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 Corps Barracks in Beirut before and after the Hezbollah VBIED attack