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Afghans react to huge US bomb with shock, awe and mixed feelings

Tobias Pedroso | 15 Abril, 2017, 08:51

A picture taken from a United States department of defence video shows the moment when the "mother of all bombs" struck the Achin district in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar on Thursday.

John Nicholson is the official who made the decision to drop the "mother of all bombs" (MOAB) on a series of network tunnels belonging to ISIS in Afghanistan, and he says he did it without needing approval by the Oval Office.

The strike, which marked the first use of the GBU-43, the US military's largest non-nuclear device ever used in combat, followed weeks of clashes between the militants and USA and Afghan forces in Nangarhar province.

Amir Shah is an Associated Press writer.

American officials said the bomb had been positioned for possible use in Afghanistan for "some time" since the administration of former president Barack Obama.

The bomb - known officially as a GBU-43B but nicknamed the "mother of all bombs" - unleashes 11 tons of explosives.

But the massive blast still terrified villagers 20 miles away across the border in Pakistan.

The US military, under President Donald Trump's leadership, has used force this month to send strong cautionary messages to the country's increasingly aggressive adversaries, experts said.

Deptula, Cancien and U.S. military officials said the United States had an even larger bomb in its inventory - the 14,000kg GBU-57 Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), which would be more effective against North Korea's nuclear test site, given its ability to penetrate reinforced concrete and anti-blast steel doors.

The US dropped the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) bomb on Afghanistan on Thursday [Friday NZ Time].

"When it dropped, everywhere, it was shaking", said resident Palstar Khan. The US military previously estimated ISIS had 600 to 800 active fighters in the area but was unclear whether it had hoped to strike more.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's office said in a statement the attack was a part of a joint operation by Afghan and worldwide troops. The US has concentrated heavily on combating them while also supporting Afghan forces battling the Taliban. In the past year, they have largely concentrated on thwarting a surge of attacks by the Taliban, who have captured key districts, such as Helmand province, which USA and British troops had fought bitterly to return to the government.

"Using this massive bomb can not be justified and will leave a material and psychological impact on our people", the Taliban, who compete with Islamic State in Afghanistan, said in a statement. "It was really another successful job, we are very proud of our military".

The group has launched devastating attacks on civilians in the Afghan capital, Kabul, but has struggled to gain a foothold outside its base in the east.

Afghan officials on Thursday said they were not notified in advance that US forces would be using the bomb, but said the area had always been cleared of most of its civilian residents, and that they supported using heavy firepower against the Islamic State group.

District Gov. Ismail Shinwari added that there was no civilian property near the location of the airstrike.

In March, U.S. forces conducted 79 "counterterror strikes" against Islamic State in Nangarhar, killing as many as 200 militants, according to the U.S. military command in Kabul.

The Site Intelligence Group, which tracks extremist organizations, reported Friday on a statement from the Afghan Taliban condemning the US for its "terrorist" attack. The two militant movements are rivals of each other.

The U.S. assessment is still in progress, a Pentagon official tells NPR's Tom Bowman, adding that there's a chance the death toll might include results from two other smaller operations against ISIS-K that took place Thursday night.