Afghan intelligence seizes 11 tons of explosives, thwarts additional terror plots


5 Men Arrested.jpg

Five suspected Taliban members, including three Pakistani nationals, stand in front of 11 tons of potassium chlorate homemade explosive seized during an intelligence operation in April 2012. Source: Afghan intelligence video.


Earlier today, the Afghan National Directorate of Security announced that Afghan intelligence operatives and national policemen had interdicted a transport truck loaded with 10,000 kilograms (approximately 11 tons) of explosives, elaborately disguised under sacks stuffed with potatoes, sometime between April 13 and April 15.

Alarmingly, the confiscated material was identified by Afghan officials as "potassium," a reference to the incredibly powerful potassium chlorate homemade explosive that is a signature explosive used by the Pakistan-based Haqqani Network.

The disclosure today by NDS spokesman Shafiqullah Tahiri is the latest attempt by Afghan officials to silence criticism over the intelligence failure to prevent the multi-pronged terror assault launched by Taliban militants across four Afghan provinces on April 15. The coordinated attacks, which lasted nearly 18 hours, occurred in Kabul, Logar, Paktia, and Nangarhar provinces and left 51 people dead; 36 of them were militants.

Among those arrested in conjunction with the explosives-laden truck were three Pakistani nationals and two Afghans linked to the Tehrik-e-Taliban and the "Qari Baryal Group," according to the New York Times.

Qari Baryal was a former Hezb-i-Islami insurgent commander based in Kapisa province who later established strong ties with Afghan Taliban leaders and local criminal networks. His network, consisting of approximately 150-200 men, was known to facilitate the movement of weapons, explosives, and would-be suicide bombers from the Pakistan border to Kabul. His group helped plan and coordinate numerous attacks against military bases in Kabul and Parwan provinces, including the sprawling Coalition airbase at Bagram. In January 2011, NATO forces claimed that Qary Baryal was killed along with his contingent during an air strike in the Pech Valley of Kunar province. ISAF described Qari Baryal as an "al Qaeda-associated Taliban leader." [For previous reporting about Qari Baryal and his network in Kapisa and Kunar, see LWJ report, Kapisa province: The Taliban's gateway to Kabul.]

According to the NDS, the three Pakistani nationals arrested had acquired the explosives outside the Pakistani city of Peshawar, and were linked to local Pakistani Taliban leaders Noor Afzal and Mohammad Omar, who allegedly maintain ties to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate.

The NDS also disclosed that an additional three militants linked to the Haqqani Network and the Taliban were arrested on April 15 in a separate operation, and that the group had been ordered by Haqqani commander Badruddin Haqqani to assassinate Abdul Karim Khalili, the Afghan Second Vice-President. Khalili is a powerful Hazara figurehead who represents Afghanistan's minority Hazara population, many of whom are Shia Muslims. The three men were identified as Abdul Khan, a Paktia resident; Noorullah, a resident of Ghazni, currently living in the town of Kohat in Pakistan; and Zabihullah, from central Maidan, in Wardak province. Pajhwok News reports that the men confessed to having been trained by Haqqani members Saifullah, Maulvi Mansoor, Shokrullah, Anas, and Maulvi Badruddin, at a militant training camp in the Haqqani stronghold of Miranshah, North Waziristan.

Separately, NDS officials claim to have foiled another plot in the eastern province of Nangarhar on April 18, only three days after the defeated coordinated assault. Four Taliban militants were arrested, according to Khaama Press, and an unspecified quantity of explosives was also seized.

Prior to the April 15 attacks, the NDS broke up a similar Haqqani Network plot targeting the Presidential Palace, the US embassy, and an unnamed hotel in Kabul in late February 2012. The April 15 attack may very well have been planned several months ago, with the first attempt in February being thwarted, prompting Haqqani facilitators to coordinate a much broader and larger attack that included dozens of militants as witnessed on April 15. The Taliban were quick to release videos and photographs shortly after the attacks on April 15, showing dozens of fighters training and preparing to take place in the coordinated terror assault.

The Taliban have recently threatened to unleash a flurry of coordinated attacks ahead of the upcoming Chicago Summit scheduled for May 15, and will likely try to disrupt the Mujahideen Victory Day celebrations throughout Afghanistan scheduled for April 27. During the April 2008 Victory Day Parade, a complex assault launched by Haqqani and Taliban militants in Kabul killed two Members of Parliament, nearly killed Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and sent hundreds of VIPs and Afghan security forces running for cover in what was a humiliating incident for Afghanistan's fledgling regime.



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READER COMMENTS: "Afghan intelligence seizes 11 tons of explosives, thwarts additional terror plots "

Posted by Douglas Fir at April 22, 2012 10:05 AM ET:

How would anyone acquire 11 tons of Potassium Chlorate in a place like Pakistan [without "help"]? Are there shops in the Suuq that sell KClO3?

Maybe if they had covered the load,with bags of sugar the Afgans might not have noticed.....

Posted by blert at April 22, 2012 1:13 PM ET:

Strictly speaking, while in can decompose explosively, potassium chlorate is a super-high powered OXIDIZER used to create explosives.

It is VERY significant that the Haqqani Network is using potassium chlorate as an oxidizer.

It is NOT detected by the typical explosives scanner -- which is tuned to sniff nitrates. ( These decay releasing tell-tale emissions of NO and NO2. )

In sum: this is an explicit attempt to target HIGH VALUE targets now protected by chemical scanners.

BTW, potassium chlorate does NOT make high explosives. It's not a constituent of TNT, Octal or any other common military or civilian explosive.

It's not cheap ( relatively speaking ) yet does make for classic BLACK POWDER EXPLOSIVE. Such 'low' explosives are more than enough to kill. The American Civil War was fought entirely with 'low' explosives.

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This compound is also a 'natural' for booby-traps. Again, the standard sniffers are not going to clue in on it. That includes Fido, the army dog.

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It is also untrue that the Haqqani Network manufactured the potassium chlorate. First, potassium is not readily available outside the chemical industry -- not at all. Second, the chemical process required is way beyond the sophistication of the boys in the FATA. You need a full blown chemical factory with all of the trimmings to manufacture potassium chlorate. Any slip-ups and the stuff decomposes straight back to potassium chloride -- it's naturally unstable and has to be kept cool, dry and in the shade.

The all-up cost of each pound of potassium chlorate, in the sticks, must run over $ 5 per pound even in bulk. So 11 tons = $ 110,000 ish; not exactly retail!

Posted by devin Leonard at April 22, 2012 3:36 PM ET:

Score 1 for the NDS. We need to have more successes like these and we need to be hunting down Haqqani big wigs with drone and Tier 1 units. Only then can we hammer the Taliban and ISI back to the negotiating table!

Posted by LAL1859 at April 22, 2012 7:13 PM ET:

An important story! Shows that the unsung hero's of Afghan Intelligence are gaining in strength and capability.

Indicates that though there is risk the announced strategy to draw-down the US combat mission is not unjustified.

Though the attacks across Afghanistan last week generated media attention - as they were likely intended to - the 15 Afghan and 36 terrorists killed pale in comparison to the death that would have come from 11 tons of explosives.

Important to note that 3 of the 5 arrested are from Pakistan. Though the Pakistani government does what it can to support our efforts at stability the source of most instability in Afghanistan can be found in the FATA and NWFP.

Posted by mike merlo at April 23, 2012 12:55 AM ET:

re: blert
the Pakistani military owns the chemical facilities that manufactures the chemicals you 'described'

Posted by SPQR at April 29, 2012 4:36 PM ET:

Potassium Chlorate and powdered sugar makes for an excellent rocket propellant. Potassium chlorate is an excellent general purpose oxidant and can be used for propellants and explosives with a wide variety of oxidisable substances to include powdered charcoal, sulphur, etc. Common fourth-form school chemistry. Acquiring 11 tons of potassium chlorate, however, would only be possible with the help of a formally instituted organization such as an intelligence service or the defense establishment.