The U.S. military on Thursday dropped one of the largest conventional bombs in its inventory on an Islamic State tunnel complex in eastern Afghanistan.
It marked the first time the GBU-43, a 21,500-pound bomb nicknamed the "Mother of All Bombs," has been used in combat, the U.S. military said.
The bomb was dropped from a U.S. aircraft in Nangahar province, where U.S.-backed Afghan forces are battling the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.
President Trump has pledged to ramp up the pressure on ISIS, though the Pentagon has said it hasn't changed the basic process for approving airstrikes, which it says is rigorous.
However, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has given battlefield commanders more authority to make decisions, said Sen. John McCain, Republican chairman of the Armed Services Committee.
A GBU-43 would not only destroy a tunnel complex, it would also have a psychological impact on the militants because of its destructive power. The blast can be heard for miles and is very different from the small munitions the military uses when trying to hit a small target and minimize surrounding damage.
"The United States takes the fight against ISIS very seriously," White House spokesman Sean Spicer said.
The U.S. military likely chose to use the bomb, which cost about $16 million each, because the tunnel complex was in an open area where there was little danger of civilian casualties.
"They tend to tunnel very deeply and so it's been really difficult to get them. So I think this bomb is probably going to get to them," Ambassador Christopher Hill, Dean of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver said. "But I emphasize, any time you have something that big and that new, you're going to cause a lot of concern among political leaders who really don't fully trust the U.S. to use these weapons."
“This is the right munition to reduce these obstacles and maintain the momentum of our offensive against (the Islamic State),” Gen. John Nicholson, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan said in statement.
Fighting between ISIS and Afghan forces in the region has intensified recently. A U.S. Special Forces soldier advising the Afghans was killed in the area Saturday, the first U.S. combat death this year.
The bomb explodes in the air, creating air pressure that can collapse tunnels and buildings.
“U.S. forces took every precaution to avoid civilian casualties with this strike,” the military said in a statement.
Amb. Hill said he thinks the bomb drop sends a message of a continued U.S. commitment to fighting ISIS. He says it's important to maintain political and diplomatic strategies while using military resources.
"Military is a way to serve politics, to serve democracy, and not the other way around," he said.
Amb. Hill is in South Korea where he says many are wondering if the Afghanistan MOAB bomb is a sign of future military action.
"I think there is a lot of speculation right here in South Korea about what comes next," Amb. Hill said.
He said it's important for the U.S. to work with South Korean officials before making any offensive decisions in North Korea. South Korea's top diplomat echoed the point that no action will be taken until South Korea agrees.
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