Trump’s big bomb sends mes­sage in ter­ror fight

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY CARLO MUNOZ

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s faith in hard power was on dra­matic dis­play in a far cor­ner of the world Thurs­day.

The de­ploy­ment of one of the largest non-nu­clear bombs in the U.S. arse­nal on an Is­lamic State tun­nel com­plex in east­ern Afghanistan Thurs­day marks a new and dra­matic step for U.S. forces in the coun­try, send­ing a mes­sage likely to res­onate far beyond the bat­tle­fields of the 16-year war there.

U.S. forces dropped a GBU43, nick­named the “mother of all bombs,” on the tun­nel com­plex in Achin dis­trict in east­ern Afghanistan’s Nan­garhar prov­ince, home to a ji­hadi fac­tion known as Is­lamic State in Iraq and Syria-Kho­rasan prov­ince, or ISIS-K. It was the first time the weapon has been used by Amer­i­can forces.

At 22,000 pounds, and with a blast yield equiv­a­lent to 11 tons of TNT, the bomb is the most pow­er­ful con­ven­tional weapon in the Amer­i­can ar­mory, sec­ond only to the Pen­tagon’s nu­clear arse­nal.

The strike comes nearly

three years af­ter Wash­ing­ton ended of­fi­cial com­bat op­er­a­tions in the coun­try, but at a time when both the Tal­iban and the Is­lamic State fac­tion have made gains in parts of the coun­try.

Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser H.M. McMaster is head­ing to Afghanistan to as­sess the cur­rent state of U.S. op­er­a­tions in the coun­try, Mr. Trump an­nounced Wed­nes­day. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is ex­pected to is­sue new guid­ance — in­clud­ing pos­si­ble new troop de­ploy­ments — in Afghanistan in the com­ing weeks.

Roughly 300 Marines are al­ready en route to Hel­mand prov­ince, the Tal­iban’s spir­i­tual heart­land in south­ern Afghanistan, for a year­long de­ploy­ment ad­vis­ing Afghan mil­i­tary and po­lice units there.

Top mil­i­tary com­man­ders, in­clud­ing U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand chief Gen. Joseph Vo­tel and Gen. John Ni­chol­son, the top Amer­i­can com­man­der in Afghanistan, have both sug­gested more U.S. troops will be needed to back the be­sieged Afghan se­cu­rity forces.

The U.S. es­ti­mates 600 to 800 Is­lamic State fight­ers are present in Afghanistan, mostly in Nan­garhar prov­ince close to the bor­der with Pak­istan.

Mr. Trump said Thurs­day his or­der to at­tack marked “a tremen­dous dif­fer­ence” be­tween his lead­er­ship of the armed forces and the lead­er­ship of for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama.

“Ev­ery­body knows ex­actly what hap­pened. What I do is I au­tho­rize my mil­i­tary,” Mr. Trump told re­porters at the White House, ad­ding the Achin strike was “another very, very suc­cess­ful mis­sion” by U.S. forces un­der his com­mand.

“Mother of all bombs”

The de­ci­sion to use the dev­as­tat­ing weapon was nec­es­sary given the in­creased threat of Is­lamic State in Iraq and Syria-Kho­rasan prov­ince to Afghan, Amer­i­can and NATO forces in coun­try, the top U.S. com­man­der in Afghanistan said.

“As ISIS-K’s losses have mounted, they are us­ing IEDs, bunkers and tun­nels to thicken their de­fense,” Gen. Ni­chol­son said.

“This is the right mu­ni­tion to re­duce these ob­sta­cles and main­tain the mo­men­tum of our of­fen­sive against ISIS-K,” he added, not­ing that U.S. forces will pro­ceed with such op­er­a­tions “un­til ISIS-K is de­stroyed in Afghanistan.”

The U.S.-backed gov­ern­ment of Afghan Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani did not im­me­di­ately com­ment on the strikes. A spokesman for the pro­vin­cial gov­er­nor in Nan­garhar told Voice of Amer­ica that lo­cal of­fi­cials had not been told of the bomb­ing in ad­vance.

For­mer Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai, who has been sharply crit­i­cal of Mr. Ghani, slammed the at­tack on Twit­ter, say­ing, “I ve­he­mently and in strong­est words con­demn the drop­ping of the lat­est weapon, the largest non-nu­clear bomb on Afghanistan by US mil­i­tary.

“This is not the war on ter­ror but the in­hu­man and most bru­tal mis­use of our coun­try as test­ing ground for new and dan­ger­ous weapon,” he added.

In Wash­ing­ton White House press sec­re­tary Sean Spicer called the bomb “a large, pow­er­ful and ac­cu­rately de­liv­ered weapon” dur­ing Thurs­day’s brief­ing with re­porters.

“The United States takes the fight against ISIS very se­ri­ously,” Mr. Spicer said, ad­ding that de­feat­ing the group in­volves elim­i­nat­ing its “op­er­a­tional space.”

Mr. Trump, in his brief re­marks, in­di­cated he may be lean­ing to­ward sup­port­ing the Pen­tagon’s call for more troops as part of a new Afghan plan.

Mr. Trump said he has given U.S. mil­i­tary com­man­ders “to­tal au­tho­riza­tion” to con­duct op­er­a­tions against Is­lamic State in Afghanistan and the Mid­dle East. “We have the great­est mil­i­tary in the world and they’ve done a [great] job as usual. … That’s why they’ve been so suc­cess­ful lately,” he said.

Way for­ward

Since his stun­ning vic­tory last Novem­ber, Pres­i­dent Trump and his na­tional se­cu­rity team have been vir­tu­ally silent on the Afghan mis­sion, fo­cus­ing their ef­forts and rhetoric on the fight against Is­lamic State in Iraq and Syria.

But with the emer­gence of Is­lamic State in Iraq and Syria-Kho­rasan prov­ince in east­ern Afghanistan, com­bined with a resur­gent Tal­iban, who now hold sway over more than half of the coun­try, the clock is tick­ing on the Trump White House for a new plan for the nearly 8,400 U.S. ser­vice mem­bers still in the coun­try.

Afghanistan Am­bas­sador to the United States Ham­dul­lah Mo­hib said his coun­try’s se­cu­rity forces will not be ready to de­feat ex­trem­ist groups, with­out U.S. or NATO as­sis­tance, un­til 2020. By then “our se­cu­rity forces will be able to have what they need to carry on the fight on their own, for the most part,” he told USA To­day.

Last year alone, nearly 30,000 Afghan sol­diers were killed dur­ing com­bat op­er­a­tions against the Tal­iban and Is­lamic State, said Mr. Mo­hib.

Thurs­day’s bomb­ing was only the lat­est in­di­ca­tion of the in­creas­ingly ten­u­ous sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try since U.S. forces handed com­bat op­er­a­tions to the Afghan army in 2014.

Nan­garhar prov­ince, which sits along Afghanistan’s volatile bor­der with Pak­istan, was the site of the lat­est Amer­i­can ca­su­alty of the war. Army Spe­cial Forces Staff Sgt. Mark De Alen­car was killed in a fire­fight with Is­lamic State in Iraq and Syria-Kho­rasan prov­ince mem­bers in the prov­ince days be­fore the U.S. bomb­ing.

Last month three U.S. sol­diers were wounded at Camp Shorab in south­ern Afghanistan’s Hel­mand prov­ince af­ter an Afghan sol­dier opened fire on the Army unit ad­vis­ing lo­cal forces there.

Aside from tar­get­ing U.S. and al­lied forces, the Tal­iban and Is­lamic State in Iraq and Syria-Kho­rasan prov­ince are also re­spon­si­ble for a slew of sui­cide at­tacks in Kabul and else­where across Afghanistan. In March Is­lamic State claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for a sui­cide at­tack against the Afghan mil­i­tary’s main hospi­tal in Kabul, killing 30 and wound­ing 50 be­fore Afghan se­cu­rity forces ended the siege in the heart of the Afghan cap­i­tal.

In Fe­bru­ary Gen. Ni­chol­son told Congress the war had de­volved into a stale­mate, re­quir­ing ad­di­tional U.S. forces to break the stand­off. “We have iden­ti­fied the re­quire­ment and the de­sire to ad­vise below the corps lev­els. So these ad­di­tional forces would en­able us to thicken our ad­vi­sory ef­fort across the Afghan min­istries,” he told law­mak­ers at the time.

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