WASHINGTON — In its second major display of military might in one week, the U.S. dropped its most powerful non-nuclear bomb on ISIS positions in a remote part of Afghanistan.
Afghan officials said 36 militants were killed in the strike in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistan border, where the U.S. military previously estimated ISIS had 600 to 800 active fighters.
The GBU-43/B Massive Ordinance Air Blast bomb (MOAB) was dropped Thursday night on a network of fortified underground tunnels that ISIS had been using to stage attacks on government forces.
The GPS-guided munition is known as the “mother of all bombs” and is capable of destroying an area equivalent to nine city blocks.
The blast destroyed three underground tunnels as well as weapons and ammunition, but no civilians were hurt, Afghan and U.S. officials have said.
A local resident living around 1.5 miles from the blast said he heard an “extremely loud boom that smashed the windows of our house.”
“We were all scared and my children and my wife were crying. We thought it had happened right in front of our house,” he said.
The commander for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, defended the use of the bomb and confirmed the target of the strike was the network of tunnels that ISIS fighters use to move around and protect themselves from Afghan and U.S. forces.
“This was the right weapon against the right target,” he said.
Nicholson gave a vague response to a question by reporters on who exactly ordered or greenlighted the strike, saying only that he enjoyed a certain amount of “latitude” to make decisions in his chain of command.
He confirmed the strike was carried out in coordination with Afghan officials and said that the mission had conducted rigorous surveillance before, during and after the operation to prevent civilian deaths.
“Let me be clear — we will not relent in our mission to fight alongside our Afghan comrades to destroy ISIS-K in 2017,” he said, referring to ISIS’ regional branch.
The U.S. bomb was dropped as Washington comes under increased scrutiny over its military actions in the Middle East — three U.S.-led airstrikes in the past month that have killed civilians or allies.
President Donald Trump said the Afghanistan bombing was “another successful job.”
The Afghanistan bombing — along with the U.S.’ first airstrikes against the Syrian regime last week — mark a dramatic change in attitude for Trump, who advocated an isolationist, America-first foreign policy during his election campaign.
In just the last week, Trump has overseen the use of some of the most powerful weaponry in the US arsenal.
He once said the invasion of Afghanistan was a mistake, though he later walked back that statement, saying that he “always supported” U.S. involvement in the country.