‘Mother of all bombs’ killed 36 Islamic State militants in Afghanistan
Up to 36 suspected Islamic State operatives are reported to have been killed by the massive 21,000-pound “mother of all bombs” dropped by US military forces on a complex of mountainside caves and tunnels in Nangarhar province of Afghanistan.
The damage estimates came from Afghan military, which went on to say no civilians were killed or wounded by the bombing that attracted worldwide focus once again to an ongoing war that seemed to have been eclipsed by conflicts in Syria and Iraq.
Islamic State on Friday denied suffering casualties in the bombing though. “Security source to Amaq agency denies any dead or wounded from yesterday’s American strike in Nangarhar using a GBU-43/B,” its news agency said on social media.
The strike came just days ahead of a visit by National Security Adviser H R McMaster to Afghanistan as part of the Trump administration’s review of policy for Afghanistan and the region. The NSA will go on to visit India and Pakistan.
The United States has long ceased combat operations in Afghanistan but continues to maintain a force level of about 9,000 personnel engaged in counter-terrorism operations and in advisory role to local Afghan forces.
India, which is heavily invested in Afghanistan strategically and economically, will be watching closely for signs if the bombing was part of an escalation and greater US involvement reversing President Barack Obama’s drawdown efforts.
The US has stepped up operations against IS and the Taliban, with the Air Force using nearly 500 weapons in the first three months of 2017, from 300 in the corresponding period in 2016, according to Reuters.
That’s roughly since President Donald Trump took office. But whens asked if he had authorised the Thursday bombing, Trump said “What I do is I authorise my military,” and he went on to call the strike “another very, very successful mission”.
The Pentagon has said the attack was part of ongoing efforts to defeat Islamic State-Khorasan (which they called by its other name, Islamic State of Syria and Iraq-Khorasan) group, which was active in Afghanistan-Pakistan region.
The device used was GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb — MOAB, which also expands to “mother of all bombs”, — that was so massive it was carried by a cargo plane and slipped out from its rear door and not bomb-bays.
This was the first time this bomb — that cost $16 million, and $300 million to develop — was used in combat and was chosen, the Pentagon said, to minimise the risk to US and Afghan forces conducting clearing operations in the area.
The day after, residents of nearby village that is also in Achin district where the caves were bombed, told Reuters they had seen IS fighters on the mountain and during their trips to the village.
“They were Arabs, Pakistanis, Chinese and local insurgents coming to buy from shops in the bazaar,” one of them said.
Another resident said, “Last night’s bomb was really huge, when it dropped, everywhere, it was shaking”. But he welcomed the strike as a “positive move”.
Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai, whose relations with the US had nosedived in his later years in office, was extremely critical, writing on Twitter, “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.” (With inputs from agencies)