Last Thursday, the United States deployed its largest non-nuclear weapon against an underground ISIS stronghold in Afghanistan. The MOAB, or Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb (also known as the GBU-43/B) was dropped from the back of an Air Force C-130 at just after 19:30 local time and was intended to destroy the underground structure, eliminating enemy combatants hidden inside and limiting the risk to U.S. and Afghan forces tasked with clearing the region.
Intelligence reports suggested that between 600 and 800 Islamic State fighters were active in the area and using the tunnel system as a base of operations, and at least one U.S. service member, Staff Sergeant Mark R. De Alencar, 37, of Edgewood, Maryland, was killed in recent weeks when jihadis ambushed his special operations unit from within one of the tunnels.
“As ISIS-K’s losses have mounted, they are using [improvised bombs], bunkers and tunnels to thicken their defense,” said Army Gen. John W. Nicholson, commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan, on the decision to drop the MOAB. “This is the right munition to reduce these obstacles and maintain the momentum of our offensive against ISIS-K.”
ISIS-K is also sometimes referred to as the Khorasan group, and is composed primarily of former members of Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban that operate out of the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.
Now Afghan officials are sifting through the destruction wrought by the massive 21,000 pound, thirty-foot long bomb, and are reporting that the MOAB’s first ever use in a wartime theater was a rousing success.
“The number of Daesh fighters killed in the US bomb in Achin district jumped to 94, including four commanders,” Nangarhar provincial spokesman Attaullah Khogyani told CNN.
“Our team is in the area and they are doing clearance, so the figure might change as they find more bodies,” said Dawlat Waziri, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense.
Initially it was reported that only 36 Islamic State operatives had been killed in the strike, including one member of the terrorist organization’s command structure, but as coalition forces continue to search the area, more bodies continue to turn up.
According to reports out of Afghanistan, three fortified tunnels were destroyed by the massive bomb, as well as a good deal of weapons and ammunition. No civilian casualties have been reported by U.S. or Afghan governments.
“We had persistent surveillance over the area before, during and after the operation, and now we have Afghan and U.S. forces on the site, and see no evidence of civilian casualties,” Nicholson said. “Nor have there been any reports of civilian casualties.
ISIS has issued a statement suggesting that the tunnel complex did not exist and that they suffered no casualties in the strike. SOFREP cannot currently confirm or deny the official accounts provided by the Afghan government to support such an accusation.
The U.S. has yet to release their own count of ISIS personnel eliminated by the strike, but U.S. Special Forces are on site alongside the Afghan military. Despite not releasing numbers like the Afghan government, the Pentagon issued a statement claiming that the bomb, which was “designed to destroy caves and tunnels, which ISIS-K have been using,” had successfully “achieved its intended purpose.”
Image courtesy of the Department of Defense