O n April 13, the US military dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb in history on a mountainous stronghold of a South Asian Islamic State (IS) cell.
Dubbed the ‘Mother of All Bombs’, the Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) struck caves and bunkers sheltering Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-KP) fighters in the remote Spin Ghar Mountains of eastern Afghanistan. The strike reportedly killed at least 90 insurgents in Nangarhar province, with no reported civilian casualties.
Mohammad Shahzadah, a resident living 2.4 km away, told The Guardian’s Afghanistan correspondent the bomb’s aftershock felt “as though the heavens were falling down.”
US and Afghan government estimates say there are between 700 and 1,500 IS-KP fighters in the country, wielding most of their influence in the remote, mountainous regions on the Pakistani border.
Tom Hussain, a journalist and regional affairs specialist based in Pakistan, told The World Weekly that reaction to the MOAB bombing among local civilians was largely positive, as the significant death toll weakened the militant group. “The positive response echoes a desire to live in peace,” he said. “The alternative would be living in a war zone, caught between multiple combatants.”
Developed for use in the Iraq War and first tested in 2003, President Donald Trump’s approval of the MOAB deployment after 14 years in hibernation is indicative of what some see as a wider foreign policy trend. Elected on the promise to “totally destroy” IS, in the three months since his inauguration Mr. Trump has reportedly explored ways to dismantle Obama-era restrictions on military operations.
MOAB weighs 9,797kg. It is the equivalent of 11-tonnes of TNT, and cost the US $314 million to produce.
Introduced in 2013, President Barack Obama’s Presidential Policy Guidance required high levels of interagency vetting on strikes before they could be approved, with the aim of restricting civilian casualties. However, President Trump has backed two Pentagon requests to designate large areas in Yemen and Somalia as ‘areas of active hostilities’, granting American forces greater freedom to conduct air strikes and counter-terrorism raids in both countries.
In Iraq and Syria, the main theatres in the fight against IS militants, civilian casualties have spiked. According to Airwars, a watchdog group, 477 civilians were reportedly killed in Iraq and Syria in March alone, despite a decrease in airstrikes over the same period.
Mr. Hussain described MOAB’s use as much about “political signalling as a tactical military measure.”