90 Miles From Tyranny : Booby Trapping Ammunition In The Mideast

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Booby Trapping Ammunition In The Mideast


High-explosive booby-trapped
 ammunition has been used
 in wars and guerrilla conflicts for
decades.  When used, the
sabotaged ammunition can
kill or maim.
When out on patrols in Afghanistan, Western soldiers often uncover ammunition caches used by the region’s
many fighting groups. And when on the archipelago of outposts from which they work, these same soldiers routinely have access to weapons carried by the Taliban, including Kalashnikov assault rifles, PK machine guns, rocket-propelled-grenade launchers and 82-millimeter mortars. But soldiers and Marines have been told for years not to combine these two naturally paired items — captured ammunition with captured arms — for training or other uses, even though practice with the most common weapons in Afghanistan could reasonably be seen as a valuable part of preparing for the war’s daily work. Western forces are also discouraged from collecting ammunition in the field and passing it on to the Afghan Army and police forces, who often carry weapons that could use it. Does this make sense? It depends on what a soldier knows, or is told by officers and nearby explosive-ordnance disposal techs.

The reason for these general prohibitions is rooted in a tactic shrouded in secrecy: The United States has been seeding battlefields with improvised exploding ammunition, part of a large-scale project intended to undermine the Taliban that can have grisly unintended effects. Such ammunition was introduced by the United States to Afghanistan with hopes that it would explode inside the weapons of its foes. But ammunition tends to move fluidly through and around conflict zones. And once loose, booby-trapped ammunition does not distinguish between a weapon held by a Talib, a weapon held by an American soldier or a weapon held by anyone else. This is why those cautions are issued, circulating across the country beside their slow-brewed cousins from a parallel disinformation campaign — the cannily promoted stories (which do have elements of truth, considering) that the Taliban’s ammunition supply is unreliable and therefore dangerous.


Such tactics have been widely used by the Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency in both Afghanistan and Iraq, just as they were used by a previous generation of American soldiers and intelligence operatives in Vietnam, according to many people involved in the distribution of the spiked ordnance.

Recently, The New York Times documented the tactic’s appearance this year in the war in Syria, where the ammunition supply of antigovernment fighters has been salted with similar booby traps. Rebels describe an effort run by the Syrian government that assembles rifle and machine-gun cartridges in which the standard propellant has been replaced with a high-explosive powder that detonates when a shooter tries to fire a weapon, shattering the rifle or machine gun and often wounding the shooter. These rounds are then mixed with clean ammunition and channeled into black markets or left behind at government positions when the army withdraws. The rebels also described booby-trapped mortar rounds and rocket-propelled grenade projectiles.

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1 comment:

  1. The critical thinker in me wonders how quickly the commercial ammunition supply here in the US could be contaminated with the same booby trapped rounds (if it hasn't already been done).

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