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15 octobre 2013 2 15 /10 /octobre /2013 12:30
Iranian Smugglers Slowed But Not Stopped


October 15, 2013: Strategy Page


A U.S. court recently sentenced two Singapore men to prison (for 34 and 37 months) after convicting them of illegally shipping American electronic items to Iran. This ended several years of investigations and legal proceedings. The case first became public in 2011 when American criminal investigators, in cooperation with their counterparts in Singapore tracked down and arrested five Singaporeans who had arranged for 6,000 American made radio frequency modules (RFMs) to be diverted to Iran. This was illegal, and was orchestrated by an Iranian citizen who was never arrested. Between 2008 and 2010 sixteen of these RFMs were found in unexploded roadside bombs in Iraq. It was eventually found that the RFMs, and other components of the bombs, had been smuggled into Iraq from Iran. Four companies were used to deceive American export controls so that the RFMs could be redirected to Iran. Singapore eventually agreed to extradite two of the men to the United States for prosecution. The other three were found not guilty (or not guilty enough) in Singapore.


The war on Iranian arms smuggling has been intensifying in the last decade. Most countries cooperate, but not all. While Turkey has been getting cozy with Iran, the Turks still enforce international trade sanctions against Iran. But as Turkey encourages its companies to do more business with Iran, there are more opportunities to smuggle forbidden goods to assist Iranian nuclear weapons and ballistic missile projects. Iran takes advantage of this whenever possible.


Germany was once a favorite place for Iran to buy equipment for their ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs but over five years ago the Germans began cracking down. For example, in 2008, a German citizen was prosecuted for running a weapons related smuggling operation. The defendant shipped 16 tons of high-grade graphite, used for making rocket nozzles, to Iran in 2005-7. The defendant mislabeled the graphite as low-grade, which was legal to sell to Iran. Another ten tons of the high-grade graphite was caught by Turkish customs officials. Germany adopted stricter export rules for Iran three years ago, and promptly began seeking out and prosecuting those who ignored the ban. This did not stop the Iranians from using Germany as a source of forbidden goods. In response Germany have been prosecuting people for exporting special metals and manufacturing equipment needed for ballistic missile warheads. All this slows down the Iranians but has not stopped them.


Ever since the U.S. embargo was imposed in 1979 (after Iran broke diplomatic protocol by seizing the American embassy), Iran has sought, with some success, to offer big money to smugglers who can beat the embargo and get needed industrial and military equipment. This is a risky business, and American and European prisons are full of Iranians, and other nationals, who tried and failed to procure forbidden goods. The smuggling operations are currently under more scrutiny, and attack, because of Iran's growing nuclear weapons program. But the Iranians simply offer more money, and more smugglers step up to keep the goodies coming.

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14 octobre 2013 1 14 /10 /octobre /2013 19:50
Royal Dragoon Guard receives Military Cross

British troops on patrol in Jackal vehicles (library image) [Picture: Leading Airman (Photographer) Si Ethell, Crown copyright]


14 October 2013 Ministry of Defence


Corporal Oliver Bainbridge has been recognised for his brave actions after his patrol vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.


Corporal Bainbridge’s troop had been ordered to move into position to watch over 2 Brigade Reconnaissance Force units as they began to move towards a patrol base.

As they moved into position, the lead Jackal vehicle, of which Corporal Bainbridge was the commander, struck an improvised explosive device (IED), disabling the vehicle and engulfing it in debris and dust:

It really threw us about,” he said. “It blew the whole vehicle forward.

Corporal Bainbridge’s driver, who had a suspected broken femur, was semi-conscious and in shock. Quickly seizing control, Corporal Bainbridge conducted effective first aid before reassuring his gunner, who had been blown from the vehicle and was disorientated, and ordering him to safety.

The controlled explosion of a roadside bomb
The controlled explosion of a roadside bomb in Helmand province (library image) [Picture: Crown copyright]

As a medic moved forward to assist, their position came under heavy machine gun fire. Corporal Bainbridge grabbed his injured driver, dragging him to a crater caused by the blast while simultaneously instructing the Vallon (IED detector) team and medic to seek cover.

Corporal Bainbridge lay on the driver, shielding him with his own body while exposing himself to the incoming fire for several minutes. He said:

I just wanted to protect him because he was vulnerable and couldn’t protect himself, so I had to help him.

He then took up a rifle, his own had been broken by the blast, to suppress the firing point before personally co-ordinating the extraction of his driver to the relative safety of a Warthog armoured vehicle:

At the time I just had my mind set on one thing and that was making sure there were no more casualties.

With his crew safe, and with the light fading, Corporal Bainbridge returned to his vehicle to remove all mission-essential equipment, a task that took 2 hours to complete as everything hand been bent and mangled by the blast:

I said I’d do it because the fire was so accurate and I didn’t want people standing there making a bigger target,” he said. “When I’d stripped enough equipment off to make a load I’d call guys forward to get it then they’d drag it back and wait until I’d stripped another load.

Corporal Oliver Bainbridge
Corporal Oliver Bainbridge of the Royal Dragoon Guards [Picture: Corporal Andy Reddy, Crown copyright]

Corporal Bainbridge then moved with his troop to a defensive position 100 metres north of the stricken vehicle and, at first light, he led a 3-man team back to oversee its recovery by a Warthog, under small arms fire.

Despite the risk to his own safety, Corporal Bainbridge returned for a third time to ensure nothing could be exploited by insurgents in a display of personal courage, selfless commitment and inspired leadership:

I’ve been asked why I went back, but it was my vehicle, so it was my responsibility. How can you ask somebody else to go in your place?

This action typifies Corporal Bainbridge’s character; during his military career he has been struck by IEDs on no less than 3 occasions. He said:

Seeing the damage an IED can do, it’s always in my mind. I wouldn’t say it makes you more cautious, but it means you don’t take unnecessary risks.

Corporal Bainbridge was enjoying a break at Bovington Camp when he was called in to see the Colonel:

I thought, oh no, am I in trouble?” admitted Corporal Bainbridge. “And then, when the Colonel told me I was getting an award, I was speechless for ages and then I must admit I swore, and the Colonel said ‘yeah, that would probably have been my first word too!’

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30 mai 2013 4 30 /05 /mai /2013 12:35
Why Potassium Chlorate Matters

May 30, 2013: Strategy Page


A year ago NATO and Afghan forces were seizing an average 60 tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer a month. That was twice as much as 2011. This was part of an effort to deny the Taliban access to the most common explosive (using the fertilizer) for bombs. Currently 47 percent of roadside bombs are made with ammonium nitrate fertilizer, with about ten percent using old shells and bombs from the 1980s and the rest potassium chlorate. Over the last few years fertilizer bombs went from nearly 80 percent of all bombs to under fifty percent and falling. The terrorists have been substituting that loss with potassium chlorate (13 percent in 2011, 23 percent in 2012 and 45 percent this year). Potassium chlorate is more expensive than ammonium nitrate but not to the point where the terrorists cannot afford it. Potassium chlorate is a common industrial chemical used for all sorts of thing, including fireworks and matches.


In 2009, 60 percent of NATO dead in Afghanistan were from these bombs. It has declined ever since, in part because NATO and Pakistan has made it more difficult to get the raw materials for their bombs. For a long time the U.S. had a difficult time preventing the Taliban and drug gangs in Afghanistan from getting explosives. That was mainly because of the widespread use of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, which has become the favorite bomb building material after 2001. In response to these problems, four years ago, the Afghan government agreed to ban the use of ammonium nitrate and make available other (less effective) fertilizers. That program did not work as expected. The problem was that the terrorists only needed about 600 kg (1,320 pounds) of ammonium nitrate a day to keep their bombing campaign going. The existing smuggling network (from Pakistan) had no problem sneaking that much in. Paying locals to build and plant these bombs cost less than a million dollars a month. Pakistan was, for a long time uncooperative when it came to halting smuggling of explosives into Afghanistan. But then the Taliban began using fertilizer bombs more frequently inside Pakistan. That got the Pakistani government to crack down on their end.


With no such abundance of leftover munitions the Taliban had to fall back on a common local explosive (ammonium nitrate) early on. This is a powdered fertilizer that, when mixed with diesel or fuel oil, can be exploded with a detonator. While only about 40 percent of the power as the same weight of TNT, these fertilizer bombs are effective as roadside bombs. But they are bulkier and a slurry, usually mixed in a plastic jug or a barrel. Moreover, the fuel oil must be mixed thoroughly and in exactly the right proportion, otherwise the explosive effect is much less than expected.


While these bombs are even less effective in Afghanistan than in Iraq they are still the main cause of NATO casualties and thus get a lot of media attention. In Afghanistan the enemy started off with one big disadvantage, as they didn't have the expertise or the resources of the Iraqi bomb builders. In Iraq the bombs were built and placed by one of several dozen independent gangs, each containing smaller groups of people with different skills. The Taliban bomb gangs are much less skilled than those encountered in Iraq. At the same time, the equipment, techniques, and troops who neutralized the bomb campaign in Iraq have been moved to Afghanistan. This is a major reason the effectiveness of Taliban bomb attacks are declining so quickly.


The main reason the Taliban keep at it with the roadside bombs is that when the foreign troops leave after 2014, they will take with them the sensors and weapons that made it so difficult to use roadside bombs effectively. The Taliban expect these bombs to be much more successful against Afghan soldiers and police.

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