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Washington Post

KABUL, Afghanistan - Use of the Taliban's deadliest weapon, crude homemade bombs, has reached an all-time high in Afghanistan, where in the last week of June more than 300 of the devices either exploded or were found before they could detonate.

The number of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, in the country has risen relentlessly in recent years, up from about 50 a week during summer 2007. The bombs - made using vast supplies of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, much of it brought in from Pakistan - account for about two-thirds of NATO's troop fatalities in the nearly nine-year war. That figure also hit a per-month peak in June, with 102 dead.

Ashton Carter, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, told reporters in Kabul on Thursday that the United States is in the process of delivering $3 billion worth of counter-IED equipment to Afghanistan, at least doubling what it now spends. That includes doubling to 64 the number of surveillance blimps that float above cities and military bases to detect Taliban activity and adding more explosive-residue detection kits and new drone aircraft.

About 1,000 people are also headed to Afghanistan to serve as lab technicians, intelligence analysts and investigators as part of the effort to disrupt the bombmaking networks.

On Thursday, three NATO troops were killed in Afghanistan, two of them by Taliban bombs.

Gates defends policy on talking to press

New requirements that even top brass get Pentagon approval before talking to the media will not muzzle the media's watchdog role or stop soldiers on the front lines from speaking freely, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday. His brief, stern memo issued last week also restated prohibitions on release of classified material. Gates said he issued the order because of his concern that the military has become "too lax, disorganized and in some cases flat-out sloppy" in dealings with the press.

Associated Press