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CENTCOM: US drops 'mother of all bombs' on ISIS in Afghanistan

The U.S. military said it conducted a strike on an ISIS-K tunnel complex in the Achin district of Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, on Thursday.
A U.S. aircraft dropped a GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast, also known as a MOAB, as part of ongoing efforts to defeat ISIS-Khorasan in Afghanistan, according to a statement from U.S. Central Command. 

The strike aimed to minimize the risk to Afghan and U.S. forces conducting clearing operations in the area, the release said.

"As ISIS-K's losses have mounted, they are using IEDs, bunkers and tunnels to thicken their defense," Gen. John W. Nicholson, the top commander in Afghanistan, said in the release. "This is the right munition to reduce these obstacles and maintain the momentum of our offensive against ISIS-K."

The release said the U.S. took "every precaution" to avoid civilian casualties, a position White House spokesman Sean Spicer reiterated on Thursday.

"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," White House spokesman Sean Spicer said. "The United States took all precautions necessary to prevent civilian casualties and collateral damage as a result of the operation."

Spicer also described the bomb as "a large, powerful and accurately delivered weapon."

Army Times
DoD identifies Green Beret killed while fighting ISIS in Afghanistan
The strike comes just days after a Special Forces soldier was killed in Nangarhar province. Staff Sgt. Mark De Alencar, of 7th Special Forces Group, was killed Saturday by enemy small arms fire while his unit was conducting counter-ISIS operations, according to the Defense Department.

The fact that the U.S. dropped the MOAB in the same province where De Alencar was killed is probably not a coincidence, said Bill Roggio, of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

“There might have been a degree of payback here as well,” Roggio told Military Times. “There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, especially if you’re killing your enemy.” 

ISIS has had a strong province in Nangarhar and three other Afghan provinces for years, said Roggio, also editor of the Long War Journal. The fact that the U.S. dropped the MOAB indicates that ISIS remains a threat in the area, he said. The weapon is also effective against enemy fighters who hide in caves.

“What it does is basically suck out all of the oxygen and lights the air on fire,” Roggio said. “It’s a way to get into areas where conventional bombs can’t reach.” 

The use of the GBU-43/B should not be understood as a larger show of force meant to send a message to Syria or other nations, said Charles A. Horner, a retired 4-star Air Force general who commanded U.S. air assets during Desert Storm. Instead, it was likely employed because of its ability to destroy ISIS’s underground infrastructure, he said. 

"They were wanting to collapse tunnels, and they don't know exactly where the tunnel is so they want to cause an earthquake to cave them in,” he said.
moab 5
The GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb prototype moments before it makes contact March 11, 2003. The detonation created a mushroom cloud that could be seen from up to 20 miles away.
Photo Credit: Air Force
The 30-foot, 21,600-pound, GPS-guided MOAB was designed before the Iraq War to try to pressure Saddam Hussein, but none were ever used in the war. The first operational MOAB was deployed April 11, 2003, but by that point, coalition troops had entered Baghdad and the Iraqi army had crumbled. According to an Air Force release published on the fifth anniversary of its March 11, 2003, test, it produced a mushroom cloud that could be seen from 20 miles away. It is so big, it doesn’t fit into bombers and instead must be carried in the back of a C-130. 

After the initial phase of the war passed without it being used, it became a museum piece and was added to the Air Armament Museum at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida in 2004. That MOAB on display was an empty shell, but the Air Force said at the time that it could be refilled with explosive and put back into service. 

The U.S. mission in Afghanistan is twofold: to train and advise Afghan forces battling the Taliban, and target terrorists affiliated with al-Qaida and the Islamic State. The latter are centralized in Nangarhar province along the Pakistan border, where Thursday’s strike occurred. 

The massive U.S. attack comes as several regional powers, including Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan, have begun to exert more influence — in some cases to undermine NATO's objectives.

On Wednesday, the White House announced it is conducting a broader strategy review intended to establish the United States' next steps for the 15-year Afghanistan campaign. As part of that, the president intends to dispatch his national security adviser, Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, to “find out how we can make progress alongside our Afghan partners.” 

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