- The Washington Times - Monday, January 28, 2013

A congressman who served as Marine officer in Iraq and Afghanistan says “it’s crazy” that a Pakistani fertilizer maker is being allowed to build a plant in the U.S. while it rejects Pentagon pleas to control its products that end up in homemade bombs that kill American troops.

The Washington Times reported Sunday that the Fatima Group of Pakistan has approval from Indiana to receive $1.27 billion in tax-exempt bond proceeds to build its first fertilizer plant in America.

Fatima is the sole producer of calcium ammonium nitrate, or CAN, that is used by the Taliban in homemade bombs that kill and maim U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The corporation has rejected Pentagon requests to dye the material so that border guards can identify it, and to take steps that would aid in the U.S. being able to track shipments.

“It’s crazy,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, referring to Fatima as a “pseudo-terrorist organization that won’t comply with any of our requests.”

“We’re not asking them to curtail production,” said Mr. Hunter, who has been a leading voice in Congress in urging the Pentagon to come up with ways to defeat homemade bombs. “At the very least, dye it. And their answer is ‘no.’ And not only ‘no,’ but now we’re going to take advantage of a tax exempt scenario and move into the American market but still creating the calcium ammonium nitrate that’s going to kill Americans in Afghanistan. That is absolutely nuts.”

The tax-exempt bonds will allow Fatima to pay a lower interest rate to lenders.

“At the very least, they should have to comply with our requests for them to manage their [calcium ammonium nitrate] better. Fatima controls it all,” Mr. Hunter said, adding that Fatima’s assistance could drastically reduce the number of homemade bombs in Afghanistan. “I think the State Department is totally inept when it comes to being able to have oversight on things like this. This should not have gotten to this point.”

Mr. Hunter also said that Fatima is influenced by “bad actors in Pakistan who want to create havoc and chaos in Afghanistan and thwart the U.S. efforts there has ties to Fatima.” He declined to elaborate.

But a government source who was informed of the congressman’s comments said there is evidence that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency is influencing Fatima.

Elements of ISI helped establish the Taliban in Afghanistan as an ally on its western front, and U.S. intelligence sources say ISI continues to help the insurgents to this day in their war with the elected government in Kabul.

The Pakistani Embassy in Washington did not respond to questions from The Times.

The revelation that Fatima has been ignoring Pentagon appeals came in Dec. 13 testimony from Army Lt. Gen. Michael Barbero, who heads the Defense Department’s Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization.

In blunt criticism of Fatima, Gen. Barbero told a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee that he had met the Fatima leaders and urged them to take several steps, including dyeing the CAN. The company said no, and further contact was cut off by the Pakistan government.

“The producers within Pakistan have been less than cooperative,” said Gen. Barbero, adding that Fatima-produced [calcium ammonium nitrate] is only form of the substance making its way across the border.

“Despite making minor packaging, tracking and marketing changes, they have not implemented any effective product security or stewardship efforts,” he testified.

At the time of his testimony, nearly 1,900 Americans in Afghanistan had been killed or otherwise injured by homemade bombs in 2012.

• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at rscarborough@washingtontimes.com.

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