At least 36 suspected ISIS militants were killed in Afghanistan when the United States dropped a massive bomb that targeted a network of caves and tunnels in the Achin district, the Afghan defense ministry announced on Friday.
The bomb has been described as “the mother of all bombs,” one of the largest non-nuclear devices ever unleashed in combat.
The Ministry of Defense said in a statement that several ISIS caves and ammunition caches were destroyed by the giant bomb, which terrified villagers on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border with its “earsplitting blast.”
“I want a hundred times more bombings on this group,” said Hakim Khan, 50, a resident of Achin district, the site of the blast.
Pakistani villagers living near the Afghan border said the explosion was so loud they thought a bomb had been dropped in their village by US warplanes targeting terrorists in Pakistan.
“I was sleeping when we heard a loud explosion. It was an earsplitting blast,” said Shah Wali, 46, who lives in the village of Goor Gari, 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the border with Nangarhar. “I jumped from my bed and came out of my home to see what has gone wrong in our village.”
Thursday’s strike came as US President Donald Trump dispatches his first high-level delegation to Kabul, amid uncertainty about his plans for the nearly 9,000 American troops stationed in Afghanistan.
The deaths have not been independently verified, but ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri said no civilians were harmed in the massive blast.
“No civilian has been hurt and only the base, which ISIS used to launch attacks in other parts of the province, was destroyed,” Waziri said in a statement.
ISIS has established a small stronghold in eastern Afghanistan and launched deadly attacks on the capital, Kabul.
The 21,600-pound (9,797-kg) GBU-43 bomb, was dropped from an MC-130 aircraft in the Achin district of the eastern province of Nangarhar bordering Pakistan, Pentagon spokesman Adam Stump said on Thursday.
The device is a GPS-guided munition that had never before been used in combat since its first test in 2003, when it produced a mushroom cloud visible from 20 miles (32 km) away.
The bomb’s destructive power, equivalent to 11 tons of TNT, pales in comparison with the relatively small atomic bombs dropped on Japan at the end of World War Two, which had blasts equivalent to between 15,000 and 20,000 tons of TNT.
The strike was part of a joint operation by Afghan and international troops, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s office said in a statement.
“Afghan and foreign troops closely coordinated this operation and were extra cautious to avoid any civilian casualties,” it said.
Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the use of the weapon on Afghan soil.
“This is not the war on terror, but the inhuman and most brutal misuse of our country as testing ground for new and dangerous weapons,” he said on social media network Twitter.
The Taliban condemned the use of the bomb, saying in a statement, “Using this massive bomb cannot be justified and will leave a material and psychological impact on our people.”
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 United States has steadily intensified its air campaign against ISIS and Taliban militants in Afghanistan, with the Air Force deploying nearly 500 weapons in the first three months of 2017, up from 300 in the corresponding 2016 period.