Afghanistan The Misguided Bomb
The US had all its priorities mixed up when it decided to drop the mother of all bombs in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province.
The Americans treat the land as a region for war experiments.
Since assuming the presidency in January 2017, Donald Trump has not deliberated at length on how he would deal with the chronic Afghan crisis he inherited from his predecessor. Apparently the Trump administration appears more obsessed with the growing Islamic State (ISIS) threat than a Taliban uprising in Afghanistan. The obsession was manifested on 13 April, 2017 when the US dropped its largest non-nuclear bomb on a tunnel complex purportedly being used by ISIS militants in Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan. It was the first time the US unleashed such a bomb in a battle. Given the fact that the US supports dialogue with the Afghan Taliban, the testing of the socalled Mother of All Bombs (MOAB) insinuates that the US has declared the ISIS its real enemy in Afghanistan. This implies a major shift in US policy vis-a-vis fighting the war on terror.
The war in Afghanistan is the longest the United States has ever fought. Even after spending more than $1 trillion over a period of 16 years, the US has failed to consolidate its initial gains against the Taliban who are expanding their territory each year. However, there is another threat in the offing for US and government troops. Taliban defectors, Al-Qaeda sympathizers and expelled Sunni Arab fighters from Iraq and Syria, have established their foothold in eastern Afghanistan under the banner of the ISIS-Khurasan chapter. Their emergence has given weight to the apprehension that prospects for peace in Afghanistan are bleak.
The ISIS which is known for its macabre suppression of its subjects has spread its tentacles into Afghanistan’s lawless territories in a bid to establish its influence. This has complicated the sixteen-year war which was fought
with the long-standing mission of fighting the Taliban. The emergence of ISIS has brought old rivals, the US and Taliban, closer as both are aware of repercussions of the ISIS spreading in Afghanistan. ISIS controls many small towns and cities along the AfghanistanPakistan border. Surprisingly one hundred and eighty thousand Afghan soldiers have not been able to vanquish the outfit which barely comprises a few thousand fighters, according to US officials. Around $80 billion have been spent on revamping and restructuring the Afghan National Army, yet it lacks competence in fighting and withstanding the incursion of any enemy.
A couple of years ago, no Afghan could believe that Daesh had reached Afghanistan. But it was in June 2015 when ISIS came to the fore after capturing the village of Manan Bagh in Nangarhar province from its rival Afghan Taliban. As it is known for its brutal methods, ISIS forced innocent local people to sit on explosives and hanged Taliban captives publicly. Since then it has claimed responsibility for many deadly attacks inside Afghanistan. The Kabul suicide bombing in July 2016 and the Sardar Daud Khan Hospital attack in 2017 which cost more than hundred lives were carried out by ISIS.
At this juncture the Trump administration is not willing to alienate the Taliban by turning a blind eye to ISIS penetration in a wartorn Afghanistan. This comes as no surprise when Islamic State fighters are often pummeled by US airstrikes. First, the US eliminated ISIS chief and deputy chief in Afghanistan, Hafiz Saeed Khan and Abdul Rauf Aliza, respectively, in airstrikes last year. Later Afghan forces with US support launched major operations twice in Nangarhar to stamp out ISIS. Although both operations helped Afghan forces to drive ISIS out of Achin and Shinwar districts of Nangarhar, the militant outfit somehow managed to hold its presence in the province. Despite the repeated rhetoric from Afghan officials that there is no safe haven for ISIS in Afghanistan, the ground reality suggests ISIS insurgents have withstood the brunt of military operations launched against them time and again.
The use of the so-called mother of all bombs in Achin district was against the Law of Armed Conflict that bars indiscriminate killing in a battle. The very objective of dropping the bomb was to induce a substantial psychological effect on those who witnessed it. It was an ominous message given to rebels fighting government troops. Nevertheless the supposedly largest non-nuclear destructive bomb did not reap the desired results for the US as ISIS continues its spree of violence inside Afghanistan.
The war strategy devised by the Trump administration to combat insurgents in Afghanistan is faulty and devoid of rational planning. The new war plan entails the use of intimidating weapons and deployment of more US troops in a bid to turn the tide in favour of the Afghan government. But measures such as dropping the MOAB will not help the US heal its miseries in a long-standing Afghan war. Rather, it will induce an antagonistic reaction from highly xenophobic Afghans towards foreign troops and the USbacked Afghan government. The anger of the local Afghan people is obvious from the statement that came from former president Hamid Karzai who deplored the attack and said, “This is not the war on terror, but the inhuman and most brutal misuse of our country as a testing ground for new and dangerous weapons.” The Taliban also condemned the attack and said, “Using this massive bomb cannot be justified and will leave a material and psychological impact on our people.” However, General Nicholson commanding US troops in Afghanistan was of the view that “it was the right time to use the bomb tactically against the right target on the battlefield.”
The US decision to drop a bomb has exposed fault lines that exist between Kabul and Washington. Generally both have almost diametrically opposing views regarding the problem. US officials are of the view that the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda pose a real threat to their interests in Afghanistan while the Ashraf Ghani-led government perceives the Taliban as a major challenger to its rule. The difference of opinion prevents the developing of a coherent strategy.
The military decision to use a super bomb in Afghanistan has only underscored the shallowness of US political and diplomatic strategy. The US needs to understand that using heavy bombs and weapons will not end an indigenous insurgency. This will further exacerbate the already deteriorating situation to an extent that the local population would start hating foreign troops for using Afghanistan as a testing ground for outrageous weaponry. The dropping of the MOAB also demonstrates a major shift in US policy in relation to insurgents operating against the government. It shows that the US takes ISIS as its biggest enemy in Afghanistan whereas the government-supported Afghan militia thinks otherwise. “The biggest threat to the security and stability of this country is Taliban insurgents, not Daesh forces,” said Mirwais Yasini – an influential Afghan member of parliament from Nangarhar.