KABUL, Afghanistan — With fertilizer bombs now the most lethal weapons used against U.S. and NATO soldiers in southern Afghanistan, the bombmaking operation in Kandahar was something close to astonishing.
In a pair of raids Sunday, Afghan police and U.S. soldiers discovered a half-million pounds of ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer that is used in most homemade bombs here. About 2,000 bomb-making devices like timers and triggers were also found, and 15 Afghans were detained.
With a typical homemade bomb weighing no more than 60 pounds, the seizure of that much fertilizer — more than 10 tractor-trailer loads — removed potentially thousands of bombs from southern Afghanistan, officials said.
"You can turn a bag of ammonium nitrate into a bomb in a matter hours," said Col. Mark Lee, who leads NATO's effort to stop the bombmakers in southern Afghanistan. "This is a great first step."
The operation in Kandahar, which was announced Tuesday, is by far the largest of its type. Ammonium nitrate is illegal in Afghanistan; farmers here are allowed to use other types of fertilizer, like those that are urea-based, on their crops. Most of the ammonium nitrate fertilizer in Afghanistan is believed to be imported from Pakistan.
The seizure came on the heels of a number of initiatives aimed at taking the fertilizer out of the hands of Taliban insurgents. Until this month, Afghan and NATO officials could seize ammonium nitrate only if it was clearly associated with insurgent activity. Now, they can seize it regardless. If the police or soldiers seize ammonium fertilizer from farmers, they must compensate them for it.
Last year, 4,100 homemade bombs either exploded or were discovered beforehand in Afghanistan. So far this year, 6,500 either have been found or have gone off, military officials in Kabul said.