The US military on Thursday dropped what has been described as the largest non-nuclear bomb in the country’s arsenal in an area of eastern Afghanistan known to be populated by Isis-affiliated militants.

The Pentagon said the strike was the first time the 21,000 pounds weapon had been used in combat operations.

A spokesperson for the US Department of Defence confirmed to The Independent that an MC-130 aircraft dropped a GBU-43 bomb at 7 pm local time.

The weapon is known in the US Air Force by its nickname MOAB, or “mother of all bombs”. MOAB stands for massive ordnance air blast.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the US had used a “large, powerful and accurately delivered weapon” to disrupt the movements of militants in the country.

Pentagon spokesman Adam Stump said the bomb was dropped on a cave complex believed to be used by fighters affiliated to Isis in the Achin district of Nangarhar, close to the border with Pakistan.

The Pentagon said the mission had been in the planning stages for months. However, they “did not have the information” on whether the mission was being planned during the previous Obama administration.

 “This is the right munition to reduce these obstacles and maintain the momentum of our offensive against Isis,” General John Nicholson, the head of US and international forces in Afghanistan, said in a statement.

Central Command approval was required because the MOAB had to be moved across theatres to prepare for the mission.

The cargo aircraft used to drop the bomb was already located in Afghanistan prior to the mission.

There have been no assessments of civilian deaths as yet and it was not immediately clear how much damage the bomb did.

The ‘mother of all bombs’ was developed and tested shortly before the 2003 Iraq war.

Retired Lt. Col. Rick Francona told CNN the blast would “feel like a nuclear weapon to anyone near the area”.

Veteran General Mark Hertling told the broadcaster the “Air Force must have had a good target…normally smaller artillery could have been used”.

The remote border area with Pakistan has been known as a breeding ground for an Isis affiliate called IS Khorosan.

Potential impact of MOAB on target

A source told The Independent that the affiliations and aims of militant groups located in the Nangarhar border area changed regularly, and it was not possible to say exactly which group may have been targeted.

Timing

President Barack Obama and his predecessor President Bush both had access to this bomb but did not use it though it is said that the bomb was moved into Afghanistan prior to Trump taking office. The question, therefore, is, ‘Why now?’ Analysts believe the strike was to send a message to ISIS and its affiliates and sympathisers, such as Al Qaeda and the Taliban, that it is not business as usual with the US military under President Trump. It is also thought to be part of a broader signal to countries like North Korea that might want to challenge US military might.

President Trump commending the US military

Asked if that was the case during his first public reaction to the strike, President Trump said whether it made that impression or not, “North Korea is a problem that will be taken care of”. He commended US forces for the strike which he said was authorised by the White House:

“If you look at what’s happened over the last 8 weeks, and compare that to what’s happened over the last 8 years, you’d see there’s a tremendous difference. We have incredible leaders in the military and we have an incredible military. We are very proud of them. This was another very very successful mission”

Last week, US special forces used Tomahawk missiles to take out about 23 planes at a Syrian air force base on allegations that Syria had used chemical weapons on civilians, leaving 89 people dead..

The making of MOAB

Mother Of All Bombs (MOAB)

Most of what is publicly available about the GBU-43 comes from a 2008 article from the Eglin Air Force Base. The piece, which marked the five-year anniversary of the bomb, says that the GBU-43 weighs a massive 21,600 pounds. During testing, the weapon created a mushroom cloud that could be seen 20 miles away from the blast, according to the Air Force story.

Each MOAB costs around $16 million, according to military information website Deagel. With 20 made so far, the site says the U.S. military has spent some $314 million on the production of the explosive.

The original goal of the so-called MOAB — either standing for “Massive Ordnance Air Blast” or “Mother Of All Bombs,” was to act as a non-nuclear deterrent against former Iraq dictator Saddam Hussein.

“The goal is to have the pressure be so great that Saddam Hussein cooperates,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in a 2003 interview, according to the Eglin Air Force Base story. “Short of that — an unwillingness to cooperate — the goal is to have the capabilities of the coalition so clear and so obvious that there is an enormous disincentive for the Iraqi military to fight against the coalition.”

The bomb was rapidly developed by the Air Force starting in 2002 as a replacement for the BLU-82 Daisy Cutter. While the MOAB was bigger, it was also smarter, with GPS-capable targeting allowing for more accurate bombing.

MOP (Massive Ordnance Penetrator)

As at 2009, it was reported that the Pentagon was trying to speed up the deployment of an ultra-large bunker-busting bomb, which would constitute the largest non-nuclear bomb the U.S. has ever used. The Massive Ordnance Penetrator, or MOP, is a 30,000-pound bomb meant to dive deeper than any previous bomb and could be strapped to B-2 or B-52 bombers.

MOP heading for target

The MOP is 20 feet long and can penetrate bunkers up to 200 feet before exploding. At 15 tonnes, the MOP is a third heavier than the previous “mother of all bombs”, the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb. The MOP also packs a whopping 5,300 lbs of explosives, which is 10 times the amount its predecessor bunker-buster, the BLU-109, carried.

The push for accelerated deployment was said to be due to the increased perceived nuclear threats from Iran and North Korea. It’s believed that many of their nuclear programmes could be in development underground, below levels of current bunker-busting bombs’ range.

NP/Agency Reports

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