Mat­tis de­fends use of ‘mother’ bomb

De­fense sec­re­tary calls de­ci­sion ‘nec­es­sary’ in fight against ter­ror groups

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY CARLO MUNOZ

De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis said Thurs­day the de­ci­sion to drop the “mother of all bombs” on Is­lamic State tar­gets in east­ern Afghanistan was a deaf­en­ing sig­nal to Amer­i­can en­e­mies and al­lies alike that Wash­ing­ton will pull no punches against the in­ter­na­tional ter­ror group.

Up un­til the April 13 strike in Afghanistan’s Nan­garhar prov­ince, Mr. Mat­tis was re­ceiv­ing al­most daily bat­tle­field up­dates on clashes be­tween U.S., lo­cal forces and those tied to the Afghan fac­tion of the ter­ror group, he told re­porters in Egypt.

“There was no sur­prise in terms of the ef­fect of that [strike] at all,” Mr. Mat­tis said Thurs­day. “The bat­tle was go­ing on, and we were go­ing to use what was nec­es­sary to break ICIER. And we’ve made that very clear in every the­ater where we’re up against ISIS.”Mr. Mat­tis de­clined to com­ment on the num­ber of enemy killed in the at­tack, say­ing he did not want to equate suc­cess or de­feat “by quan­ti­fy­ing the num­ber of enemy killed on the bat­tle­field,” cit­ing the “cor­ro­sive ef­fect of that met­ric” go­ing back to the Viet­nam War.

Over 90 mem­bers of Afghan ISIS cell, dubbed Is­lamic State in Iraq and Syria-Kho­rasan prov­ince or ISIS-K, were killed, ac­cord­ing to lo­cal re­ports. The mis­sion has proved con­tro­ver­sial in Kabul, with for­mer Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai sharply con­demn­ing the use of such a pow­er­ful ex­plo­sive on Afghan ter­ri­tory.

At 22,000 pounds with a blast yield equiv­a­lent to 11 tons of TNT, the GBU-43 — nick­named the “mother of all bombs” — is one of the most pow­er­ful con­ven­tional weapon in the Amer­i­can ar­mory, sec­ond only to those in the Pen­tagon’s nu­clear arse­nal. The April 13 strike in Nan­ga­har’s Achin district was the first time the weapon has been used in com­bat.

While the Pen­tagon ar­gued the strike was a nec­es­sary step in break­ing Is­lamic State’s pres­ence in east­ern Afghanistan, the chain of events lead­ing up to its de­ploy­ment has White House crit­ics ar­gu­ing the de­ci­sion was reck­less and in­sen­si­tive to is­sues of po­ten­tial civil­ian ca­su­al­ties.

The Pen­tagon and U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand have sev­eral open in­ves­ti­ga­tions into claims of mass civil­ian ca­su­al­ties tied to U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria.

In the days fol­low­ing the Afghan strike, it was also not im­me­di­ately clear who or­dered the bomb’s de­ploy­ment. Pres­i­dent Trump ini­tially claimed he per­son­ally or­dered the at­tack. Days later, Gen. John Ni­chol­son, the top U.S. com­man­der in Afghanistan, said he made the call.

On Thurs­day, Mr. Mat­tis de­clined to say whether he was told the mas­sive bomb would be used in Afghanistan prior to its use.

The Trump na­tional se­cu­rity team has come un­der fire for al­low­ing ju­nior gen­eral of­fi­cers to call in airstrikes in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and else­where. In the past, Amer­i­can strikes would re­quire ap­proval from se­nior com­man­ders or the White House it­self, in some cases.

The change to the rules of en­gage­ment for U.S. air power is tied to claims the Trump White House has un­of­fi­cially en­cour­aged riskier strikes as fight­ing in­ten­si­fies against ISIS, fol­low­ing Mr. Trump’s campaign crit­i­cism that Pres­i­dent Obama and his aides had un­duly tied the hands of com­man­ders in the field.

“The Trump team cer­tainly has opened the aper­ture,” for­mer Pen­tagon ad­viser Hal Brands, now at Johns Hop­kins’ School of Advanced In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies in the District, told The Wash­ing­ton Times in March.

On Thurs­day, Mr. Mat­tis chal­lenged the crit­ics, say­ing his com­man­ders from the head of the Joint Chiefs down to the boots on the ground “take into ac­count the strate­gic ef­fects to ev­ery­thing we do.”

The de­ci­sion to push the author­ity to call in Amer­i­can air power to lower lev­els of com­mand re­flected the re­al­i­ties of mod­ern war­fare, he said. “If you are in a conflict sit­u­a­tion, you have to del­e­gate ini­tia­tive into the hands you con­sider com­pe­tent to do so,” Mr. Mat­tis added.

When asked whether front­line com­man­ders ex­er­cised the same judg­ment he and his coun­ter­parts use when weigh­ing the con­se­quences of U.S. airstrikes, Mr. Mat­tis replied:”I have no doubt they do and, if I did not, I would re­move them.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis (left) said the de­ci­sion to drop the so-called “mother of all bombs” in east­ern Afghanistan was nec­es­sary. “The bat­tle was go­ing on, and we were go­ing to use what was nec­es­sary to break ICIER. And we’ve made that very clear in every the­ater where we’re up against ISIS,” he said on Thurs­day.

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