The U.S. Central Command announced on Thursday that the military has used a GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast, otherwise known as the Mother Of All Bombs, for the first time in combat today, dropping one on an ISIS complex in Afghanistan:
The MOAB is the most powerful non-nuclear bomb in the U.S. arsenal, coming in at 21,000 pounds, including 18,000 pounds of explosives. (Russia claims to have an even bigger one. Go figure.)
Afghanistan has gotten much less attention than Syria, or even Yemen, in the U.S. media lately, but the situation there is increasingly dire, with the Taliban having taken over more territory in 2016 than in any other year of its fight against he U.S.-backed government. In the meantime, an offshoot of ISIS has been expanding in the country as well. The group, based in Nangarhar province where the MOAB was dropped, took responsibility for the February attack on a Sufi shrine across the border in Pakistan that killed nearly 90 people. A U.S. Green Beret was killed in fighting with ISIS in Nangarhar last weekend.
The MOAB was developed during the Iraq war but never used. As my colleague Fred Kaplan wrote at the time, there was speculation it could be used to target Saddam Hussein palaces. But military officials said at the time that it had been conceived mainly for “psychological operations”—an explosion so big that the enemy would stop fighting. So the bomb may have been used less for any tactical purpose than to send a message.
In any event, the Trump administration’s newfound concern about civilian deaths doesn’t appear to have slowed down its determination to “bomb the shit” out of ISIS. In other news that will probably get less attention than the great big bomb, a U.S. airstrike accidentally hit friendly forces fighting ISIS in northern Syria on Tuesday, killing 18.