Kim Sengupta: This is an act of terrible betrayal

Saturday 23 January 2010 01:00 GMT

Fear of the bomber is now an intrinsic part of a society wracked by insurgency. Living and working there we are only too aware of the danger and depend to a huge extent on hi-tech equipment to provide what protection is possible against murderous attacks. To discover that these were useless because of possible fraud seems like an act of terrible betrayal.

Baghdad during the worse days of violence was a place of carnage with daily blasts and firefights. After a lull the massive suicide attacks of October and December were grim reminders that the bombers had not gone away.

Going through the endless checkpoints of the capital and other Iraqi cities was always risky. One was wary of the security forces, heavily infiltrated by the militias. We often wondered how effective were the precautions taken. Iraqi friends and drivers we used had gone through the checks carrying guns without being stopped. We put this down to negligence; no one imagined that the detectors used, supposedly the most vital guard against bombers and gunmen, may have had no electronic components and depended on the "principle of dousing" to find hidden devices.

The situation is becoming similar in the Afghan capital Kabul, now repeatedly being hit by the Taliban.

There too we have to negotiate increasing numbers of checkpoints among the blast walls. We are also aware that the insurgents regularly slip through the security screen and the disclosures about the detectors would cause deep apprehension that the tools being used are useless.

Last night the British Government banned the export of the devices, ADE 651, only to Afghanistan and Iraq, because the "legal power to control these goods is based on the risk they could cause harm to UK and other friendly forces".

British forces are no longer operational in Iraq, but roadside bombs and mines account for 85 per cent of casualties among UK and Nato forces. Almost every military convoy one accompanies in the combat zone is preceded by intense route clearing, either by handheld detectors or specialist armoured vehicles digging for booby traps and bombs.

Despite the use of the most advanced equipment possible by western troops, we have witnessed lethal devastations caused by explosions and felt the fear that came with it. The false detector was not sold to any Western countries but to ones in the Third World who bought them because they suffer constant bomb threats. Questions must be asked why the officials of these countries spent tens of millions of pounds purchasing the suspect devices – but that will be no consolation for the hundreds killed and maimed because they were not provided with the most basic safety.

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