Can 'Mother of All Bombs' give birth to peace in Afghanistan?

It is shocking to see the US army using the 10,000 kg behemoth, costing $16 million apiece, to kill 100 guys holed-up in caves in distant Afghanistan.

 |  6-minute read |   18-04-2017
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A jubilant US President Donald Trump was all praise for the US army for successfully dropping the Massive Ordinance Air Blast bomb, better known as “Mother of All Bombs" (MOAB), the largest non-nuclear bomb ever used in a conventional US operation, on the Islamic State terrorist base in Nangarhar province in Afghanistan, bordering Pakistan.

Afghan authorities estimate about 100 jihadi terrorists were killed when the GPS guided bomb, officially named GBU-43, hit the IS’ hive of tunnels and caves, from which they used to launch attacks on the US and Afghan forces. 

The US’s choice of IS target in Afghanistan to drop the huge bomb, is rather strange. The IS is fighting its last ditch battles in its home ground in Syria and Iraq, and Afghanistan is probably not on its radar right now.

Despite its long sounding name in Afghanistan - the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant: Khorasan Province (ISIL-KP) - its cadres number less than 1,000 in Afghanistan and Pakistan, just one third of the Taliban and its affiliated terrorist groups’ strength.

The ISIL-KP’s two founder leaders - Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militant Hafiz Saeed Khan and Afghan Taliban commander Abdul Rauf Aliza - were killed within first two years after it was formed in 2015.

IS terrorists are suspected to have carried out about 20 attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, mostly against soft sectarian targets like Shia mosques and hospitals.

However, it is the resurgent Taliban that is posing an existential threat to the Afghan government, after it made huge inroads last year in Kunduz province.

As a soldier I was taught "economy of effort" as a basic principle of war, scrupulously observed in the Indian Army. So it is shocking to see the US army using the 10,000 kilogram-behemoth, costing $16 million apiece, to kill about 100 guys holed-up in caves in distant Afghanistan at the cost of $16,000 per person!

Why did the US use “the Mother” against the IS and not the Taliban in Afghanistan?

Can “the Mother” give birth to peace in Afghanistan?

These questions probably never figured when the US army planned to use the device in Afghanistan.

At best, it was used as an exercise to test the device in battlefield conditions.

So​,​ it is not surprising that the bombing created a backlash in Afghanistan. Former president Hamid Karzai questioned Afghan president Ashraf Ghani permitting Americans to use a device “equal to an atom bomb” in the country.

afghan-embed_041817042419.jpg Dropping the MOAB on the eve of McMaster’s visit to Afghanistan and South Asia is clearly not in pursuit of peace. Photo: Reuters

He said if the government had permitted them to do this, “it has committed national treason”. 

Even though Trump is unpredictable, there are some clear strands emerging in his convoluted and contrarian actions to explain the bombing.

The president’s national security adviser is Lieutenant General HR McMaster, a veteran of Afghan and Gulf wars; so is the secretary of defence James Norman Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general, who fought in West Asia.

Obviously, Trump has given the freedom of action on matters military to the two generals occupying security appointments.

Trump’s statement after the bombing makes it clear: “Everybody knows exactly what happened, what I do is I authorise our military. We have the greatest military in the world, they've done a job, as usual, so we have given them total authorisation and that's what they're doing, and frankly, that's why they've been so ​successful lately."

Dropping the MOAB on the eve of McMaster’s visit to Afghanistan and South Asia is clearly not in pursuit of peace.

It is to make a strong statement that the US under President Trump means business, not only in Afghanistan, but in other trouble spots as well. 

The bombing in Afghanistan had followed the launching of 59 Tomahawk missiles against a Syrian air base that is alleged to have carried out gas attacks on civilian population, killing 89 people. 

The missile attack has virtually derailed the Russia-initiated Syrian peace process that was in the making.

The dispatch of US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and its group towards the Korean Peninsula, close on the heels of reports that the US was considering a preemptive strike on North Korea to wipe out the nuclear arsenal of the rogue state, is yet another act of US muscle flexing.

Collectively, these actions indicate a new belligerence in US actions, not seen in recent times.

These actions have both a local context in the US and a global context of Washigton’s rapidly deteriorating relations with Moscow, increasing the possibility of revival of Cold War.

Will the MOAB intimidate Moscow or for that matter Syria?

The answer is simple: Russia had developed and tested in 2007 “Father of All Bombs” (FOAB), officially known as “Aviation Thermobaric Bomb of Increased Power (ATBIP)”. With a yield of 44 tonne of TNT, the bomb is reported to have four times the destructive power of the MOAB.

Using the “Father” and “Mother,” the two powers are capable of killing thousands of hapless civilians, if the Cold War erupts all over again. 

To sum up, the dropping of the MOAB in Afghanistan has nothing to do with peace.

It is all about Trump administration’s posturing from Moscow to Damascus to Kabul to Pyongyang.

Peace in Afghanistan has a chance if only Pakistan ponders over US NSA Lt General McMaster’s comments made during his maiden visit to Kabul. 

He said in a television interview: “As all of us have hope​d​ for many, many years - we have hoped that Pakistani leaders will understand that it is in their interest to go after these groups less selectively than they have in the past.”

If this is the indication of the US following a “tougher line” on Islamabad, few would believe it in India. In the past, the US had shown a singular inability to walk its talk on Pakistan.

Can the US under Trump,​ with the slogan “America first​”, make a difference?

I doubt it; in the near term the chances for peace in Afghanistan appear bleak. 

But there is no harm in hoping for it, particularly on the eve of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first ever official visit to Washington after President Trump came to power.

Pakistan-inspired terrorism would surely ​be a topic on top of ​their agenda.

Also read: America drops 'Mother of all Bombs' on Afghanistan: When impulse overtook reason


Colonel R Hariharan Colonel R Hariharan @colhari2

The writer is a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia with rich experience in terrorism and insurgency operations.

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