Pakistan clamps down on bomb-making materials into Afghanistan

Pakistani officials have beefed up security in the contentious border regions of northwest part of the country, to keep the materials from making their way into the hands of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, Brig. Gen. Robert Walters, deputy director of the Pentagon's Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) said Monday, according to The Associated Press.

"The government of Pakistan has done several things to assist in this counter [improvised explosive device] effort," Walters said during a speech in Islamabad on the Defense Department's ongoing efforts to curb the rise of roadside bombs being used against U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan. 

At the top of that bomb-making material list is calcium ammonium nitrate, an explosive compound found in fertilizers supplied by Pakistan to Afghan farmers in the eastern part of the country. 

A volatile substance on its own, once mixed and processed with gasoline and other chemicals, bomb-makers can produce a distilled version of ammonium nitrate from the fertilizer mixture. 

This highly combustible, fertilizer-based compound has been the key ingredient in thousands of improvised explosive devices [IEDs] in eastern and southern Afghanistan. 

JIEDDO chief Lt. Gen. Michael Barbero said last October that top Pentagon and State Department officials are discussing a "framework of cooperation" with Pakistan to combat the flow of ammonium-nitrate-rich fertilizers into Afghanistan. 

“We have had discussions, and we had several exchanges, we've had two groups of Pakistani military visit [our] headquarters and some of our training facilities. And I've been [to Pakistan] twice to meet with ... partners to talk about this," Barbero said in a speech in Washington last year. 

Along with the Pakistani military's efforts to control fertilizer shipments into Afghanistan, members of the Fatima group — a Pakistani fertilizer firm that makes the majority of the material that ends up across the border — have also worked to keep its products out of IEDs. 

The group has reportedly improved distribution, packaging and tracking procedures to prevent fertilizer shipments from being lost or illegally rerouted to Taliban and other insurgent groups in Afghanistan. 

However, Indiana state officials recently pulled financial support for the group's plans to expand its operations into the United States, over concern the company's security measures were not enough to prevent the material from ending up in Taliban hands, the AP reports. 

“Economic development is important, but the safety and security of our troops in harm's way is more important,” Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) said in a statement in February. 

The Obama administration has publicly backed the Fatima Group's expansion plans into the United States. 

“We have been clear that Pakistan, both government and industry, must do more to prevent the flow of Calcium Ammonium Nitrate into Afghanistan,” a State Department spokeswoman said in April. 

“We agree with DOD that there has been some recent progress with Fatima and greater cooperation with the Government of Pakistan in this regard, and we will continue to work toward measurable progress," the spokeswoman said at the time.