Bigger bombs, more airstrikes are going to make the war in Afghanistan worse

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Dropping the giant MOAB bomb in Afghanistan was the mother of all mistakes. Beyond having no strategic utility, the gargantuan 22,000-pound bomb known as the “mother of all bombs” may have made the Afghanistan War even more unwinnable.

The use of GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast, American military’s largest conventional weapon, on an ISIS tunnel complex in Nangarhar Province may have served to unite often-discordant Afghans against the U.S. and its client Afghan government. Afghan insurgents and insiders both protested the use of bomb.

{mosads}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.” Prior to the bombing, the nationalistic Afghan-focused Taliban opposed the Afghan branch of ISIS, which espouses transnational Islamic ambitions. The MOAB strike, rather than snuffing out Afghan resistance, may instead anneal discordant Afghan insurgent groups together against a common enemy.


Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai deplored the use of the weapon, signaling a rift among Afghan powerbrokers. “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,” Karzai tweeted soon after the bomb strike. “It is upon us, Afghans, to stop the USA.”

While Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah tweeted the strike was necessary because “many families” had been displaced by “#ISIS brutality,” other Afghans questioned the move. 

Afghanistan’s Ambassador Pakistan Dr. Omar Zakhilwal tweeted, “If big bombs were the solution we would be the most secure place on earth today.” Karzai echoed the views of Afghans such as journalist Mirwais Afghan, who tweeted MOAB was “yet another stage show by #Trump who made it clear that Muslim lands are but the West’s laboratories.”


The U.S. has been using Afghanistan as the devil’s playground for over fifteen years. The United States began using armed drones in Afghanistan within months of the 2001 invasion, and the military and CIA has since used the unending combat to refine the deadly weapon. In 2016, drones fired more weapons than manned aircraft for the first time in history. The MOAB is yet another deadly weapon the U.S. has unleashed on Afghanistan, but one that can have wider international repercussions.

U.S. national security experts are fretting that the U.S. escalation may alienate the Muslim world further, fueling already rampant anti-Americanism. If the history of the U.S. war in Afghanistan serves as a lesson, MOAB and the intensified U.S. bombings will benefit the insurgents with increased Islamic financial support, as well as more recruits.

In some ways, the Trump administration’s military escalation against ISIS is predictable: the result of a short-sighted president surrounding himself with generals wielding very large bombs. President Trump has ceded what he terms “total authorization” to the military, which appears to be rapidly escalating wars in Afghanistan and Syria. However, without strategic guidance and operational oversight, the uncoordinated military actions can have horrific unintended consequences.  

The question is the impact. Was this bombing consequential? Did the death of some ISIS fighters, whose numbers were already shrinking, bring Afghanistan closer to peace? Or will the U.S. bombing escalation enflame the insurgency further?

After more than fifteen years of failed counterinsurgency, Afghanistan is an unwinnable war. The U.S.-supported Afghan government is ranked among the world’s most corrupt. Ninth on the Fragile States list, it is incapable of effectively governing or defending its citizens. Afghans remain at the bottom of virtually every human development indices, despite more than $117 billion in wasted U.S. development aid.

Empowered by citizen disgust with corruption, the Taliban-led insurgency has grown in strength at double-digit rates each year since at least 2005. Analysts indicate insurgents control about half of the countryside. The Taliban-led insurgents are pressuring government centers across country, including Kabul, now besieged with attacks. The Special Forces’ dictum has long been that if an insurgency isn’t shrinking, it’s succeeding.

Bigger bombs and more airstrikes are not going to win the war in Afghanistan. They may conversely make it worse.

Douglas Wissing is a journalist who has contributed to The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Foreign Policy, The Hill, and BBC, and is the author of Hopeless but Optimistic: Journeying through America’s Endless War in Afghanistan (Indiana University Press, 2016) and Funding the Enemy: How U.S. Taxpayers Bankroll the Taliban (Prometheus Books, 2012).

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

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