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KABUL (AP) – The Afghan government banned a fertilizer chemical on Friday that was used in the devastating Oklahoma City bombing and in most of the homemade explosives that have killed and maimed hundreds of American soldiers here.
NATO troops have seized tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer in raids over the last five months in southern Afghanistan, and the government has been discouraging farmers from using it for years for environmental reasons.
Still, the government believes the new ban will make it more difficult for the Taliban to replenish supplies of ammonium nitrate, which the U.S. think tank Globalsecurity.com says has been used in more than 90 percent of the homemade bombs, the biggest killer of NATO troops in Afghanistan.
NATO announced Friday that another service member was killed in a blast Friday in southern Afghanistan but did not release the victim’s nationality.
Such “fertilizer bombs” have also been used in Iraq in attacks against government security forces. The U.S. military said Friday that seven 55-gallon drums of ammonium nitrate were recovered after a truck bomb only partially detonated during an attack the day before at an Iraqi army checkpoint in the northern city of Mosul.
Earlier this month, Iraqi security forces in Baghdad arrested 25 people and seized 66 gallons (250 liters) of ammonium nitrate.
President Hamid Karzai issued the decree banning the use, production, storage, purchase or sale of ammonium nitrate on the recommendation of Afghan intelligence services and the ministries of agriculture and interior, according to a government statement.
Farmers have one month to turn in their stocks or face prosecution, the statement said.
A number of countries, including Germany, Colombia, Ireland, the Philippines and China, have banned ammonium nitrate fertilizer and most U.S. states regulate its use after the chemical was used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 people, and the 2002 nightclub bombings in Bali in which 202 people died.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security requires that businesses that store certain dangerous or combustible chemicals – including ammonium nitrate – provide regular reports on the security of those materials.
Mir Dad Panjshiri, an official in the Afghan Agriculture Ministry, said the government had been discouraging the use of ammonium nitrate fertilizer for years because urea fertilizer is better-suited to Afghan soils. He said businessmen began importing ammonium nitrate fertilizer in large amounts last year, mostly from Central Asia and Pakistan.
“We detected an increase in the use of the fertilizer over the past year by poor farmers in the southern provinces,” Panjshiri said. “It’s not available everywhere. These poor farmers didn’t know what they bought.”
He said the government was confident it could enforce the ban on its northern borders with Central Asia, but “my concern is more in the south because we have a long border with Pakistan and it’s available there.”
Last September, the government gave U.S. and allied forces permission to confiscate ammonium nitrate fertilizer, compensating farmers if the use appeared to be legitimate. Earlier this month, troops seized 10 tons of the fertilizer from a truck in the southern province of Kandahar and another 250 tons in Kandahar city in November.
Nevertheless, some farmers said they preferred ammonium nitrate fertilizer and expressed frustration over the ban.
“If the government and NATO forces want to stop fertilizer which they think is used in explosives, they should invest money and make a deal with some other country to import good quality fertilizers,” said Ezatullah, a farmer from Kandahar province who like many Afghans uses only one name. “We haven’t received any improved seeds or fertilizers. We are not happy.”
Nadeem Jan, a fertilizer salesman in Kandahar city, said he expected the ban to hurt his business “because farmers don’t like the urea fertilizer.”
“They say it’s not as productive as ammonium nitrate and it’s also more expensive,” he said.
Meanwhile, a U.S. group that monitors Islamic extremist Web sites said a militant group reported 15 of its members were killed in a U.S. missile strike in Afghanistan.
The SITE Intelligence Group said the report, posted Friday by the Turkistan Islamic Party, said 13 Uighurs and two Turks were killed Tuesday by a missile fired by a U.S. unmanned aircraft in Afghanistan, but did not say where. Pakistani officials reported two missile attacks along the border Tuesday.
On Friday, hundreds of people blocked traffic on a major highway south of Kabul, chanting slogans against the United States and the Afghan government in a second day of protests against the killing of four people by NATO forces in Ghazni province.
NATO said the raid Wednesday in the Qara Bagh district targeted a Taliban commander and that the four dead were believed to have been insurgents. They included a 15-year-old boy shot while allegedly reaching for a soldier’s gun, NATO said.
Villagers insisted the dead were civilians.
“These people, these foreigners who attacked this house showed how wild and cruel they are,” said Hashim Nasiri.
Provincial police chief Khial Baz Shirzai said the protests were organized by the Taliban to foment unrest.
The conflicting claims highlight the growing impatience among Afghans over the presence of NATO-led forces, even though a recent U.N. report showed the number of civilian deaths attributed to allied troops had dropped sharply over the past year.
The U.N. report blamed most civilian casualties on Taliban suicide bombings and other attacks.
Associated Press Writers Kim Gamel in Kabul, Noor Khan in Kandahar, Eileen Sullivan in Washington, Chelsea Carter in Baghdad and Monika Mathur at the AP News Research Center in New York contributed to this report.