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U.S. to share anti-bomb equipment, tech with NATO

ISTANBUL — The U.S. is considering a plan that would give NATO allies access to some of the equipment and expertise used by American troops to deter roadside bombs.

Much of the U.S. technology and know-how regarding "improvised explosive devices" — remotely detonated bombs that have plagued military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan — has been highly classified. But U.S. officials attending NATO meetings here this week said there is a bigger push now to share technology with allies, in part because NATO members are sending more of their troops to Afghanistan in coming months.

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said Defense Secretary Robert Gates wants to "push the system" to determine how much of the classified technology can be shared. Gates was expected to discuss the issue in more detail this week while attending NATO meetings here.

"He is very sensitive to the fact that our troops are not the only ones being targeted by an increase in IED attacks," and "do all (he) can possibly do to share our expertise developed over the last eight hard-fought years with our friends and allies who have boots on the ground in Afghanistan," Morrell said.

While the U.S. has not said what equipment could be shared, it has relied heavily on armored Humvees and the mine-resistant, ambush-protective armored vehicle, or MRAP, to protect its troops during patrols. Much of the bomb-resistant technology will follow U.S. troops from Iraq, where President Barack Obama has ordered a drawdown, to Afghanistan, where some 30,000 more troops are being deployed by fall.

Despite much money and attention directed at the problem of IEDs, the U.S. has been unable to make significant progress in protecting its troops. In 2009, U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan doubled compared to 2008.

U.S. officials say that the problem is even more acute among other NATO members, where a larger percentage of their forces are hurt by IEDs.

Gates is said to be frustrated with the U.S. effort to counter the homemade bombs, announcing in November a new six-month push led by a three-star general and the Pentagon's acquisition chief to brainstorm solutions.

The weapon of choice for insurgents in Iraq, improvised bombs once were unheard of in Afghanistan. Deaths among U.S. and NATO allies fighting in Afghanistan have risen sharply as insurgents there learned to adapt the bombs to Afghan terrain, and as the military's technology sometimes failed to keep up.

An entire Pentagon agency was created to combat improvised bombs during the Iraq war and found itself chasing a moving target. Each time the experts figured out ways to detect one kind of bomb, the insurgents seemed to find another way to manufacture, hide or detonate devices that are often little more than dynamite, wire and a cell phone.

But in October, the Government Accountability Office said the Pentagon agency, formally known as the Joint IED Defeat Organization, was hampered by bureaucratic shortcomings that could lead to duplication of efforts or unneeded programs.