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Boardman writes: "On April 13, for the first time in combat, the US used its GBU-43B, a Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) explosive that weighs 21,000 pounds and creates an air blast equivalent of 11,000 tons of TNT. The aerial fireball effectively sets the air on fire within a one-mile radius, above and below ground, incinerating, burning alive, or suffocating anyone within its reach."

U.S. Special Operations personnel prepare to board a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter during a mission in Afghanistan. (photo: U.S. Department of Defense)
U.S. Special Operations personnel prepare to board a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter during a mission in Afghanistan. (photo: U.S. Department of Defense)

In Afghanistan: America’s Longest War Will Never Be Won

By William Boardman, Reader Supported News

18 April 17


“I’m very, very proud of the people. Another—really, another successful job. We’re very, very proud of our military. Just like we’re proud of the folks in this room, we are so proud of our military. And it was another successful event.”

– President Trump’s answer to the question, “Did you authorize that bomb?

he US war in Afghanistan, by proxy and/or direct intervention, is approaching the end of its fourth decade. And now the US is running short on big bombs to use there that are still smaller than thermonuclear weapons. On April 13, for the first time in combat, the US used its GBU-43B, a Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) explosive that weighs 21,000 pounds and creates an air blast equivalent of 11 tons of TNT. The aerial fireball effectively sets the air on fire within a one-mile radius, above and below ground, incinerating, burning alive, or suffocating anyone within its reach. Official reports, as in The New York Times, were suitably bland and non-specifically threatening:

U.S. forces in Afghanistan on Thursday [April 13] struck an Islamic State tunnel complex in eastern Afghanistan with “the mother of all bombs,” the largest non-nuclear weapon ever used in combat by the U.S. military, Pentagon officials said. [emphasis added]

To hear mainstream media and the Pentagon tell it, this is just war business as usual for the current NATO mission, “Operation Resolute Support.” The official line is that the mission of 8,400 US troops there is training and support, not combat (except sometimes fighting terrorists). Just before the big bomb drop, on April 8, a US Army Special Forces officer (Staff Sgt. Mark R. De Alencar, 37) was killed in action when his unit was attacked during anti-ISIS combat operations in Nangarhar Province, along the Pakistan border. That’s where the MOAB was dropped (in one of more than 460 US airstrikes in Afghanistan this year). Nangarhar Province has been a difficult to conquer military terrain for at least 2,500 years (Alexander the Great held it for a few years after 331 BC). These days, no one really controls Nangarhar, much less the rest of Afghanistan, certainly not the Afghan government, despite NATO and independent US support. Conventional wisdom at the moment has it that the Taliban is winning, though it’s not clear what that might mean. Despite US attention to ISIS forces, real or imagined, ISIS is nowhere close to controlling the country and is at war with the Taliban as well. That reality makes Sean Spicer’s highlighting of an essentially irrelevant explosion in a relatively remote location somewhat surreal:

The GBU-43 is a large, powerful and accurately delivered weapon. We targeted a system of tunnels and caves that ISIS fighters used to move around freely, making it easier for them to target U.S. military advisers and Afghan forces in the area. … The United States took all precautions necessary to prevent civilian casualties and collateral damage as a result of the operation. Any further details, I would refer you to the Department of Defense on that. [emphasis added]

Other than the novel notion that one might “move around freely” in caves and tunnels, the press secretary’s announcement is so opaque that one wonders if the White House knows what actually happened. This sense is reinforced later in the same press session when a reporter asks: “On the GBU-43 bomb – the first time it’s ever been used. Why did you choose this particular location? And would you say that this bomb won’t be used again in another flashpoint around the world, like Syria? Like North Korea, for instance?” The question assigns a significance to the bomb that has yet to be demonstrated. But the question’s policy points with regard to Syria and North Korea are nevertheless germane. Spicer does not even try to address that, but again defers to the Pentagon, as if that’s where policy is being made these days.

When the White House and the Pentagon promote “a strike on an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-Khorasan tunnel complex in Achin district, Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, as part of ongoing efforts to defeat ISIS-K in Afghanistan” they are focusing on a currently minor opponent with a long historical shadow. This is the same region in which the US failed to capture bin Laden before he escaped into Pakistan’s tribal region. According to the US, over the past six months or so it has reduced ISIS-K’s strength in Achin district from as many as 3,000 fighters to some 600 presently (though it’s not clear how many may have tactically withdrawn to Pakistan). The air blast took out another 30-90, according to different reports, and “only” another 10-12 civilians, including four children. The commander of US forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, indicated that there were no reports or evidence of civilian casualties, although US and Afghan forces had withdrawn to a safe distance before the bomb blast. As the Times headlined it April 14:

A Giant U.S. Bomb Strikes ISIS Caves in Afghanistan

But here’s the funny thing about the cave and tunnel complexes in Nangarhar Province: the US helped create them. During 1978-1988, the US, through the CIA, supported the mujahideen opposition to Soviet control and invasion of Afghanistan. Although the US has now used the “mother of all bombs” to attack caves and tunnels built with US support, the US couldn’t hope to destroy them because they were built deep into mountains to be largely impervious to aerial attack. Referring to “ISIS caves” is both ahistorical and misleading, since ISIS is merely the current tenant. The US did not use its “bunker buster” bomb, the GBU-57A/B Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), which delivers a larger payload than the MOAB. Nor did the US use any of its somewhat smaller, non-nuclear bunker buster bombs on the bunker-like complex of caves and tunnels.

The MOAB is an anti-personnel weapons, it’s designed to annihilate soft targets, especially people. One of its predecessors, named the BLU-82B, or “Daisy Cutter,” was used in Vietnam to cleanse suspected Viet Cong areas of most living things for a one-mile diameter. The Daisy Cutter was also used in Iraq and Afghanistan, before the last one was dropped on a Utah test range in 2008. Its primary use has often been psychological more than strictly military.

The US, in the person of Gen. Nicholson, chose to use the weapon with the media-friendly nickname “mother of all bombs,” which of course it isn’t at all, though it does serve very well as a good, shiny-object distraction for the media. With an explosive power of 11 tons of TNT, the MOAB is not even as big as the “small” Hiroshima atomic bomb, nicknamed “Little Boy,” with its 15 kilotons of explosive power. The “mother of all bombs” is a tiny dwarf next to the US arsenal of nuclear weapons rated by the megaton (1,000 kilotons) of destructive power. The most powerful US nuclear bomb (as distinct from a warhead) is the B83, a “nuclear bunker buster” (or 1.2 million tons, more than 100,000 times the size of the “mother of all bombs”).

Nuclear weapons have remained unused in war since 1945, subject to an international taboo that President Trump is eroding, perhaps quite deliberately. Using a nuclear weapon in Afghanistan remains, for now, “unthinkable,” as they say. But how close to “thinkable” is it becoming for North Korea? And who decides what’s thinkable now, who’s doing the thinking? Depending on the time of year, prevailing winds would carry radioactive fallout from an attack on North Korea either to Japan or China. President Trump and the White House provide almost no clarity or guidance to their thinking, as this April 13 shouted press exchange illustrates:

SHOUTED QUESTION: How about that bomb, sir? Did you authorize that bomb?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: I’m very, very proud of the people. Really another successful job. We’re very, very proud of our military. Just like we’re proud of the folks in this room, we are so proud of our military, and it was another successful event.

REPORTER: Did you authorize it?

TRUMP: Everyone knows exactly what happened. So, and, what I do is I authorize my military. We have the greatest military in the world, and they have done the job, as usual.

We have given them total authorization, and that’s what they’re doing, and frankly, that’s why they’ve been so successful lately. Take a look at what’s happened over the last eight weeks and compare it with the last eight years. There is a tremendous difference. Tremendous difference.

We have incredible leaders in the military, and incredible military, and we are very proud of them.

REPORTER: Does this send a message to North Korea?

TRUMP: I don’t know if this sends a message, it doesn’t make any difference if it does or not. North Korea is a problem, the problem will be taken care of….
[emphasis added]

The president went on to suggest vaguely that China will resolve the North Korea problem somehow. But what he has just described is unconstitutional government. He has confirmed the abdication of civilian control of the US military. If there are any exceptions to the “total authorization,” the administration has not made clear what they or, or even if they include nuclear weapons. It’s small comfort that this abdication by the president is a bookend to the similar abdication by the Congress on September 14, 2001, in a resolution giving “total authorization” to the president to make war at will. That Congressional action, driven by the panic of 9/11, was the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists. It passed both houses without any reflective consideration and with only one vote in opposition – Rep. Barbara Lee, a California Democrat (two cowardly Republican Senators, Larry Craig and Jesse Helms, were “present/not voting”). Barbara Lee has been trying in vain ever since to have the authorization rescinded and to return the country to traditional constitutional order, under which the power to declare war belongs to Congress.

Insofar as the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force has contributed to making the US an increasingly militarized, emerging police state, the terrorists are winning, mostly with our help.

William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner


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+40 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2017-04-18 12:38
The problem with Afghanistan is that it isn't a war. It is an occupation. They US intends to occupy Afghanistan forever, just as it has occupied Japan, Germany, S. Korea, and many other nations where it fought wars forever.

There are two ways to run an occupation: First, the empire can invite the occupied people to participate in the economy of the master state by selling cheaply made products. This is the model of Japan, S. Korea, and Germany. The advantage of this model is that the occupied people become relatively well off and they forget about the occupation.

The second say is the Israeli way. This is to use the milirary to brutalize the occupied people into submission. This includes starving them into submission. The US use this method with Native Americans as it took their lands. This method creates resistance fighters who conclude that it is better to die fighting than to die starving. This method never works, but it is very satisfying to the sadists who run empires.

As Boradman notes, Trump recent bombing sprees were just reality TV. They did not do anything on the ground, but they kept the TV news people agog for days. They just loved saying "mother of all bombs." The real war is the daily brutalization of a people by occupation forces.
+9 # Radscal 2017-04-18 15:02
Yes, but I think this MOAB use was meant to pave the way for "bigger and better" things.

Under President Obama, the military was given the authority to use "battlefield tactical nuclear weapons" without Presidential authority. On the very day that Trump threatened North Korea if they were to test another nuke, the Pentagon announced that they had successfully tested the new B61-12 (guided) gravity nuclear bomb.

(I do not subscribe the the "Grand Coincidence Theory of History")

This is the weapon that the Obama Administration declared "safe" because it penetrates deep into the ground before the nuclear warhead explodes, so civilians down wind wouldn't be blanketed in fall out.

And at the same time, President Trump basically stated, as Mr. Boardman notes, that he had given the Pentagon authority to pretty much do whatever they want.

"Limited nuclear war" has been promoted by members of the Pentagon and the NeoCons for years now. I actually believe it quite likely that these smaller, "tactical" nukes have been used a few times already, though videos of them in Yemen and Ukraine have been dismissed.

I expect President Trump to brag about the Pentagon having used them soon. And I suppose MSDNC's Brian Williams will call them "beautiful."
+6 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2017-04-19 07:06
Rads -- Yes, you are right. The Pentagon has been looking for a long time for a way to begin using tactical nuclear weapons. We may be at a turning point in the history of war. We may see the regular use of nuclear bombs. Of course, there will be some explanation about why they don't expose non-combatants to radiation, just as there has been about the use of depleted uranium weapons.

It is just clear that conventional bombing does not defeat a nation. The Pentagon can blow up all of the civilian infrastructure and bomb people back into the stone age, but it does not make them submit. The resistance goes on. The Pentagon must believe that many nuclear bombs will make people submit and surrender. I don't think so. They will resist forever.

Probably the use of nuclear weapons will backfire on the Pentagon and worldwide condemnation may rise to a level that even shames the Pentagon. Some allies, like Japan, Germany, France may leave the US ooalition. This probably worries the Pentagon more than civilian casualties.
+4 # Radscal 2017-04-19 14:30
Quite right. And can any military planner really believe that bombing civilian populations can "win" a war? When the Nazis began bombing English cities, the British resolve was strengthened, and the significant number of pro-fascists in Great Britain were silenced.

The same thing happened with the German people when the Allies ramped up their "Terror Bombing" (the term they actually used) and especially Fire Bombing of cities.

And anyone who's read a newspaper in the past 16 years knows that the Global War OF Terror has succeeded in growing Islamic Extremists numbers from several hundred or maybe a couple thousand in 2001 to many tens or hundreds of thousands today.

This cannot be an accident.
+13 # cecilep 2017-04-18 15:13
The cost of the MOABs= is now in dispute: as low as 170,000, as high as 314 million. The military claims the lower figure. Do we trust the military's word? How much did the tunnel maze cost that the MOAB blew up? We need that figure too, because the sentence needs to be completed: both assets cost the US taxpayer. That's you and that's me. (Not to mention Afghan lives and landscape.)
The whatever-you-ca re-to-call-it in Afghanistan is not about "winning." It has never been about "winning." The US does not need a "win" anywhere. "Wins" are bad for the bomb business, the plane business, the tank business, and the depleted uranium business. "Winning" means t he US just has to move on to another war. It's more convenient to keep the "war" where it is.
+3 # futhark 2017-04-21 07:02
"It's more convenient to keep the "war" where it is."

The safest wars are always fought against opponents who lack the technology for responding in kind to the insults of violence inflicted upon them and, ideally, are located on the other side of the planet. The assault on Afghanistan has been perfect in so many ways for the Military-Indust rial Complex that I am sure they have no intention whatsoever of allowing it to be "won".
+16 # jimallyn 2017-04-18 16:11
It was never intended to be won. It was intended to increase the profits of the military industrial complex, and it has done that well.
+10 # John S. Browne 2017-04-18 17:28

Fairly right-on article, but there's not one mention of this bomb being dropped in a war of aggression, "the supreme international crime" according to both international AND U.S. law(s), against a country who's people did NOT attack the U.S., and that was nevertheless unconstitutiona lly and illegally attacked, invaded and occupied, and that had regime change carried out, and a U.S. puppet government installed, therein; with the occupation continuing.

Afghanistan is part of the U.S. and the West's endless war of aggression. It is NOT a war of self-defense against a nation or nations that attacked our shores, and it is NOT bringing any legitimate enemies to justice. On the contrary, the U.S. government, its military and its allies are killing, aka murdering, en masse large numbers of alleged "terrorist" CRIMINALS, without bringing any of them to true, due process of law, justice. It is also mostly mass-murdering innocent civilians. The gloves are off, which amounts to the ignoring of all law and true justice, and carrying out imperialistic warfare by parties that are lawless and/or a law unto themselves, violating countless national and international laws in the process.

This article makes clear that this perpetual war madness just goes on and on, and U.S. and allied lawlessness and mass-murder also goes on and on, with no end in sight. And almost, if not more than, two million innocent civilians have been mass-murdered just since 2001, or in the past 15 years.

+6 # ericlipps 2017-04-18 17:47
"11,000 tons of TNT"? Except for radiation, that might as well be an atomic bomb.
+4 # Jerome 2017-04-18 18:38
I am sorry to deflate the size of this, but the size of the explosion was 11 tons not 11,000 tons.
+6 # dquandle 2017-04-18 20:07
Care with numbers, or editing!. 1.2 megatons is 1200 kilotons, or 1.2 million tons, not 1.2 million kilotons.

1.2 million kilotons (= 1.2 billion tons) would probably be bigger than all nuclear blasts that have ever occurred, put together.
+6 # WBoardman 2017-04-18 23:04
Thanks to Jerome and dquandle for pointing out my errors,
for which I apologize.

Not sure where 11,000 tons came from, but I'm actually relieved
that the actual number is 11 tons. That's because all the media hype comparing the MOAB to a nuke seemed really wrong. Turns out it is.

My handling of kilotons was just wrong.

Efforts are under way to make corrections.

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