U.S. Troops Faced Pressure Cooker IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan

The crude explosive devices used against runners and spectators at the Boston Marathon were similar to the kitchen pot bombs aimed at U.S.  troops on foot patrol in Afghanistan, law enforcement and Congressional officials said Tuesday.

For nearly 10 years, presidential directives, Homeland Security Department reports and local law enforcement officials have warned of the eventual threat within the U.S. of “pressure cooker” bombs developed by terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq.

After briefings from law enforcement and U.S. intelligence officials, Rep. Randy McCaul (R-Tex.) said that the two devices which detonated in Boston appeared to be “pressure cooker” bombs. Law enforcement officials later confirmed that the investigation was proceeding on the basis that the devices were “pressure cooker” bombs.

But Rick DesLaurier, the FBI’s special agent in charge in Boston, stressed that “the investigation is in its infancy.” At a news conference in Boston, DesLauriers said there had thus far been “no claims of responsibility and the range of suspects and motives is wide open.”

DesLauriers asked the public to contact authorities if they knew anyone who had recently expressed a special “interest in research in how to create explosive devices.”

In Afghanistan, Taliban operatives who lacked the wherewithal or expertise to build “improvised explosive devices” capable of destroying the huge, V-shaped hull MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles) turned to “pressure cooker” bombs as anti-personnel devices. They would be placed along paths expected to be used by U.S. troops on foot patrol.

In the summer of 2011, explosives specialists from the 2nd Battalion, Eighth Marines, showed several of the devices they had found and defused to an embedded reporter. One of the devices had even been placed in a tree, the specialists said.

The terrorists would take a simple kitchen pot, a pressure cooker was preferred, pack it with ammonium nitrate and metal filings, nails and even rocks to increase the lethality, and rig the device to detonate by wire or by a remote device, sometimes a garage door opener.

When triggered, the blast would seek the path of least resistance and most of the force and the debris would blow out the top of the pressure cooker, in effect acting much like a military “shaped” charge that concentrates  the force of an anti-tank shell.

As far back as 2004, a Homeland Security Department memo warned of the pressure cooker bomb threat, calling it “a technique commonly taught in Afghan terrorist training camps.”

“Typically, these bombs are made by placing TNT or other explosives in a pressure cooker and attaching a blasting cap at the top of the pressure cooker,” the memo said.

The attraction of the pressure cooker bomb for the terrorist is that they are cheap, relatively easy to make, and lethal.

A presidential directive on homeland security in 2007 warned that “The threat of explosive attacks in the United States is of great concern considering terrorists’ability to make, obtain, and use explosives, the ready availability of components used in IED construction, the relative technological ease with which an IED can be fashioned, and the nature of our free society.”

In 2010, a joint FBI and Homeland Securty intelligence report issued in 2010 warned that “Placed carefully, such devices provide little or no indication of an impending attack.”

Two years ago, “Inspire,” the online magazine of Al Qaeda in the Arabian, published an article on how to make a pressure cooker bomb. The title of the article was “How To Make A Bomb In The Kitchen Of Your Mom.”

About the Author

Richard Sisk
Richard Sisk is a reporter for Military.com. He can be reached at richard.sisk@military.com.
  • Nadnerbus

    Perhaps mandatory background checks and a waiting period for crock pots is in order. We don’t want these instruments of war falling into the wrong hands, right?

    • IKnowIT

      Assault crock pots to you, skeeter

    • blight_

      Crockpots are slow cookers, not pressure cookers?

      But yeah, pressure cooker permits, concealed use cooker permits, open use permits…groan.

      • ForTheChildren

        Except you’re forgetting that crock pots share many of the same features as a pressure cooker, such as large capacity, and ability to thoroughly cook a meal. Just because an assault slow cooker lacks one feature compared to the pressure cooker doesn’t make it less dangerous. So it makes sense to impose “reasonable” restrictions on all categories of cooking pots and pans right now, unless we end up with another tragedy on our hands.

        • blight_

          Cooking is dangerous. The government will cook for you now.

          • USS ENTERPRISE

            Soldiers use C-4 as fuel during cooking. Just saying.

          • blight_

            Who cooks for John Galt?

          • d. kellogg

            Y’all be realizing of course those of you who favor flash-frying a turkey in that big outdoor peanut oil roaster now,…gonna need some kinda FCL (Federal Culinary License) saying that you have thoroughly been properly trained in the safe handling and operation of the equipment in question.
            Purchasing of more than 5 gallons of peanut oil at one time will result in your name being recorded into a federal database,…just to be safe.

        • Nadnerbus

          We need to compile a list of “features” that define pressure cookers immediately and get it to Di Fi for prompt action. If it saves just one life…

    • UAVGeek

      Why do Americans need pressure cookers more than 3 gallons!?!?!

      • Bill

        Asian-american families

    • Jacob

      Fortunately, pressure cookers aren’t easily concealable and are probably really noisy if filled with nails or other objects used as shrapnel.

    • crockofpot

      If crockpots resulted in the deaths of 30000 people a year then yes. Should we also not put common sense restrictions on access to high explosives while we are at it? C4 for everybody!

      • Nadnerbus

        The point is, whatever you restrict, people who want to murder will just go for the next easiest thing. You can’t nerf the world without imposing police-state like powers. If you were actually able to ban and take away guns, bomb making would become the order of the day for psychos, along with black market firearms. If you ban gun powder for reloading, or highly regulate it (as I am sure someone is sure to propose soon enough), then diesel/fertilizer bombs will become the order of the day, as per Tim McVeigh. They are trying to regulate even that in Afghanistan to put a crimp in IED production, and it doesn’t seem to be working too well there.

  • philcool

    What surprised me is that nobody removed the trashcans before the marathon was held

    • blight_

      We’re still not sure how they stashed the bomb. A pressure cooker in a trash can will probably mitigate blast and fragments. One in a backpack, won’t.

      • philcool

        it now seems it was indeed a backpack, so I stand corrected

        • blight_

          I suppose if you packed enough explosive, that the trash can would also be turned into shrapnel.

          ANFO has low energy density though.

          • USS ENTERPRISE

            I have heard that is was in a backpack, and it the IED was stuffed with ball bearing and scrap metal. Pretty gruesome shrapnel.

          • Danny

            All of the trash cans and mailboxes on the entire route were sniffed and checked by bomb dogs the day before the marathon. Not to mention that some of those garbage cans are even explosive-resistent

          • USS ENTERPRISE

            But the important thing to note is that it was the day before. You have time between them and the marathon to plant something. True, there might have been dog patrols, but with the crowd, it would be hard to regulate every single parcel, backpack, and trashcan.

          • Tiger
    • Musson

      The Daily Mail has pictures taken of one of the bombs before it exploded.
      It sure looks like a big bag of trash sitting right in front of the moveable fence section. It was pretty freakin’ obvious.

      • blight_

        We’re paying tons for paramilitaries to look for guys with dishdashas screaming Allahu Ackbar, but they just leave a bag of trash and walk away. Boom.

        Ban trash bags?


          Or make safer ones. Like, out of kevlar.

          • jsallison
  • Sergi

    ETA, the terrorist group in Spain, has used this method, from at least 1986, that is the first entry on google… http://blogs.libertaddigital.com/in-memoriam/masa… (Translation: http://www.google.com/translate?hl=en&ie=UTF8….

    I don´t see why this is news…

    • Guest

      Cause all of this is news to the US public. Spaniards, French, Irish,Algerians have experienced these types of bombs hidden in trash cans in the 80s & 90s. Thats also why all of our public trash cans disapeared in 1995 to be replaced by clear plastic bags.

      • blight_

        Won’t be long before ‘murrica follows. We’re already great at littering, so we can get rid of trash cans.

  • blight_

    I was wondering if they were using bombs under pressure, or just using the pressure cooker to hold the bomb.

    The article notes that the top may blow off: but if this is so, then it limits the effective range of such a device, unless you prop it pointed at a target (which is probably what happened).

    • Tiger
    • RWB123

      It’s just a container for the bomb. Nothing is under pressure inside.

      Blowing the top off the device is actually the entire purpose here. It channels the blast in one direction. That increases the range of the shrapnel, so yes, the weapon was almost certainly pointed toward the target.

      • Bruce

        Surely the point is that the pressure vessel allows more forces toSurely the point of using a pressure cooker is that it will cause more pressure to build up inside the vessel before the lid seal fails.

        • STemplar

          Poor man’s Claymore.

  • FoolKiller

    “in effect acting much like a military ‘shaped’ charge that concentrates the force of an anti-tank shell.”
    No. This was a directional explosion with shrapnel, much like a homemade claymore. A truly “shaped” charge focuses the force of the explosion itself, or intensely hot metal vapor produced as a byproduct of the explosion, to penetrate armor. No shrapnel is involved in a true shaped charge. In any event, shrapnel would be useless against a tank.


    My question is who will take responsibility for this? This doesn’t feel like an Al Qaeda attack. Also, is this connected to the poisoned letter sent to Senator Wicker from Mississippi? If so, this could just be the beginning of a mass attack of these terrorists.

  • Sanjay
  • HeavyArrow

    Personally I think we shouldn’t be giving the guy who did it (Even if we don’t know who) the media coverage that we always do whenever something like this happens, they WANT the attention. Focus on the survivors and the good things that people did to help those wounded in the detonation.

    • orly?

      But people want answers.

      Otherwise, people get more angry and paranoid.

      • HeavyArrow

        That is true, but then that will just spread more paranoia. I mean I want the guy who did this to be put in jail just as much as any other person wants.
        The media just has a heyday with this sort of thing.

    • blight_

      If you don’t focus on the guy who did it, it just spawns the whole “Grassy Knoll” conspiracy wingnut stuff all over again. And if you do focus on the guy who did it, then there’s wingnut focus on “the guys who got away”, cue Rothschild, Illuminati, UN, New World Order, Majestic-12, CIA, space aliens…

      • HeavyArrow

        You can’t win in this situation eh?

        • blight_

          Nope. There’s always a fringe nut somewhere.


      Well, think this way. If we suppressed all of this media attention, people wouldn’t know about this attack, or be wary of suspicious packages and letters. As usual, the media has exaggerated, but I think this coverage is mostly in check.

  • STemplar

    Based on the injuries I don’t think the devices were placed in trash cans. Far too many wounded and mostly lower leg injuries. I think the bags were just left on the ground.

    • Josh

      You don’t have to assume. It’s been out for quite some time now that the bombs were placed in backpacks that were dropped a few minutes before the blasts.

      • STemplar

        Sure, my reaction though was based on the people being wheeled away in the first hour in the photos and the initial reports of treatment.

    • mike

      i totally agree


      Yeah. A trash can would have the path of least resistance at the lid, not the bottom. So right there, it rules out the can. Also, if they were using Hefty bags, they could probably contain the explosion.


  • Rosalee

    Frankly not surprised…………….dad talked about mines and IEDs in Vietnam..
    planted conveniently for our troops……..and in some cases when they would
    stop to hand out whatever to little children, much like in some stories I have heard
    about Iraq and Afghanistan.

    I wonder now if the bombs in Boston were put together nearer the site?
    It would seem that they might be a bit ‘dangerous’ if they were hustled too much
    to the site………just speculating……..


      I doubt they were manufactured on site. Building a bomb requires a table, and non-prying eyes. Someone would have to see that a person is building a bomb. Though, that is just my thought.

  • Scanlon

    Let the disinformation and misinformation begin.

  • tim hooey



    Well, all I can say is that the police just got that son of gun. Glad that manhunt is over.