The United States military used the most powerful non-nuclear weapon in its arsenal Thursday against its Islamic State foes in Afghanistan.
The bomb is formally called GBU 43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast, or MOAB. Its nickname is Mother of All Bombs.
From the NYT (“U.S. Drops ‘Mother of All Bombs’ on ISIS Caves in Afghanistan“):
The United States dropped the “mother of all bombs” — the most powerful conventional bomb in the American arsenal — on an Islamic State cave complex in Afghanistan on Thursday, the Pentagon said, unleashing a weapon so massive that it had to be dropped from the rear of a cargo plane.
The strike was the first combat use of what is formally named the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast. President Trump has bestowed additional authority on the Pentagon in his first months in office, which the military has argued will help it defeat the Islamic State more speedily. Mr. Trump did not say whether he had personally approved Thursday’s mission.
“What I do is I authorize my military,” Mr. Trump said after a meeting with emergency workers at the White House. He called the bombing “another very, very successful mission.”
The Pentagon gave no casualty totals for the bombing, part of an intense air campaign against the militant group in Afghanistan. But in a separate announcement, the Pentagon said that an airstrike in Syria by the American-led coalition fighting the Islamic State there had killed 18 Syrian fighters allied with the United States, raising concerns about whether the White House is applying any rigor to the process of approving airstrikes in hot spots from Afghanistan to Syria. …
Thursday’s strike in Afghanistan — using a 20,000-pound bomb that cost $16 million, and more than $300 million to develop — hit a tunnel complex in the Achin district of Nangarhar Province, according to a statement from the United States military in Afghanistan. The statement did not say how many militants were killed, or whether the bombing caused any civilian casualties.
The weapon is so big that, while the cargo plane is in the air, the bomb rolls out of the rear on a pallet, pulled by a drogue parachute. It is designed to destroy tunnels and other underground facilities, and its blast radius is estimated to stretch a mile in every direction.
The strike against tunnels and caves reflects the ever-changing nature of the war in Afghanistan, now in its 15th year.
During the years of intense fighting in Afghanistan, the United States dropped a handful of similar bombs to destroy caves believed to be used by the Taliban and Al Qaeda, as well as to frighten troops dug into trenches who were not immediately killed. The military offered a similar rationale on Thursday for using the bomb — a successor to the “daisy cutter,” a heavy bomb designed for the instant clearing of large sections of jungle in Vietnam.
Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan “are using I.E.D.s, bunkers and tunnels to thicken their defense,” said Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., the United States commander there, referring to improvised explosive devices. “This is the right munition to reduce these obstacles and maintain the momentum of our offensive.”
CBC Radio’s As It Happens contacted an Afghan journalist to try and get further information (“‘This felt like doomsday,’ Afghan reporter says after U.S. drops massive bomb on ISIS target“):
Carol Off: Bilal, can you first of all tell us what you’re hearing from Achin, this district where this bomb hit?
Bilal Sarwary: I was able to speak to an Afghan local police commander who said a series of tunnels belonging to the Islamic State, or ISIS, were targeted around 7:30 this evening.
The bomb shook the entire district according to him and other residents. And according to one villager, there’s not a single home where you can find a window — every single window is broken. Some of the shrapnel or debris from the big bomb have travelled all the way to the district headquarters, which is quite far away.
CO: Are your sources telling you about casualties, about civilians, or anyone they know who was killed in the blast?
BS: The Afghan local police commander, the provincial council members that I am speaking to, they’re only saying that they believe at least 20 to 30 fighters may have been killed.
As I said, there are homes, we don’t know if people are still living or not. … It’s one of the most remote villages and valleys. It’s insecure. You don’t have electricity. Phone services are not very reliable. But one villager, for example, was telling me that the radio station run by ISIS is not broadcasting. Whether it was destroyed in the strike or they’re deliberately going off air, that we still have to wait and see.