The Islamic State group denied on Friday it had suffered casualties from the US military’s largest non-nuclear bomb which hit its mountain hideouts in Afghanistan, in a statement on its propaganda agency Amaq.
“Security source to Amaq agency denies any dead or wounded from yesterday’s American strike in Nangarhar using a GBU-43/B,” the group’s self-styled news agency said on social media accounts.
The GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb – dubbed the “Mother Of All Bombs” – was unleashed in combat for the first time on Thursday, hitting ISIS positions in eastern Nangarhar province.
Earlier, it was reported that dozens of ISIS militants had died as it smashed their mountain hideouts, with Afghan officials ruling out any civilian casualties despite the weapon’s destructive power.
The bombing is expected to further erode ISIS’s capabilities in Afghanistan and sends a warning to the much bigger Taliban group ahead of their annual spring offensive.
“As a result of the bombing, key Daesh (ISIS) hideouts were destroyed and 36 ISIS fighters were killed,” the Afghan defence ministry said, adding that the bombing was carried out in co-ordination with local military forces.
The huge bomb has a blast yield equivalent to 11 tons of TNT. It was originally designed as much to intimidate foes as to clear broad areas.
Thursday’s explosion reverberated for kilometres and engulfed the remote area in towering flames, destroying what officials called a network of underground ISIS tunnels and caves that had been mined against conventional ground attacks.
The bombardment took place amid rising global tensions as the US military steps up raids against global jihadist groups.
It comes only a week after US President Donald Trump ordered missile strikes against Syria in retaliation for a suspected chemical attack, and as China warned of the potential for conflict amid rising US tensions with North Korea.
Trump hailed the mission in Achin district as “very, very successful”.
An Afghan militant source told AFP from an undisclosed location that local people had described the ground shaking “like an earthquake”, with people being knocked unconscious by the blast.
Another militant source told AFP that 800 to 1 000 ISIS fighters were believed to be hiding in the area, which borders Pakistan.
“Daesh (ISIS) fighters are active in this area and have overrun our houses,” said Achin resident Khair Mohammad, welcoming the bombardment. “We don’t care if our houses are destroyed, we want Daesh to be eliminated.”
The arsenal was dropped after fighting intensified over the past week and US-backed ground forces struggled to advance on the area. An American special forces soldier was killed last Saturday in Nangarhar while conducting anti-ISIS operations.
US raids surge
Security experts say ISIS had built their redoubts close to civilian homes, but the government said thousands of local families had already fled the area in recent months of fighting.
“Precautions were taken to avoid civilian casualties,” President Ashraf Ghani said on Twitter, throwing his support behind the bombardment.
But some officials close to him condemned the use of Afghanistan as what they called a testing ground for the weapon, and against a militant group that controls only a tiny sliver of territory and is not considered a huge threat.
“I find the use of the largest non-nuclear bomb, the so called ‘mother of all bombs’, on our soil reprehensible & counterproductive,” Omar Zakhilwal, the Afghan envoy to Pakistan, said on Twitter.
“If big bombs were the solution we would be the most secure place on earth today.”
But John Nicholson, the top US commander in Afghanistan, insisted it was the “right weapon against the right target”.
SOURCE: African Spotlight