Analysts question U.S. strategy over massive bomb strike in Afghanistan

Yesterday's massive bomb that hit an eastern Afghanistan province targeting ISIS came out of nowhere. The Current tries to make sense of the U.S. strategy behind the 'mother of all bombs' strike.
The Pentagon says U.S. forces in Afghanistan dropped the military's largest non-nuclear bomb on an Islamic State target in Afghanistan. The bomb, known as the GBU-43, contains 11 tons of explosives. (Eglin Air Force Base/Associated Press)

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On April 13, the U.S. dropped the so-called "the mother of all bombs" on an eastern Afghanistan province, and it came as a surprise to everyone, including — perhaps — even Donald Trump.

"We have the greatest military in the world … so we have given them authorization. And frankly that's why they've been so successful lately, " U.S. President Donald Trump said after announcing the strike.

The intended target was ISIS and its network of tunnels and caves.

The bomb, officially known as the GBU 43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast, is one of the U.S.'s most powerful conventional weapons, with a blast power of more than 11 tonnes of explosives.  

It was the first time the U.S. has used this size of conventional bomb in a conflict.

University of Bradford professorPaul Rogers says the move was symbolic.

"This is basically to show the ISIS faction in Afghanistan what the Trump administration can do. It's very much part and parcel of the attitude of the administration as a whole," Rogers tells The Current's Friday host Dave Seglins. 
The "mother of all bombs" is dropped on a test target in Florida in 2003. (Handout)

"Trump has given the military more or less carte blanche to go their own way and probably he didn't even know this was going to happen."

The GBU 43 has "a radius of very severe effects of probably … nearly 300 metres," Rogers explains. "You do not survive against a weapon like this." 

The bomb is not designed to penetrate into rock or concrete or bunkers as the name implies, Rogers says. But the effect of the explosives, "will hugely damage shallow tunnels, shallow bunkers." 

While it has devastating effects, it's not the most powerful bomb in the world, Rogers says.

"The Americans also have what is known as the massive penetrator and essentially that is a device which is a true earthquake bomb."

He tells Seglins this bomb has not been used in combat yet, but "given the attitude of the Trump administration I wouldn't be at all surprised if that was used as well in the near future." 

Bomb a symbolic message

Eric Schmitt, national security correspondent for the New York Times, agrees the U.S.'s strategy to use this bomb is based on "the powerful psychological message" it sends.

He says that message was not only meant for ISIS, but also other insurgent groups that have gained momentum recently in Afghanistan.

"[It] demonstrates to all the militant groups in the area that this is the kind of capability that the U.S. can bring to bear if it wants."

Reports say that 36 ISIS militants were killed in this recent bomb strike by the U.S. but Schmitt tells Seglins, "it may not just be the number of …. those killed but the things [militants] were doing in those tunnels and caves that the American command was trying to eliminate."
Afghan security force personnel take part in an ongoing operation against an Islamic State (IS) militant stronghold in Achin district of Nangarhar, eastern Afghanistan, April 14, 2017. (Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images)

Chief foreign correspondent for The Sunday Times Christina Lamb adds the U.S. may have also been targeting a possible training camp in the area.

Although she says, her concern lies with the assumption that the target was a sophisticated set up, as if it's "a James Bond set up."

"Actually it was just a few caves and tunnels. So it does seem a bit odd that something of this size and that expense to do this."

Taliban the priority in Afghanistan

Lamb tells Seglins that ISIS is not a priority for the government in Afghanistan, "the real threat …  continues to be the Taliban who are widespread through the country."

But the government knows that ISIS will get more international attention than the Taliban, Lamb says, "so if they talk about attacks being carried out by ISIS, they're more likely to get help from outside."

"The real issue in Afghanistan is that people are fed up with corruption, with the government, that they're not getting legal cases sorted out. That there's no employment," Lamb explains.

She says young men in villages have nothing to do so they join the Taliban or ISIS.

"ISIS has been paying people to join. And that's the one link … to Iraq and Syria, that money has been apparently coming from there to pay for recruitment in Afghanistan."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Howard Goldenthal, Ines Colabrese and Sam Colbert.