'Mother of All Bombs'

Afghanistan says 90 ISIS fighters killed

Afghan special forces on patrol in Pandola village on Friday, near the site where the US dropped a massive bomb in the Achin district of Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan. Still images from a video released by the US Defence Department shows
Afghan special forces on patrol in Pandola village on Friday, near the site where the US dropped a massive bomb in the Achin district of Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan.PHOTO: REUTERS
Afghan special forces on patrol in Pandola village on Friday, near the site where the US dropped a massive bomb in the Achin district of Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan. Still images from a video released by the US Defence Department shows
Still images from a video released by the US Defence Department shows the explosion of its massive bomb, which was dropped in the Achin district of the eastern province of Nangarhar, where US officials said a network of tunnels and caves was being used by ISIS fighters.PHOTO: REUTERS

US hit triggers global shock waves as troops conduct cleanup ops

JALALABAD (Afghanistan) • Afghan authorities yesterday reported a jump in fatalities from the United States military's largest non-nuclear bomb, declaring some 90 Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters dead, as US-led forces conducted cleanup operations over their mountain hideouts.

Dubbed the "Mother of All Bombs", the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast was unleashed in combat for the first time last Thursday, hitting ISIS positions in a remote area of eastern Nangarhar province.

The unprecedented attack triggered global shock waves, with some condemning the use of Afghanistan as what they said was a testing ground for the weapon, and against a militant group that is not considered a threat as big as the resurgent Taleban.

The bomb smashed ISIS hideouts in a tunnel-and-cave complex that had been mined against conventional ground attacks, engulfing the remote area in a huge mushroom cloud and towering flames.

"At least 92 Daesh fighters were killed in the bombing," Achin district governor Esmail Shinwari said yesterday, using an acronym for the Arab name of ISIS.

Nangarhar provincial spokesman Attaullah Khogyani gave a death toll of 90, far higher than the initial toll of 36 dead ISIS fighters given by Afghan officials.

Mr Shinwari insisted there were "no military and civilian casualties at all", adding that Afghan commandos and American troops are carrying out cleanup operations in the area.

Security experts said ISIS had built their redoubts close to civilian homes, but the government said thousands of local families had already fled the area in recent months of fighting.

An elderly man who lives close to the bombing site in Achin's Momand Dara area said the blast was so piercingly loud that his infant granddaughter had hearing loss.

The massive bomb was dropped after fighting intensified over the past week and US-backed ground forces struggled to advance on the area. An American special forces soldier was killed in Nangarhar while conducting anti-ISIS operations.

"The enemy had created bunkers, tunnels and extensive mine fields, and this weapon was used to reduce those obstacles so that we could continue our offensive in Nangarhar," General John Nicholson, the top US commander in Afghanistan, said.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani threw his support behind the bombardment, saying it was "designed to support the efforts of the Afghan and US forces conducting clearance operations in the region".

The bombing came only a week after US President Donald Trump ordered missile strikes against Syria in retaliation for a suspected chemical attack and China warned of the potential for conflict amid rising US tensions with North Korea.

Mr Trump hailed the Achin mission as "very, very successful".

But some analysts called the action "disproportionate".

Said Mr Michael Kugelman of the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington: "The Trump administration made a lot of noise with this bomb, but the general state of play on the ground remains the same: The Taleban continues to wage a formidable and ferocious insurgency. ISIS, by comparison, is a sideshow."

He added: "Still, from a strategic standpoint, there is an unsettling takeaway here: The US pulled off a huge shock-and-awe mission against an enemy that isn't even the top threat to the US in Afghanistan. The Taleban continues to sit pretty."

The Taleban, a much bigger insurgent group, is expected to soon announce the start of this year's fighting season.

ISIS, notorious for its reign of terror in Syria and Iraq, has made inroads into Afghanistan in recent years, attracting disaffected members of the Pakistani and Afghan Taleban as well as Uzbek Islamists.

But the group has been steadily losing ground in the face of heavy pressure both from US air strikes and a ground offensive led by Afghan forces.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 16, 2017, with the headline 'Afghanistan says 90 ISIS fighters killed'. Print Edition | Subscribe