America strikes again, drops 11 tonne explosives on IS base in Afghanistan

Published: April 14, 2017 - 17:18 Updated: August 1, 2017 - 17:35

US detonated its largest non-nuclear weapon ever to have been used in combat in a targeted strike on IS controlled caves and tunnels in Afghanistan. President Trump calls the mission ‘successful’

As many as 36 suspected Islamic State (IS) militants were killed in Afghanistan said the Afghan Defence Ministry on Friday after the United States dropped the Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) bomb during a targeted attack on a series of caves and tunnels being used by IS fighters in the region. The 9,797 kg GBU-43 with a payload of 11 tonnes of explosives was dropped from an MC-130 aircraft in the Achin district of the eastern province of Nangarhar. Reportedly, a US soldier was killed in the same district last week where the bomb was dropped while he was conducting operations against IS.  

The Afghan Ministry in its statement also said, “no civilian has been hurt and only the base which Daesh (IS) used to launch attacks in other parts of the province, was destroyed."

The bomb also nicknamed as the ‘mother of all bombs’ is the largest non-nuclear weapon ever to be detonated in combat by US forces.

Condemning the attacks on the Afghan soil former President Hamid Karzai blamed US government for using Afghanistan as a testing ground for their weapons. Expressing his views on Twitter, Karzai said, “this is not the war on terror, but the inhuman and most brutal misuse of our country as a testing ground for new and dangerous weapons. It is upon us, Afghans, to stop USA."

According to a Reuters witness, at a village about 5 km from the remote mountainous area where the bomb was dropped, homes and shops appeared unaffected by the blast. Residents in the region said that they saw militants climbing up and down the mountain every day, making occasional visits to the village. "They were Arabs, Pakistanis, Chinese and local insurgents coming to buy from shops in the market," said resident Raz Mohammad. 

Defending the move, US military commander in Afghanistan General John Nicholson said that his decision to deploy one of the largest conventional bombs used in combat was done in communication with officials in Washington and was a purely tactical decision.

US officials said that the intelligence suggests that IS is based overwhelmingly in Nangarhar and neighbouring Kunar province of the country with as much as 700 fighters. Afghan officials put this figure at 1,500. 

The strike was part of a joint operation between Afghan and international troops, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's office said in a statement. The President’s office added, “Afghan and foreign troops closely coordinated this operation and were extra cautious to avoid any civilian casualties."

The United States has steadily intensified its air campaign against IS and Taliban militants in Afghanistan, with the Air Force deploying nearly 500 weapons in the first three months of 2017, up from 300 in the corresponding period of 2016. American officials said the MOAB bomb had been positioned for a possible use in Afghanistan for ‘some time’, since the administration of former president Barack Obama. 

The GPS-guided GBU-43 was initially developed in 2003 to be used in Iraq war if conditions escalated, however, the administration never used it in combat. The weapon was carried in a special cradle from which it was extracted through a parachute before detonating 200 ft below the targeted series of caves and tunnels.

This strike authorised by President Donald Trump is the second attack on a foreign soil within a week, the previous being on the Al Shayrat base in Syria where 59 Tomahawk missiles were launched in retaliation to chemical weapons used by Syrian President Bashar-al-Assad on his own citizens.

Following the announcement by the White House, foreign policy experts said that it appeared the use of such a specialised weapon had more to do with the type of target than America sending any message to other countries by using such a powerful weapon. "This is a very specialised weapon, we don't have very many of them, you can only use them in a very narrow set of circumstances," said Mark Cancian, a senior adviser with the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank. Sceptical in his views Cancian added that while sending a message to Syria or North Korea could have been among the secondary factors considered, they would not have been the main reason for using this type of weapon.

Describing the bombing as a “very successful mission,” Trump took a jibe at the Obama administration saying, “If you look at what’s happened over the last eight weeks and compare that really to what’s happened over the last eight years, you’ll see that there’s a tremendous difference."

While the security situation remains precarious in Afghanistan, with a number of militant groups trying to claim territory for more than 15 years, Trump has offered little clarity about a broader strategy for Afghanistan, where some 8,400 US troops still remain in active combat.

(With inputs from UNI)