Massive US bomb kills dozens of ISIS militants in Afghanistan

Afghan commandos preparing to launch mortar shells on an Islamic State (IS) militant stronghold in Achin district of Nangarhar, eastern Afghanistan, on April 14, 2017.
Afghan commandos preparing to launch mortar shells on an Islamic State (IS) militant stronghold in Achin district of Nangarhar, eastern Afghanistan, on April 14, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

KABUL • As many as 36 suspected Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants were killed in Afghanistan when the US dropped the "Mother of All Bombs", one of the largest non-nuclear devices ever unleashed in combat, the Afghan Defence Ministry said yesterday.

The strike on Thursday came as United States President Donald Trump dispatches his first high-level delegation to Kabul, amid uncertainty about his plans for the nearly 9,000 American troops stationed in Afghanistan.

The deaths have not been independently verified, and ISIS yesterday denied suffering any casualties.

Afghan Defence Ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri said no civilians were harmed in the massive blast that targeted a network of caves and tunnels.

"No civilian has been hurt and only the base, which Daesh used to launch attacks in other parts of the province, was destroyed," Mr Waziri said, using an Arabic term that refers to ISIS.

The group has established a small stronghold in eastern Afghanistan and launched deadly attacks on the capital, Kabul.

The GBU-43/B bomb was dropped from an MC-130 aircraft in the Achin district of the eastern province of Nangarhar bordering Pakistan, Pentagon spokesman Adam Stump said.

The device, which has a destructive power equivalent to 11 tonnes of TNT, had never been used in combat since its first test in 2003.

At a village about 5km from the remote, mountainous area where the bomb was dropped, witnesses said the ground shook, but homes and shops appeared unaffected.

"Last night's bomb was really huge. When it dropped, everywhere, it was shaking," said resident Palstar Khan.

The strike was part of a joint operation by Afghan and international troops, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's office said in a statement.

American officials said the bomb had been positioned for possible use in Afghanistan for "some time" since the administration of former president Barack Obama.

Mr Trump announced on Wednesday that he was sending National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster to Kabul soon to review the US strategy there.

Achin, an agricultural district with a majority ethnic Pashtun population, was once home to roughly 90,000 people, but tens of thousands of residents have fled to neighbouring districts.

REUTERS, WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 15, 2017, with the headline 'Massive US bomb kills dozens of ISIS militants in Afghanistan'. Print Edition | Subscribe