The death toll from the American military’s 11-ton and largest non-nuclear bomb ever used in combat nearly tripled Saturday, with Afghan officials saying at least 90 ISIS jihadists were killed, as US-led forces conducted clean-up operations over the rugged terrain.
The GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb — dubbed the “Mother Of All Bombs” — was unleashed in combat for the first time, hitting ISIS positions in eastern Nangarhar province on Thursday. It contains 11 tons of explosives.
“At least 92 ISIS militants were killed in the bombing,” Achin district governor Esmail Shinwari told Agence France Presse on Saturday. Nangarhar provincial spokesman Attaullah Khogyani gave a toll of 90.
Afghan officials had earlier said the bombing had killed 36 ISIS jihadists.
The bombing triggered shock waves in Afghanistan. It smashed ISIS’ remote mountain hideouts, a tunnel-and-cave complex that had been mined against conventional ground attacks, engulfing the remote area in a huge mushroom cloud and towering flames.
Shinwari insisted there were “no military and civilian casualties at all”.
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.
The massive bomb 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.
President Ashraf Ghani threw his support behind the bombardment, saying it was “designed to support the efforts of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and US forces conducting clearance operations in the region.”
But some analysts called the action “disproportionate” and said the use of the bomb was likely a technical decision of matching the most effective ordnance to a specific target – tunnels and caves in an unpopulated area.
In addition, said an administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the attack also reinforces the message that US President Donald Trump has given his military commanders freer rein than did his predecessor, Barack Obama.
“What I do is I authorize my military,” Trump told reporters on Thursday in response to a question about the use of the bomb.
“We have the greatest military in the world, and they’ve done the job, as usual. We have given them total authorization, and that’s what they’re doing.”