The United States has dropped a massive GBU-43 bomb, the largest non-nuclear bomb it has ever used in combat, in eastern Afghanistan on a series of caves used by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), according to the Pentagon.
The bomb was dropped on Thursday from a MC-130 aircraft in the Achin district of Nangarhar province, close to the border with Pakistan, Pentagon spokesman Adam Stump said.
It is the largest non-nuclear bomb the US has ever used in combat.
Also known as the “mother of all bombs,” the GBU-43 is a 21,600 9,797 kg GPS-guided munition and was first tested in March 2003, just days before the start of the Iraq war.
The US Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a press release that the strike was designed to minimise the risk to Afghan and US forces conducting clearing operations in the area.
But the ultra-heavy explosive – equal to 11 tons of TNT – with a blast radius of one mile on each side could potentially cause many civilian casualities.
The bomb landed in the Momand Dara area of Achin district, according to district Governor Esmail Shinwari.
“The explosion was the biggest I have ever seen. Towering flames engulfed the area,” Shinwari told AFP news agency.
“We don’t know anything about the casualties so far, but since it is a Daesh (ISIL) stronghold we think a lot of Daesh fighters may have been killed.”
General John Nicholson, the head of US and international forces in Afghanistan, said the bomb was used against caves and bunkers used by ISIL in Afghanistan, also known as ISIS-K.
“As ISIS-K losses have mounted, they are using IEDs, bunkers and tunnels to thicken their defense.
— U.S. Central Command (@CENTCOM) April 13, 2017
“This is the right munition to reduce these obstacles and maintain the momentum of our offensive against ISIS-K,” Nicholson said in a statement.
Al Jazeera’s Kimberly Halkett, reporting from Washington DC, said the operation was intended to damage ISIL’s operational capabilities in Afghanistan and to thwart its capability to attack US and Afghan forces.
“The reason such a large scale weapon was used is that it was difficult to have a precise hit that would penetrate the extensive network of tunnels allowing ISIL to continue their operations,” Halkett said.
Halkett said that the bomb was one that had a ripple effect that would send shockwaves into the tunnels.
ISIL’s offshoot in Afghanistan, created in 2015, is also known as the “Khorasan Province”.
US officials say intelligence suggests ISIL is based overwhelmingly in Nangarhar and neighbouring Kunar province, among tens of thousands of civilians.
Estimates of the group’s strength in Afghanistan vary. US officials have said they believe its has only 700 fighters, but Afghan officials estimate it has closer to 1,500.
Western and Afghan security officials believe fighters frequently switch allegiances between armed groups, making it difficult to know who is to blame for violence.
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies