US throws $3bn at Afghan bombs
Kabul - The United States is set to deliver $3bn worth of equipment to Afghanistan aimed at countering Taliban-made crude bombs used in the war, a US official said on Thursday.
Improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, have become the main weapon used against international and Afghan forces fighting to end an insurgency increasingly seen as bogged down in favour of the Taliban.
The equipment was "at least doubling" current counter-IED capacity as forces did not have all they needed to take on an escalating threat, said Ashton Carter, US undersecretary of defence for acquisition, technology and logistics.
The new equipment, including tethered surveillance blimps, heavily armoured vehicles and detection machinery such as robots and mine detectors, would arrive in Afghanistan in the coming months, he told reporters.
Carter said the equipment would be accompanied by about 1 000 counter-IED experts, including laboratory technicians, intelligence analysts and law enforcement officials.
"This is an enormous plug of extra effort," he said, adding that the equipment would be shared with coalition and Afghan forces.
IEDs are the biggest threat facing troops engaged in the war in Afghanistan, now well into its ninth year.
They are easy and cheap to produce, often using ammonium nitrate fertiliser that is produced in Pakistan and trucked across the border into Afghanistan, Carter said.
The bombs are difficult to detect, often buried by roadsides and remotely detonated to devastating effect.
Many of the foreign soldiers killed so far this year have died as a result of IED attacks. Others often suffer life-changing injuries.
Two Nato soldiers died on Thursday in the east and south of the country, one by a roadside bomb, Nato's International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) said, taking to 341 the number of foreign troops killed in Afghanistan this year.
June saw more than 102 foreign troops deaths, a monthly record since the war began with the 2001 US-led invasion to overthrow the Taliban regime.
A June UN report marked an "alarming" 94% increase in IED incidents in the first four months of this year compared to 2009, as the military says intensifying efforts against the Taliban are being matched by more attacks.
Afghan authorities had banned the use of ammonium nitrate fertiliser and were tightening the border to restrict its flow into Afghanistan, Carter said.
"As Pakistan itself begins to suffer from the same homemade IEDs... their willingness to act is growing. This is a very, very welcome sign given how much of this stuff comes over the border from Pakistan," he said.
Pakistan has long been implicated in the violence in Afghanistan, with the government's intelligence arm and its military blamed for supporting and collaborating with militant groups based on its side of the border.
Afghanistan's national security adviser Rangin Dadfar Spanta this week called on Pakistani authorities to take action against the groups, which he said included al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the Haqqani network.
Afghan officials have blamed a number of major attacks on militant groups that have carved out havens in Pakistan's northwestern tribal belt.
Carter attributed a recent spike in casualties among international troops to greater efforts against the insurgents.
"It is fair to say we have been intensifying our operations so much in the last few months, this is the cause of the lion's share of increased IED activity."
Detection and controlled detonation of IEDs had risen considerably, Carter said, though he conceded that the size of the bombs and the magnitude of the damage caused by them was increasing.
The United States and Nato have more than 140 000 troops in Afghanistan.
Another 10 000 are to deploy in coming weeks in an effort to drive the Taliban from their strongholds, mainly in southern provinces Helmand and Kandahar.