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Gadget-buying Taliban 5th column in Blighty - shock!

And, why Maplins is not a terrorist bomb bazaar of DEATH

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Comment Widespread media reports suggest Taliban bomb-makers in Afghanistan use electronics sourced in the UK - perhaps bought by British or British-resident Muslim sympathisers.

These stories are based on a report by the Telegraph, covering a briefing given to UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband by the commander and staff of 3 Commando Brigade, the British formation currently in the thick of the fighting in Afghanistan's Helmand province. Increasingly unable to contend against UK and allied forces in face-to-face combat, the Afghan insurgents are turning more and more to tactics such as roadside bombs and mines - either booby-traps or remotely initiated.

Such Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs, in military parlance) are most commonly triggered by an electrical firing circuit, burning fuses being rather old hat. The switch which makes the circuit and detonates the bomb can be controlled by almost anything. It may be as simple as an insurgent watching from concealment touching two stripped ends of wire together as a British unit passes the bomb: but this is troublesome and dangerous. A firing wire long enough to offer any chance of escape after the attack usually takes a long time to lay out and conceal effectively*: it can also make the device vulnerable to electronic attack**.

Command-wire IEDs mostly went out of fashion long ago. The modern trend, from Northern Ireland through the Balkan campaigns and now into Iraq and Afghanistan, is to use any of a vast array of consumer electronics to trigger bombs. Mobile phones, walkie-talkies, beepers, car keyless-entry, garage door openers, toy radio-control gear, police speed guns used to trigger dashboard speed-trap detectors, infrared zappers and receivers from home entertainment kit - all these have been used in the field.

Western forces can jam and spoof to some degree, but they can't blot out the entire electromagnetic spectrum. They need to use it themselves, and anyway doing so would require an unreasonable amount of equipment and power - not to mention being highly unhelpful in the battle of hearts and minds.

So sure, it's entirely believeable that consumer bits and bobs bought in Britain are being used to make IED triggers for employment in Helmand. Any branch of Maplins is a firing-circuit designer's paradise: though for a bomb-maker in the UK it isn't all that much use, as he must still make or get hold of some explosives - ideally ones stable and safe enough to use, with separate detonators. That's why there's no great need to fret about bombs here.

But in Afghanistan you can generally get hold of pukka military explosives, thanks in large part to the munificence of the Western and Russian air forces, artillery, opposing secret services etc over the decades. If not, the time and seclusion required to make your own are much less of a problem - especially in the Taliban's rear support areas across the Pakistani border, though even these are now under frequent attack from a large, disavowed, probably CIA operated drone air force.

So all the Taliban need is some nice Western-lifestyle type gadgetry to use as firing switches. And - shock - these are being supplied by a secret army of sympathisers here in the UK, cackling at the thought of dead British soldiers as they clear the shelves at Maplins!

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