- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said Tuesday the state is reopening talks with a Pakistani fertilizer producer after U.S. defense officials attested that the company has taken steps to ensure its product will not help Taliban bombmakers in Afghanistan kill Americans.

The reversal means Fatima Group and its Midwest Fertilizer Co. may win tax-exempt bonds to build a plant in Posey County.

Army Lt. Gen. Michael Barbero, then the Pentagon’s general in charge of defeating improvised explosive devices (IEDs), told Congress in December 2012 that Fatima was “less than cooperative” in controlling its calcium ammonium nitrate (CAN). It is a key component of homemade bombs, a type of IED that is the top killer of U.S. service members in Afghanistan.

The Washington Times reported in January 2013 that Fatima was on the verge of obtaining $1.3 billion in tax-free bonds in Indiana, a financial package that provides lower interest rates, yet the company was unwilling to help America stop the killings.

Six months later, retired Gen. Barbero told The Times that Fatima had begun to take action. It was stopping sales in two border provinces where IEDs are made and was excising the supply chain of middle men who were funneling CAN to terrorists.

Mr. Pence, a former Republican congressman, said Tuesday that Fatima has taken a broader step by developing a new formula.

“Following Indiana’s withdrawal of support for this project, U.S. officials have reported that the government of Pakistan and Fatima Group have provided an unprecedented level of cooperation and transparency in addressing the concerns that precipitated the withdrawal of our support,” Mr. Pence said.

“Specifically, U.S. Department of Defense officials have confirmed that an experimental formula is being developed by Fatima Group to be more inert and less-detonable to limit its usefulness to extremists and terrorists.”

He said he hopes to be able to support the bond issue “with the confidence that we have done so in a manner that put the interest of our soldiers and their families first.”

In announcing last May that he was suspending state support for the bond issue, Mr. Pence said the Pentagon could not at that time affirm that Fatima was moving to make its product more inert and thus not suitable for bombs. He said he put the welfare of troops and their families above economic development.

“Without assurances from our Defense Department that the materials which have been misused by the enemy in Afghanistan will be permanently removed from production by Fatima Group in Pakistan, I cannot in good conscience tell our soldiers and their families that this deal should move forward,” he said.

As Mr. Pence spoke, Fatima was making changes. It joined the International Fertilizer Association’s product security plan, which meant it had to open its facilities to outside inspections.

Pakistan also ended its resistance and signed an agreement to share with the Pentagon information on IEDs.

“My assessment is, A.) they are sincere, and, B.) they have taken some actual steps to try to put some control on the free flow of this material,” said Gen. Barbero, who led the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) for more than two years.

Last year, about 80 percent of all IEDs in Afghanistan used homemade explosives as the main charge, of which 47 percent contain fertilizer with calcium ammonium nitrate and 45 percent potassium chlorate, according to JIEDDO.

As U.S. troops leave Afghanistan, the number killed in combat is 15 this year and is on a pace to be the lowest since 2006, according to icasualties.org.

A spokesman for Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican who served in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Marine Corps officer, said Indiana should not strike a final deal with Fatima until the Pentagon certifies that the formula has, in fact, been changed.

“Until Fatima can prove the fertilizer is non-detonable, then there should be no arrangement for a production facility anywhere in the state,” said spokesman Joe Kasper. “They’re not there yet. Until such time that they can absolutely verify that, the possibility of a deal should be off the table.”

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

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