After his evening prayers, Mohammad Shahzadah closed the house gates and sat down for dinner. Then the blast came, engulfing the sky in flames and sending tremors through the ground.
“The earth felt like a boat in a storm,” Shahzadah said. “I thought my house was being bombed. Last year a drone strike targeted a house next to mine, but this time it felt like the heavens were falling. The children and women were very scared.”
The US dropped its largest non-nuclear bomb ever used in combat on eastern Afghanistan on Thursday in another dramatic show of military force by the Trump administration.
The GBU-43/B, colloquially known as the “mother of all bombs” or Moab, targeted tunnels and bunkers in Achin district in Nangarhar province, built by fighters loyal to Islamic State who also kept prisoners there.
A GPS-guided demolition bomb with an explosive yield equivalent to 11 tonnes of TNT, it explodes above ground with a radius of more than a mile.
The bomb was dropped in the mountains close to Moman village in an area called Asadkhel. About 1.5 miles away, in Shaddle Bazar where Shahzadah lives, the impact was palpable.
“My ears were deaf for a while. My windows and doors are broken. There are cracks in the walls,” he said.
The US military said it had killed 36 militants. The following morning around 9am, fighter jets strafed the area, a local police commander, Baaz Jan, said.
“We don’t know who was killed yesterday or this morning. But there is confusion and fear in the radio chats we are intercepting. There is limited communication among Isis fighters,” he said.
A local security official said they had requested a large strike because fighter jets and drones had failed to the destroy the tunnel complex.
The top US commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, told reporters in Kabul that the decision to drop the bomb was made in Afghanistan, not in Washington, DC. “Since early March, we’ve been conducting offensive operations into southern Nangarhar,” Nicholson said. “However, this was the first time we encountered an extensive obstacle to our progress.”
Some observers, however, questioned the necessity of deploying a weapon of that scale against a group whose estimated 600 to 800 fighters pose only a limited threat to the Afghan state.
“There is no doubt that Isis are brutal and that they have committed atrocities against our people. But I don’t see why the bomb was dropped,” said the mayor of Achin, Naweed Shinwari. “It terrorised our people. My relatives thought the end of the world had come. Every day fighter jets, helicopters and drones are in the area.”
The US had sustained an air campaign to eradicate Isis in eastern Afghanistan for more than a year, and according to Borhan Osman, an Isis expert with the Afghanistan Analysts Network, it had already been effective.
“Isis was on the brink of losing their stronghold. It didn’t seem like there was a need for such a dramatic military measure,” he said.
Western security reports show that two days of regular airstrikes from 7 to 9 April killed 58 Isis militants.
“The greater threat to the government is the Taliban, but the US is fixated on this minor splinter group because, unlike the Taliban, the Isis group wants to destabilize the region,” said a western diplomat.
He speculated that the US was trying to send a message to countries in the region “that we’re all fighting the same enemy together”, but said the attack could erode US prestige among its allies.
“A basic tenet of international humanitarian law is the principle of distinction. You’re supposed to know what you’re hitting, and it’s not clear that any such targeting is possible with the Moab,” he said.
If the intention was to “shock and awe” Isis fighters and deter recruitment, Osman said he doubted it would be effective.
“Making such big news out of a small organisation, and countering this threat with such a huge measure could indeed make them look more attractive. One of the grounds on which Isis is building its recruitment drive is to say they are fighting the big enemy, the Americans.
“The more it can drive them to the battle, the more successful they are in recruiting anti-western radicals,” he said.
In an attempt to mock the US, an official Isis outlet, Khilafah News, distributed photos on the Telegram messaging app shortly after the bombing of its fighters supposedly continuing daily life in Achin.
The Taliban, who are rivals of Isis, condemned the attack, which the group called an act of “terrorism”.
The Kabul government praised the strike, but Afghanistan’s former president Hamid Karzai denounced it, as did Afghanistan’s envoy to Pakistan, Omar Zakhilwal. It was “reprehensible and counterproductive,” Zakhilwal said on Twitter.
Hours before Thursday’s bombing, the top US commander in Afghanistan, Gen John Nicholson, visited Nangarhar with the Afghan president’s national security adviser, minister of defence and intelligence chief.
The strike was closely coordinated with Afghan soldiers and special forces, and tribal elders had been informed to evacuate civilians, the district chief of Achin, Ismail Shinwari, said.
Sanat, a resident of Moman village, said he didn’t think any civilians were left in the area, but an MP from Nangarhar, Esmatullah Shinwari, said locals had told him a teacher and his young son had been killed.
As clearing operations continued into Friday, it was not possible to confirm casualties.
Donald Trump is not the first US president to bring heavy weapons down on Isis in Afghanistan. Last year, under Barack Obama, the US military deployed B-52s, which pack a payload three times greater than the Moab.
Javid Kohistani, a military analyst in Kabul, questioned the wisdom of such measures. “Isis has killed thousands of innocent Iraqis and Syrians. Why are they not dropping the bomb there? Why use it in Nangarhar?” he said.
To eradicate terrorism in Afghanistan, he said, the US should target the source of its finances and support. “The Trump government should put more pressure on Pakistan,” he said.
A new Afghan law would allow men to attack their wives, children and sisters without fear of judicial punishment under a change to Afghanistan’s criminal prosecution code that bans relatives of an accused person from testifying against them. Because most violence against women is within the family, the law, which passed parliament but awaits the signature of President Hamid Karzai, would effectively silence victims and most potential witnesses.
In a nation more associated with calamity than consensus, the initial results of Saturday’s Afghan presidential election are startling.
Despite Taliban threats to attack polling stations nationwide, the same percentage of Afghans turned out to vote—roughly 58 percent, or 7 million out of 12 million eligible voters—as did Americans in the 2012 U.S. presidential race. Instead of collapsing, Afghan security forces effectively secured the vote. And a leading candidate to replace Hamid Karzai is Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank technocrat who has a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from Columbia University, a Lebanese Christian wife, and an acclaimed book and TED talk entitled “Fixing Failed States.”
“Relative to what we were expecting, it’s very hard to not conclude that this was a real defeat for the Taliban,” Andrew Wilder, an American expert on Afghanistan, said in a telephone interview from Kabul on Monday. “And a very good day for the Afghan people.”
Two forces that have long destabilized the country—its political elite and its neighbors—could easily squander the initial success. Evidence of large-scale fraud could undermine the legitimacy of the election and exacerbate long-running ethnic divides. And outside powers could continue to fund and arm the Taliban and disgruntled Afghan warlords, as they have for decades.
An Afghan beggar sits in front of a spray painted slogan in Herat on March 29, 2014. Presidential candidates have been holding election rallies across the country for the the April 5 presidential elections, to choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai, who was barred constitutionally from seeking a third term. (BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images)
For women in Afghanistan, there is a whole lot at stake as the country prepares to elect a new president on Saturday. Will they continue to gain access to opportunities after a new government comes into power or will their hard-won progress be eroded following the imminent departure of international troops and peacekeepers?
That is yet to be determined but for now all three main contenders have pledged to support women’s rights if elected. Habibi Sarabi, a former female governor and a vice-presidential candidate, hopes that her name being on the ballot will encourage more women to get out there and vote. Despite receiving threats from insurgents, some 300 women will be among the 2,700 candidates contesting seats in provincial councils on Saturday.
“Women can no longer be ignored,” said Wazhma Frogh, a women’s rights advocate in Kabul. “Women now bring a lot of votes.”
Just in from Reuters: “Afghanistan would support Pakistan in case of military conflict between Pakistan and the United States, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in an interview to a private Pakistani TV channel broadcast on Saturday.”
So Canada/US/NATO have and continue to spend money & lives training the Afghan National Army so they can prepare to go to war with us? Canada needs to stop spending any more $$$ on this nonsense and remove all troops immediately.
In a recent interview with the Web site Politico, General Fuller described Afghan leaders as erratic, ungrateful and isolated from reality. He was reported to have said in the interview that Afghan leaders did not fully recognize the sacrifices of the United States on their country’s behalf. Referring to Mr. Karzai’s recent assertion that Afghanistan would side with Pakistan if Pakistan got involved in a war with the United States, General Fuller was quoted as calling the comments “erratic.” “Why don’t you just poke me in the eye with a needle!” he said. “You’ve got to be kidding me. I’m sorry, we just gave you $11.6 billion and now you’re telling me, ‘I don’t really care?’ ” General Fuller also called the Afghans “isolated from reality” and said the country’s leaders did not understand the extent of the economic distress in the United States or the “sacrifices that America is making to provide for their security.”
Being fired is rarely pleasant, but Maj. Gen. Peter Fuller seems to have just spoken the truth that everyone in the world already knows.