MOAB: US drops 'largest non-nuclear bomb' on Afghanistan - 21,000lb 'mother of all bombs' used for first time
The US has dropped a MOAB device, the largest non-nuclear bomb in the country’s arsenal, on an area of eastern Afghanistan said to be populated by Isis.
The US said the attack left 36 Isis militants dead and no civilian casualties.
Spokesman for the US Department of Defence Adam Stump said it was the first ever combat use of the bomb, known as the GBU-43. It contains 11 tons of explosives.
The Air Force calls it the Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) and has also been called the "mother of all bombs" based on the acronym.
The US military headquarters in Kabul said in a statement that the bomb was dropped at 7:32pm local time Thursday on a tunnel complex in the Achin district of Nangarhar province, where the Afghan affiliate of the IS group has been operating.
The target was close to the Pakistani border. The Ministry of Defence said in a statement that several Isis caves and ammunition caches were destroyed by the giant bomb, which terrified villagers on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border with its "earsplitting blast
When it was developed in the early 2000s, the Pentagon did a formal review of legal justification for its combat use.
Mr Stump said the bomb was dropped from a US Air Force MC-130 transport, which he said had been brought to Afghanistan "some time ago" for potential use.
Army General John W Nicholson, commander of US forces in Afghanistan, said the strike was designed to minimise the risk to Afghan and US forces conducting clearing operations in the Achin area "while maximising the destruction" of Isis fighters and facilities.
He said Isis has been using improvised explosive devices, bunkers and tunnels to strengthen its defences.
"This is the right munition to reduce these obstacles and maintain the momentum of our offensive against Isis-K," he added, using the US military's acronym for the Isis affiliate.
US president Donald Trump called Thursday's operation a "very, very successful mission".
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Isis fighters had used the tunnels and caves in Achin to manoeuvre freely.
"The United States takes the fight against Isis very seriously and in order to defeat the group we must deny them operational space, which we did," Mr Spicer said.
'Caves and ammunition caches destroyed'
The Afghan Ministry of Defence said several Isis caves and ammunition caches were destroyed by the giant bomb, which terrified villagers on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border with its "earsplitting blast".
Pakistani villagers living near the Afghan border said the explosion was so loud they thought a bomb had been dropped in their village by US warplanes targeting terrorists in Pakistan.
The US estimates 600 to 800 IS fighters are present in Afghanistan, mostly in Nangarhar.
The US has concentrated heavily on combating them while also supporting Afghan forces battling the Taliban.
President Donald Trump called Thursday's operation a "very, very successful mission".
Inamullah Meyakhil, spokesman for the central hospital in eastern Nangarhar province, said the facility had received no dead or wounded from the attack.
District governor Ismail Shinwari said there is no civilian property near the air strike location.
There was no immediate comment from Isis or other militants regarding the US bomb attack.
'Like an earthquake'
The impact of the "mother of all bombs" dropped by US forces in Afghanistan would have been like an earthquake and sends a message about Donald Trump's presidency, experts have said.
The bomb, the largest non-nuclear weapon ever used in combat by the US military, killed 36 so-called Islamic State fighters in a tunnel complex in eastern Afghanistan.
The GBU-43B massive ordnance air blast (MOAB), which contains 11 tonnes of explosives, was used for the first time to destroy Isis caves and ammunition caches.
The MOAB, nicknamed the "mother of all bombs", was dropped in the Achin district of Nangarhar province, very close to the border with Pakistan.
US army general John Nicholson, the commander of American forces in the country, said Isis - also known as ISIS-K in Afghanistan - were using improvised bombs, bunkers and tunnels to "thicken their defence", so the massive bomb was a necessary response.
"This is the right munition to reduce these obstacles and maintain the momentum of our offensive against ISIS-K," he said.
Former US state department spokesman PJ Crowley told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the use of the weapon was an indication of how Mr Trump had given "greater leeway to the military in terms of what it can do" in Afghanistan and Syria.
Mr Crowley, a former US air force colonel, said the bomb was "like creating a minor earthquake in that particular area".
"It is going to have a profound effect not just in the immediate area, but the concussion extends for a considerable distance," he said.
"It is certainly something that will get the attention of military forces in that area."
He said civilians would have been "impacted in terms of feeling the tremor" of the weapon.
Professor Michael Clarke, a senior associate fellow at defence think tank the Royal United Services Institute, said the use of the weapon would have gone to the White House for approval but was likely to have been a decision made by the local commander.
"It may not have been initiated by President Trump, but nevertheless he is obviously happy to take credit for it and he is happy that it fits into his broader sense that he wants to be militarily credible," he said.
"It is fairly dramatic ... there is a tactical effect on the ground, this is a cave complex the Americans would have known quite a lot about, they knew that if they dropped one of these things it would destroy pretty much everything underground.
"But I think, also, President Trump must have decided: 'Yes, get on and do it, because it is consistent with the message I want to send to the rest of the world.'"
Gen Nicholson said fighters from Isis - also known as Daesh - were using tunnels and minefields and the bomb was used to clear those obstacles and destroy their "sanctuary".
"This weapon was very effective in that use, and our soldiers on the ground - our Afghan commandos, our special forces - are on the site now and the weapon achieved its intended purpose," he said at a press conference.
He insisted there was no wider signal being sent by the bomb's use, and it was "simply the appropriate tactical moment against the proper target to use this particular munition".
"It is not related to any outside events other than our focus on destroying Daesh in 2017."
Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai used Twitter to condemn the weapon's use.
"I vehemently and in strongest words condemn the dropping of the latest weapon, the largest non-nuclear bomb, on Afghanistan by US military," he said.
"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."
Belfast Telegraph Digital