Take Appropriate Cover, Evacuate, Bomb/s Away!"The enemy had created bunkers, tunnels and extensive mine fields, and this weapon was used to reduce those obstacles so that we could continue our offensive in southern Nangarhar,"
"As ISIS-K losses have mounted, they are using IEDs, bunkers and tunnels to thicken their defence."
"This is the right munition to reduce these obstacles and maintain the momentum of our offensive against ISIS-K."
Gen John Nicholson, chief U.S. military commander in Afghanistan
"[Islamic State are] not human beings, they are savages."
"They used to marry our daughters and wives to their fighters, blamed residents for spying, they beheaded, cut [off] hands and did not allow mobile phones that had cameras."
Mir Alam Shinwari, Achin resident, Afghanistan
"[The GBU-43 is] just another tool the military has. It allows us to go after deeply buried and hardened structures. It's good use against tunnels and it's also good use because it's going to set off IEDs in the area."
"Although the size of the bomb was a bit larger than normal, it was a routine military mission against a routine military target."
Mark Kimmitt, (retired) U.S. Army brigadier-general, (former) deputy assistant secretary of defence
"ISIL doesn't concentrate its forces ... so you have to target it in many different places."
"A bomb of this magnitude could cause a lot of collateral damage."
"But when you're using it in a remote, rural part of Nangarhar province in Afghanistan, you presumably can have some confidence that you'll not have civilian casualties, or at least not many of them."
Peter Galbraith, former US diplomat, former UN deputy special representative for Afghanistan
|Still from video -- CNN|
Large it certainly is, at a massive 21,600lb (9,800kg). It evidently resulted in what those who ordered it into action anticipated; a huge, resounding boom heard and felt and seen for a huge distance, its message unmistakable: the U.S. Air Force was here, and will return as and when needed. As weapons go, this is a huge one, GPS-guided, dropped from a MC-130 plane which carried the bomb on a specially designed cradle outfitted within the aircraft from which it is extracted by a parachute.
Its purpose was delineated clearly enough; to penetrate and destroy caves and bunkers used by Islamic State in Afghanistan, also known as ISIS-K. The Thursday night operation was a surprise, as much as the surprise the week before when 59 Tomahawk missiles were sent careening into a Syrian airfield, delivering a message there. On this occasion the target of the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb, was a network of fortified underground tunnels in use by ISIS to stage attacks from, targeting Afghan government forces.
The good-news scenario, according to both Afghan and U.S. officials, was that the operation was a stunning success, where the blast destroyed three underground tunnels along with weapons and ammunition, and of course, no civilians were hurt, miraculously, Contrary to what occurs when such attacks have taken place in the past. Afghans living in the area reported feeling and hearing the blast, as though it had taken place close beside them, though they were kilometres distant. And just as well.
The branch of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Afghanistan was the first that ISIL established outside of the Middle East, and the area it now controls however geographically remote it is, enables them to prey on Afghans in the near vicinity. People who have had also to contend with al Qaeda also installed in the area, competing for greater areas to control in efforts to wrest them from the Taliban which itself controls fully one-third of the Afghan geography.
The Afghan branch of ISIL-K (Khorosan, an ancient name for Afghanistan), has emulated the tactics of al-Qaeda in occupying natural caves in the geology of the mountains region between Pakistan and Afghanistan; as in the early days after the invasion of Afghanistan by NATO troops led by the United States seeking Osama bin Laden after the destruction of the World Trade Towers on 9/11. And just as American forces dropped bombs on the caves that al-Qaeda and its leader were occupying at that time, this is a repeat performance many years later.
The aim of dropping this powerful bomb in a remote mountainous region to hit tunnels, caves and other underground hideways was as much the opportunity to test a reputedly dreadful new weapon in the non-nuclear arsenal of the United States in a real-combat situation, as it was to send an equally powerful message to countries like North Korea and Iran of what the United States is capable of committing to, in its wrath against international offenders of the terrorist stripe.
It was certainly a costly message, to the tune of $16-million for the bomb, though not as costly as an the plane that dropped it. That $16-million will be written off as the price to pay for sending a message of incendiary capability. The death count from the blast of the GBU-43B dropped from a U.S. Air Force MC-130 plane (unit cost: $160-M) in the Achin district of Nangarhar province (not all that far from the infamous Tora Bora of bin Laden infamy) was just around 36 ISIL fighters. That, out of a reputed 600 to 800 in the area.
|An MC-130H Combat Talon refuels a CV-22B Osprey during the honorary commanders change of command ceremony on Hurlburt Field, Fla., Sept. 25, 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Meagan Schutter)|
What seems curious, however, in the face of the fact that the mission and use of the MOAB was to destroy tunnels and caves was its choice. This behemoth of a bomb was designed for softer targets like surface facilities, tunnel entrances and troop concentrations. And while it was reported that weapons caches were hit and destroyed, along with the 36 ISIL terrorists, one of whom was a commander, it is doubtful, although an assessment will be done, whether the powerful bomb could have been as useful to the purpose as another bomb in the U.S. arsenal.
Another non-nuclear massive weapon called the Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), larger physically, but carrying a somewhat smaller conventional explosives load, is specifically designed to destroy targets that have been deeply buried, like reinforced bunkers. Somehow, it seems puzzling that this was not the weapon of choice for this very particular purpose targeting reinforced bunkers and tunnels. This bomb has never been used before in combat and it seems counter-intuitive that it would be sidelined in consideration of this mission.