Afghanistan – The Biggest Bomb Yet

By Charlemagne / 15 March 2013 / Other

It has just been reported that an attack with the largest vehicle borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) ever encountered in Afghanistan was foiled by the country’s intelligence services on Wednesday (13 March 2013).  The device consisted of nearly 8 tonnes of  ammonium nitrate, and  other chemicals, mixed with diesel. The explosives were in cement bags on a truck which was recovered after a fire fight with Haqqani Network militants in eastern Kabul.  A spokesman for the National Security Directorate (NDS) said the VBIED was ‘ready for detonation’ and had been intended for an attack on a military base inside the capital.

Despite the success of the NDS in preventing what could have been a devastating attack in Kabul it is still concerning that after over 10 years of counter insurgency militants could get such a large amount of explosives, with only rudimentary concealment, even to the outskirts of the city.  This suggests a lack of both detection equipment and basic search procedures.  The good news is the intelligence that lead to the plot’s disruption came from local people.  Perhaps not surprising as even a hardened Taliban supporter would be concerned about a device of that size going off in his neighbourhood.  Just to put the device into perspective (assuming it was, as described, a single device and not the transportation of explosives for multiple smaller devices):

  • The Provisional IRA’s 1996 Canary Wharf VBIED contained approximately 500kg of ammonium nitrate and sugar and caused a £100 million worth of damage (although bear in mind the differential between City of London and Kabul property prices).
  • The Khobar Towers attack in Saudi Arabia in the same year involved a VBIED with an estimated 2250Kg (some estimate more)
  • The Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 used 3,200kg of ammonium nitrate and anhydrous hydrazine (rocket fuel) and was enhanced with aluminium powder.
  • The Hezbollah device used against the US Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 was reported at 5,000kg and has been described in (by Mike Davis in his very readable ‘Buda’s Wagon’) as “the largest non-nuclear blast ever [deliberately] detonated on the face of the Earth”.

Marine_Barracks,_Beirut_1982US_MARINES_Beirut_BOMBING_ 4

Marine Corps Barracks in Beirut before and after the Hezbollah VBIED attack

4 comments on “Afghanistan – The Biggest Bomb Yet

  1. Roger Davies

    As you might expect, Charlemagne, I have some comments on some aspects of this, especially historical. I would challenge the assessment from “Buda’s Wagon” as the Beirut Marine bombing of 1983 as being “the largest non nuclear blast ever detonated on the face of the earth”. I think here have been bigger test explosions conducted in the last 15 years in the US. Some sources estimate that the explosive content was 2000 pounds of explosive and not the 5000kg quoted. In terms of explosive content, the USS Louisiana, an IED by any measure, and detonated by Union forces near Wilmington in North Carolina in 1864 allegedly contained 215 tons of explosive (admittedly gun powder not high explosive.) I think the total explosive content in HMS Campbletown, detonated in 1942 was approaching 5000kg, and this was military high explosive and is documented – the Beirut device content is an estimate and may have been more or less, and there remains considerable doubt about certain aspects of the Beirut bomb’s construction.

    The book “Buda’s Wagon” also posits that the Wall Street explosion of 1920 was the first VBIED. It wasn’t, there were several prior to that, including the attempted assassination of Napoleon in Paris in 1800, and the Yildiz VBIED of 1905. I can cite VBIEDs also being designed in 1630 (and I have drawings of them).

    One might also cite the 1584 explosion of the “Hoop” in Antwerp that killed 800 – 1,000 Spanish soldiers in a single explosion – 7,000 pounds of gunpowder. I can’t think of an IED that killed more people. It may or may not have been a VBIED, depending on whether you call a ship a vehicle.

    In terms of damage, perhaps the Bishopsgate explosion caused the most financial damage.

    Finally, explosive quantities reported by the media and indeed reported by EOD techs(!) can often be exaggerated. I wouldn’t necessarily believe the 8 tonnes reported from Kabul.


  2. Kier Head

    Roger and I are in the same mind, there have been many others such as the Campbletown and I add this one into the mix, purely as a representative of US EOD ‘blows’. I haven’t play this youtube clip with the sound on, so public warning there; 38,000lbs is 17.2 metric tonnes according to google. A shame the poster doesn’t seem realise that High Energy Composite propellants contain high explosives but there we go. Clearly a low explosive will not act as a high explosive, just because it gets a good ‘kick’.

    The final high explosive NEQ in this clip is a good question, the motor at the start doesn’t look like 17 tonnes to me and the crater, while impressive, isn’t that big….


  3. Ian

    Wikipedia, in relation to the mines exploded on the first day of the Somme in 1916, states that “The largest single charge was the Lochnagar mine south of La Boisselle with 60,000 lb (27 t) of ammonal explosive”. I cannot recall the composition of ammonal but I suspect it to be of similar brisance to the ammonium nitrate bombs used today


  4. Jerry Smith

    Very late to the party, but came across this whilst completing a report. Few points:
    – US Marine barracks bomb is estimated between 15000 – 21000 lbs (6800 – 9500 kg)
    – Largest deliberate non-nuke was the ‘Minor Scale’ trail in 1987. 4800 tons of ANFO simulating an 8 kTon nuke. The US built an aluminium (aluminum?) sphere approx 40 metres above the ground to simulate an air-burst. Other FVEY nations were offered segments to deploy / build structures they wanted to test.


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