By David Gerber, Contributing Writer
U.S Senator Bob Casey, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs, is on his third trip to Pakistan this week. Casey has made it clear that the aim of his third excursion to the country is to discuss the prevention of substances used to make IEDs, the number one killer of U.S troops, from entering neighboring Afghanistan.
Also along with Casey are Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).
“Roadside bombs have been the gravest threat to U.S. troops in Afghanistan,” said Senator Casey on a conference call with reporters. “I am in Pakistan to discuss a number of security concerns with an emphasis on working with Pakistani government officials to prevent materials used to make roadside bombs from entering Afghanistan.”
Casey has been a loud advocate in the Senate for increasing international pressure on Pakistan to stop the flow of ammonium nitrate, a chemical fertilizer that is used as the main ingredient in the development of homemade bombs. When mixed with fuel, ammonium nitrate makes for a potent bomb used in nearly 85% of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
In 2010, 268 U.S. service members were killed by IEDs in Afghanistan. 125 U.S. service members have been killed by IEDs since the beginning of 2011.
“It is very rare that a soldier is not killed by an IED,” said Casey through a phone interview today. “That is why the focus is so large.” Pakistan has also lost hundreds of its own service members to IEDs.
The State Department has said in previous statements that two plants in Pakistan continue to make ammonium nitrate even though farmers there generally use different fertilizers. State said Pakistan also imports the chemical, exceeding domestic usage.
Casey has discussed numerous cross-border flows affecting U.S troop security in the region in previous trips to the shaky ally. In July of 2008 when Casey first ventured to Pakistan, topics of conversation included militants, weapons, and illicit trade activity. His conclusions at the time were that although Pakistani leaders have promised to crack down on foreign fighters and militant forces in the border region, there were reports that Pakistani forces are actually providing assistance to Taliban or Al-Qaeda-affiliated militants. Casey’s second visit came in August of 2009.
Then, perhaps the biggest factor in the deterioration of U.S– Pakistani relations occurred in May of this year. In a covert operation, Osama Bin Laden was shot and killed inside a private residential compound located in Abbottabad, Pakistan, not far from the capital city, Islamabad.
During talks on Thursday, the Associated Press of Pakistan reported that Chairman of the Pakistani Senate, Farooq H Naek, underlined that “more frequent parliamentary exchanges between Pakistan and the United States are for their mutual advantage.” He also went on to say, “Pakistan considers its relationship with the United States as the most important component of its foreign policy.”
Casey has met with many high ranking officials in Pakistan including Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani and four star general Ashfaq Parvez Kayani to press the urgency on behalf of the United States in prevention of IED and ammonium nitrate production. Although not yet implemented, Casey is encouraged through efforts made by the Pakistani military and various sectors of its government in prevention of IEDs.
“Parallel tracks by law enforcement, legislative strategy and educating the general public on this problem will be the basics of this strategy,” says Casey. “An initiative being discussed is possibly dying ammonium nitrate that is produced a specific color in order to track its origins. Further improvements will include better border enforcement, counter terrorism efforts and further improvements in law and advancement in public awareness. All of this is, Casey explains, is to be improved within 2 to 3 months.
On current U.S Pakistan relations, to a certain extent, “we agree to disagree, since there will always be a point of contention” Casey notes. Since both countries are threatened by terrorism, “There must be a willingness to look beyond the past, and the Pakistanis are willing to do so.”
Casey ended the phone interview with a quote from a Pakistani official he met during his trip. “We all breath the same air and bear children.”
“Never will the U.S have a relationship with Pakistan as it does with other countries, but, if we stay focused, we can ensure the safety of Americans and Pakistanis alike.”