The United States dropped the Mother of All Bombs “MOAB” on an ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan on April 13, killing more than 90 Islamic State militants and destroying many underground bunkers and ammunitions. Was this simply just a mission to attack a terrorist organization, or were there other motives at play for the Trump administration and its plan to curb North Korea’s missile testing?
Afghanistan has seemingly been ignored on most American news media outlets, with catastrophe in Syria and madness in North Korea on the rise. According to CNN, there are still more than 8,000 U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan on counter-terrorism missions, and one U.S. soldier was killed in combat during an operation in the area just days before the attack.
The bomb that was dropped on the Afghanistan province of Nangarhar was the largest non-nuclear bomb ever used in combat, equivalent to about 11 tons of TNT and with a blast radius comparable to nine city blocks, according to the Pentagon. The bomb cost about $170,000 to make and had to be deployed out of a cargo plane according to the Air Force. The MOAB was dropped shortly after President Trump authorized the demolition of a Syrian airbase a week earlier and is out of line with the “America First” platform that he campaigned on, and vow to take the United States out of Middle Eastern conflicts. The attack on ISIS in Afghanistan was not authorized by President Trump, but rather by Gen. John Nicholson, the highest-ranking military official in the country. While the bomb’s use garnered enormous attention on the world stage, the weapon’s impact by any military standards was rather underwhelming.
According to Business Insider, ISIS has 700-1,000 militants in Afghanistan, far less than the 25,000 members of the Taliban. According to U.S. military officials, the Taliban control about a third of the population in Afghanistan, about 10 million more people than ISIS controlled in Syria and Iraq at the height of it’s power during the summer of 2014. The Kremlin and leaders in Moscow have been supporting Taliban soldiers, claiming they are helping the fight against ISIS. However, the two radical groups forged a truce in August of 2016 and swore not to fight each other.
Although the bomb was dropped on an ISIS “tunnel complex” in Afghanistan, one can’t help but wonder if the use of one of the largest weapons in the United States’ arsenal was actually a forewarning to America’s enemies around the world.
The MOAB was built in 2003, right before the invasion of Iraq, and had more psychological implications than actual real uses. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said of the bomb after its creation, “There is a psychological component to all aspects of warfare. The goal is to not have a war. The goal is to have the pressure be so great that Saddam Hussein cooperates. Short of that, an unwillingness to cooperate, the goal is to have the capabilities of the coalition so clear and so obvious that there is an enormous disincentive for the Iraqi military to fight against the coalition, and there’s an enormous incentive for Saddam Hussein to leave and spare the world a conflict.”
The MOAB could be a warning to Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. Shortly after the use of the “MOAB,” North Korea again tested a nuclear ballistic missile, but the launch was a failure. With 28,000 U.S. troops currently in South Korea, the United States is looking to strong-arm North Korea away from nuclear testing. Visiting South Korea last weekend, Vice President Mike Pence had a message for Pyongyang: “Since 1992, the United States and our allies have stood together for a denuclearized Korean Peninsula,” Pence said at a joint news conference with acting South Korean President Hwang Kyo-Ahn in Seoul. “We hope to achieve this objective through peaceable means. But all options are on the table.” The Vice President later added, “[The] era of strategic patience is over.” That Pence’s warning coincided with the bombing in Afghanistan seems to be no coincidence, but a showcase of power for Kim Jong Un and the North Korean Army. While talks are currently underway with China to impose tougher sanctions on Pyongyang to persuade the North to change its course on nuclear weapons, Kim Jong Un’s radical government is hard to predict. According to the New York Times, in a formal proposal last month, China said that talks should be framed on the basis of North Korea suspending its nuclear testing, and the U.S. and South Korea suspending their exercises on or near the peninsula.
Whether either is willing to put away their guns on the Korean Peninsula is uncertain.