The U.S. military dropped a massive non-nuclear bomb on ISIS targets in Afghanistan Thursday, using the weapon for the first time ever partly to send the enemy a message, according to a U.S. Central Command spokesman.
Operation Resolute Support dropped a GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB) on “a huge beehive” of ISIS tunnels in northeast Afghanistan near the Pakistan border, similar to enemy tunnels American forces in Afghanistan have encountered in the past.
A CENTCOM spokesman told The Hill that the decision to use the MOAB for the first time came because “it’s the type of weapon for the type of target.”
“This has been a very difficult area; they’re tunneled into the ground in hardened bunkers and they’re actually leading a lot of attacks on U.S. and partner nation forces,” he said.
“When you have a very large beehive, a little flyswatter may not work, so finally you take out the big stuff. We just found a huge beehive and we have to use something more than the fly swatter.”
When asked whether the bomb was also meant to send a message to the enemy, the spokesman replied, “Absolutely, we mean business.”
Sometimes referred to as the “Mother of All Bombs,” the MOAB is the most powerful non-nuclear bomb in the U.S. arsenal and the most powerful bomb the country has used in Afghanistan to date.
Army Gen. John Nicholson gave the order to drop the massive conventional weapon from an Air Force Special Operations Command aircraft. The CENTCOM spokesman said Nicholson asked CENTCOM Commander Gen. Joseph Votel for permission to use the bomb within the past week.
“It’s empowering the commanders and winning the war against the bad guys,” the spokesman said. “In this administration, the military is given empowerment to do what we need to do.”
President Trump — who on the campaign trail memorably vowed to "bomb the shit" out of ISIS if elected — said after the strike that he had authorized the military in general to use such munitions.
"We have the greatest military in the world, and they’ve done a job as usual so we have given them total authorization,” he told reporters on Thursday. “And that’s what they’re doing. And, frankly, that’s why they’ve been so successful lately.”
Little known outside the military until now, the MOAB is “primarily intended for soft to medium service targets covering extended areas, targets containing environments such as caves or canyons, clearing extensive minefields, and for psychological effects,” according to an Air Force spokeswoman.
“We mean business,” the CENTCOM spokesman said. “President Trump said prior that once he gets in he’s going to kick the S-H-I-T out of the enemy. That was his promise and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
He added: “Afghanistan has, for a little while, been the forgotten war but there’s a lot of action over there, there’s a lot of dangers. If we’re going to be engaged in a war we’re going to be engaged in a conflict to win, period.”
The Air Force took just four months to develop, build and test the MOAB — from November 2002 to March 2003 — “to put pressure on then-Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to cease and desist United Nations violations,” according to an Air Force article.
The Air Force did not disclose the number of MOABs in its inventory or where they are kept for “operational security reasons,” but fewer than 20 bombs were made in 2003.
The few MOABs produced were designed and built at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., then shipped to the Naval Ammunition Depot in McAllister, Okla., to be filled with explosive materials.
The bomb had never been used in combat until Thursday.
The CENTCOM spokesman said there are no reported civilian casualties caused by the bomb, which has a blast radius of 1 mile.
“I can guarantee that we on the target assessment made sure that there’s nothing in the area, that it’s pure enemy,” he said.
UPDATE: The day after this story was published, CENTCOM issued a statement saying the remarks made to The Hill were "inappropriate."
“Statements published on April 13 attributed to USCENTCOM were made by an individual unauthorized to speak on behalf of U.S. Central Command and do not reflect the professionalism of CENTCOM,” CENTCOM media chief Maj. Josh Jacques said in a statement.
"These statements fail to portray the values of more than 80,000 service members of the U.S. military currently serving in the CENTCOM area of responsibility," Jacques added.
"Our media engagement mission is to provide accurate, impartial information to the public and their media representatives worldwide. Those inappropriate statements do not reflect the official views of CENTCOM or its leadership."