AFGHANISTAN: Old ammo, New problems (Updated May 29)
A U.S. Army official says Afghanistan’s army is hanging onto thousands of tons of old, degraded and hazardous amunition in depots around the country, despite the danger that it could be used to make terrorist roadside bombs – or simply blow up, putting nearby residents at risk.
Col. Ronald L. Green, the director of logistics for the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, told a Defense Department bloggers roundtable Friday (May 28) that the Afghans have 6,300 metric tons of bad ammo that they are reluctant to get rid of – and neither the U.S. Army nor NATO can make them.
Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) “has the final say” on the destruction of their own ammunition stockpiles, Green says, despite U.S. warnings that the aging amunition is either useless or poses a combustion threat. “Our hands are tied.”
Most of the ammo – which ranges from small arms bullets to rocket-propelled grenades and 14.5 millimeter shells – is left over from the Soviet occupation of the country in the 1980s. Some of it is older than that, Green says. “There’s about 54 bunkers that were made by the Russians that are packed and stacked full of ammunition,” he adds.
Despite U.S. warnings of the danger and the 2006 London Compact that requires Afghanistan to destroy unsafe and unserviceable ammunition by the end of 2010, the MoD has only been eliminating incremental amounts. Green attributes the reluctance to “a cultural affinity for hoarding.”
“This is a national treasure in their eyes,” Green said. “If it looks good. It is good.” He said two nongovernmental organizations – HALO Trust and Weapons Reduction and Abatement (WRA) have been funded through multiple avenues to eliminate the obsolete ammo within 18 months, without any cost to the Afghan government. Green says at the rate the Afghans are destroying the outdated ammo on their own, it would take 40 years to eliminate all 6,300 metric tons.
The ageing ammo is in dumps around the country at Herat, Kunduz – even outside Kabul the capital. The old stuff takes up so much space, the U.S. has to store new ammo for Afghan use in substandard facilities that will likely cause it to degrade faster.
The stockpiles are under Afghan control and while he is unaware of any pilferage, Green says concerns that some could be stolen and used to make improvised explosive devices (IEDs) “keeps me up at night.”
“We cannot prove that any of this ammunition has been stolen or moved around … but it’s a huge opportunity” for terrorists, Green says.
U.S. and NATO officials are trying to get Afghanistan’s parliament to influence President Hamid Karzai into issuing a presidential decree to destroy the old and surplus ammo, Green says.
The colonel is also worried about more than 1 million pounds of explosives used for dam construction that’s been sitting outside Herat for more than a year. It’s an explosives-grade variant of ammonium nitrate fuel oil (ANFO) — the stuff used to blow up the Murrah federal office building in Oklahoma City. Only about 3,000 pounds of low-grade ANFO was used in that 1995 terrorist attack that killed 168 people and injured hundreds more.
The Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan is a multi-national unit focusing on the development and training of Afghan security forces, including the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. CSTC-A joined with the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan Nov. 21, 2009 to form one integrated headquarters under U.S. Army Lt. Gen. William Caldwell.