L. Oates, director of the Joint IED Defeat Organization, known as JIEDDO.
“When you look at [IED] precursor materials it’s not just a military problem,” Oates said yesterday at the Foreign Press Center here. “You need the whole of government to work on the IED, whether it’s in Iraq or Afghanistan or the rest of the world.”
In Pakistan and Afghanistan, for example, government officials are trying to reduce the flow of ammonium nitrate fertilizer into Afghanistan, he said. No ammonium nitrate is produced in Afghanistan; it all comes in across the border.
“Ammonium nitrate has a legitimate purpose as a fertilizer in Pakistan, but we don’t want it [moving] into Afghanistan,” Oates said. “President [Hamid] Karzai has declared it illegal to import ammonium nitrate fertilizer and the Pakistan government has worked very hard with the producers to limit the export, legal or illegal, into Afghanistan.” The general said his organization believes this effort will have a positive impact over time.
“As we look at trying to reduce sophisticated detonation systems, our Commerce Department works with governments all over the world to limit the financing of terrorist networks,” he said.
Commerce “works with commercial industries to make sure devices made for legitimate purposes are not modified to be used for destruction,” Oates said. But almost anything that’s electronic can be used as a detonator, he added, noting the recent incidents of ink toner cartridges turned into IEDs and placed on cargo planes in Britain and Dubai.
“It was just through the vigilance of security personnel that they were able to detect that device. So getting all of the government involved in this process is very important to the solution,” Oates said.
IEDs are being used worldwide to impact stable governments, he said. “We track 300 to 400 incidents a month occurring outside Iraq and Afghanistan where people are using improvised explosive devices against law enforcement or against military security forces,” he added.
Over the past 90 days, at least three vehicle-borne explosive devices have been employed in attacks against Mexico’s security forces –- a tactic similar to terrorist actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, he said.
Criminals use IEDs to maintain control of their illegal enterprises, and ideological groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia use the devices in their fight against the standing government, he said.
“Why do they use the IED? It works. It’s easy to obtain the precursor material you need for a homemade explosive,” said Oates, whose organization has been asked for help by other countries.
Peru’s minister of defense, Oates said, has asked for assistance through the U.S. Southern Command, which arranged for engagement through JIEDDO. The Peruvian government, he said, is experiencing an increase in criminals’ use of IEDs because of a resurgence of the “Sendero Luminoso,” translated as the “Shining Path,” a Maoist insurgency in Peru that partners criminals in the drug trade.
“The Peruvian government is interested in how we might use some of our experience with IEDs to help them, principally with vehicle-borne bombs and those that are in place to kill their policemen,” he added.
“Across the globe, these are very easy-to-use devices,” Oates said. “They’re very concealable, they’re inexpensive and they are terribly devastating in most cases against civilian populations.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)