Reflecting US President Donald Trump’s changed strategy in the battle against the Islamic State, the American army has used its most lethal non-non-nuclear bomb on a maze of caves and tunnels, considered a bastion of the deadly terror group in Nangahar province in eastern Afghanistan, killing at least 36 suspected militants of the terror group.
Afghan officials ruled out any civilian casualties after “the mother of all bombs” (MOAB) which decimated a deep tunnel complex used by the Islamic State. This is the largest non-nuclear weapon used by the US army in its 15th year of fight against terrorists in Afghanistan. The operation came a few days before Mr Trump’s National Security Adviser H R McMaster flies to Afghan capital Kabul and reviews the security scenario on that country and the future of nearly 9,000 American troops stationed in Afghanistan. Mr McMaster is scheduled to visit Pakistan and India thereafter.
The 21,600-pound (9,797-kg) GBU-43 bomb, which has 11 tonnes of explosives, was dropped from a MC-130 aircraft in Achin district of Nangarhar, bordering Pakistan, Pentagon spokesman Adam Stump said on Thursday. The bomb is a GPS-guided weapon that had never before been used in combat since its first test in 2003 when it produced a mushroom cloud visible from a distance of 32 km.
The MOAB offensive was part of a joint operation between Afghan and international troops, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s office said in a statement. “Afghan and foreign troops closely coordinated this operation and were extra cautious to avoid any civilian casualties,” it said.
Gen John W. Nicholson, the commander of the US army in Afghanistan, said the strike was designed to minimise the risk to Afghan and US forces conducting operations in the Achin area “while maximising the destruction” of IS fighters and facilities.
The US has steadily intensified its air campaign against Islamic State and Taliban militants in Afghanistan. “We targeted a system of tunnels and caves that ISIS fighters used to move around freely, making it easier for them to target US military advisers and Afghan forces in the area,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said. Fighting had intensified over the last week between US Special Forces and Afghan troops against ISIS and they met with fierce resistance from the IS which planted explosives.
The use of MOAB, which had been earlier used in Iraq four years ago, indicates a changed military strategy by the Trump administration from the one under the previous Barack Obama dispensation. Under Mr Trump, Washington appears to have given greater room to the US military in taking decisions on the battlefield, shifting it away from the White House. During his presidential election campaign, Mr Trump had vowed to make a “tremendous difference” in the fight against ISIS. During the presidential election campaign last year, Mr Trump vowed to eradicate the ISIS, saying he would “bomb the s**t” out of the terror group, also known as ISIL.
The presence of the ISIS in Afghanistan first came to notice in 2015 in the country’s east and the terror group’s footprints has been expanding since then. US military officials have said the ISIS branch is largely made up of former members of regional terror groups, including the Pakistani Taliban and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
By using MOAB, Washington has sent a powerful message to terrorists on both sides of the Durand Line dividing Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as faraway North Korea, which is reportedly readying for a fresh nuclear device test, analysts said.