A Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) weapon is prepared for testing at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida in 2003. (Wikimedia Commons)
The U.S. military announced on Thursday that it dropped a 21,600-pound non-nuclear bomb in Afghanistan. The GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB), nicknamed the “mother of all bombs,” was developed in 2003 but never used on a battlefield. CNN reported:
[MOAB] was dropped at 7:32 pm local time Thursday, the sources said. A MOAB is a 21,600-pound, GPS-guided munition that is America’s most powerful non-nuclear bomb.
The bomb was dropped by an MC-130 aircraft, stationed in Afghanistan and operated by Air Force Special Operations Command, Pentagon spokesman Adam Stump told CNN.
Officials said the target was an ISIS cave and tunnel complex and personnel in the Achin district of the Nangarhar province. ...
Gen. John Nicholson, commander of US forces in Afghanistan, signed off on the use of the bomb, according to the sources. The authority to deploy the weapon was granted to Nicholson by the commander of US Central Command, Gen. Joseph Votel, Stump said. [Both Nicholson and Votel assumed their current positions during the Obama administration.]
According to the online news site Heavy, the Achin district has a population of around 95,000 people.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in a subsequent press conference that the U.S. “took all precautions necessary to prevent civilian casualties.”
“The United States takes the fight against ISIS very seriously and in order to defeat the group we must deny them operational space,” he added.
Pressed by reporters for more information on the use of MOAB, Spicer responded, “Please refer to Department of Defense for specifics.”
According to CNN, the military is still “assessing the damage” from MOAB.
A 2003 article in the Los Angeles Times explained the massive bomb’s effect:
Military analysts in the U.S. say that because the 21,000-pound massive ordnance air burst, or MOAB, is so huge, it can be dropped only from a military cargo plane that flies slowly and at relatively low altitudes, making the plane vulnerable to antiaircraft weapons. And because the bomb causes devastation across such a broad swath, it is unlikely to be used against anything but a large concentration of entrenched enemy troops—just the kind of target likely to be armed with antiaircraft weapons.
“It’s really quite improbable that it would be used,” said Loren Thompson, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute, a defense think tank in Arlington, Va.
“The Pentagon is committed to avoiding large concentrations of civilians, and it is committed to avoiding putting its pilots and its planes at unnecessary risk. The only real use for this kind of indiscriminate terror weapon is to scare the bejesus out of Saddam Hussein.”
According to The Fiscal Times, MOAB “took $314 million to develop and has a unit cost of $16 million.” Below, watch a video of a test drop of MOAB: