The US used on Thursday its largest non-nuclear device ever unleashed in combat against Islamic State militants in Afghanistan, killing more than 36 suspected ISIS militants, the Afghan defense ministry said on Friday.
At the height of its power two years ago, Islamic State ruled over millions of people in territory running from northern Syria through towns and villages along the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys to the outskirts of Baghdad in Iraq.
However, ISIS’s territory is shrinking rapidly since last year as the US-led coalition, the Turkish-backed forces, and the Russian-backed Assad regime forces have fierce fights against its forces in both Syria and Iraq.
In addition to the middle East region, ISIS has a strong presence in Afghanistan, where it its operations are causing unrest and a huge death toll for both the Afghan and American forces.
However, the US has steadily intensified its air campaign against Islamic State 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 2016 period.
“Mother of all bombs”
To target what the military described as a “tunnel complex” used by the Isis’s Afghanistan affiliate, the US for the first time used what the military colloquially calls the “mother of all bombs”, the GBU-43/B.
Designed for destroying underground targets but not itself a deep-earth penetrator weapon, the GBU-43/B has the explosive yield of more than 11 tons of TNT. The massive bomb is dropped from air force planes and detonates before reaching the ground, resulting in an enormous blast radius. Only the Massive Ordnance Penetrator GBU-57, which has never been used in war, is a larger conventional weapon.
Describing the bombing at his regular White House press briefing, he told reporters: “At around 7pm local time in Afghanistan last night the United States military used a GBU-43 weapon in Afghanistan. The GBU-43 is a large, powerful and accurately delivered weapon. 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.”
Asked whether he had authorized the bombing, Donald Trump said: “Everybody knows exactly what happened. What I do is I authorize my military. We have the greatest military in the world and they’ve done a job as usual. We have given them total authorization and that’s what they’re doing and frankly that’s why they’ve been so successful lately.”
Did this bombing send a message to North Korea? “I don’t know if this sends a message; it doesn’t make any difference if it does or not,” the president said. “North Korea is a problem, the problem will be taken care of.” He implied that China was “working very hard” on this issue.
Army Gen John W Nicholson, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, said in a statement that the GBU-43/B was the “right munition” to use against the Islamic State in Khorosan, or Isis-K.
“As Isis-K’s losses have mounted, they are using IEDs, bunkers, and tunnels to thicken their defense. This is the right munition to reduce these obstacles and maintain the momentum of our offensive against Isis-K,” Nicholson said.
Dozens of militants killed
About 36 ISIS militants were killed in the attack, while no civilians were reportedly harmed.
Dawlat Waziri, an Afghan ministry spokesman said of Thursday’s strike: “No civilian has been hurt and only the base, which ISIS used to launch attacks in other parts of the province, was destroyed.”
Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai condemned the use of the weapon on Afghan soil.
“This is not the war on terror, but the inhuman and most brutal misuse of our country as testing ground for new and dangerous weapons,” he said on social media network Twitter.
Karzai added that the Afghans should stop the USA.
— Geeta Mohan (@Geeta_Mohan) April 13, 2017
At a village about 3 miles (5 km) from the remote, mountainous area where the bomb was dropped, homes and shops appeared unaffected by the blast, a Reuters witness said.
Residents said 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 bazaar,” said resident Raz Mohammad.
On Friday, the village was swarming with Afghan and international troops, as helicopters and other aircraft flew overhead.
The strike 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.