- DoD Photo
The US dropped a 21,600-pound, GPS-guided bomb for the first time in combat Thursday on entrenched Islamic State targets in Afghanistan, according to the Pentagon.
“At 7:32 p.m. local time today, US forces – Afghanistan conducted a strike on an ISIS-K tunnel complex in Achin district, Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, as part of ongoing efforts to defeat ISIS-K in Afghanistan in 2017,” US Central Command said in a statement, referring to the Islamic State branch in Afghanistan and Pakistan, ISIS-Khorasan.
The bomb, the Massive Ordnance Air Blast, whose acronym inspired the nickname “Mother of All Bombs,” is the largest nonnuclear bomb in the US’s arsenal.
“We targeted a system of tunnels and caves that ISIS fighters used to move around freely, making it easier for them to target US military advisers and Afghan forces in the area,” the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, said at a press briefing. “The United States takes the fight against ISIS very seriously, and in order to defeat the group, we must deny them operational space, which we did.”
“The main attribute of the MOAB is that it causes overpressure,” Dr. Adam Lowther, the director of the US Air Force’s school of deterrence, told Business Insider on Thursday in a phone interview.
That overpressure, caused when the bomb detonates at a low altitude over its target, is designed to crush underground tunnels and bunkers like the ones often used by ISIS.
“The MOAB has a very narrow target set,” a US Air Force official told Business Insider. “Basically,” the official said, “targets in an environment like caves or canyons or clearing minefields” are ideal for the MOAB.
“It was the right munition for what we were engaged in,” the official said.
While the attack Thursday was the first of its kind by the US, Lowther said the bomb was “not even close to being a nuclear weapon” and he would “not make the argument that it’s a symbol of escalation” in the conflict in Afghanistan.
The nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II had explosive yields of about 15 to 20 kilotons, equal to that of 15,000 to 20,000 tons of TNT. Lowther says the MOAB doesn’t even represent a fraction of the destructive power of the US’s weakest nuclear weapon.
As the MOAB is a conventional weapon, it also doesn’t generate the heat or lasting radiation that nuclear explosions do.