The United States Air Force dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb in its arsenal for the first time in live combat on Islamic State positions in Afghanistan, in a move that the Trump administration is saying was aimed at stopping the terror group’s freedom of movement through underground cave networks.

  • MOAB is the GBU-43 Massive Ordinance Air Blast Bomb – it is GPS guided.
  • It weighs 21,600lbs or 9,800kg and is more than 30 feet (9m) in length.
  • About 13,000 U.S. and NATO troops remain in Afghanistan, and the top U.S. commander is pushing for several thousand more.

This attack comes just hours after the Pentagon admitted it mistakenly killed 18 rebels in an air strike in Syria.

“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,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said. “The United States took all precautions necessary to prevent civilian casualties and collateral damage as a result of the operation.”

Asked if he authorized the strike, President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House, “We have the greatest military in the world and they’ve done a job, as usual. We have given them total authorization and that’s what they’re doing.”

Gen. John W. Nicholson, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said the bomb was “the right munition” to use against the Islamic State because of the group’s use of roadside bombs, bunkers and tunnels.

What was accomplished?

However, its unclear what the MOAB strike accomplished, as the bomb is not designed to penetrate hardened targets such as bunkers or cave complexes. The larger 30,000 pound GBU-57 Massive Ordnance Penetrator, designed for destroying heavily fortified bunker complexes, has never been used outside a test environment. While the GBU-57 is heavier, the GBU-43 has a larger warhead and explosive yield.

The governor of Achin district, Esmail Shinwari, told the AFP news agency that the explosion was the biggest he had ever seen and that huge flames “engulfed the area”.

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack:

Estimates about ISIS’s numerical strength inside Afghanistan vary, ranging from several hundred to a few thousand fighters. US forces say their number has been cut in half since early 2016 due to military operations.

A 2003 test of the weapon can be seen here: