Trump’s decision to drop the monstrous GBU-43/B on April 13th on an IS tunnel complex in eastern Afghanistan has resulted in a flurry of excitement across the world. This bomb, nicknamed the Mother of all Bombs (MOAB) is the most powerful bomb in America’s conventional arsenal, weighing close to 22,000 pounds and able to unleash a devastating explosive yield of 11 tons of TNT.
This bomb is designed to detonate above the target and creates huge shockwaves that are designed to destroy underground tunnels and structures.
As such it was the clear weapon of choice for America to use to aid Afghan forces who were struggling to eliminate well dug in IS fighters. While the use of the MOAB has created the kind of news headlines that Donald Trump has been relishing since his authorisation of the cruise-missile attack on Syria, its significance is often being overstated as a military game-changer. The bombs smaller brother, the BLU-82, was used a number of times against the Taliban in 2001 to little fan-fare. The use of the bomb is not the real story here.
What we should take away from the use of the GBU-43/B however is the evident freedom Trump is granting his generals, it’s certainly a lot more freedom than they had ever enjoyed under Barack Obama. Mr Obama may have begun to loosen the rules of engagement for the 8,500 American troops in Afghanistan but it appears that Mr Trump will take that autonomy even further.
The IS threat in Afghanistan is much reduced from where it stood last year, estimates currently have their numbers falling from around 3,000 to now less than 800, most of whom are dissident former Taliban fighters who attached themselves to the IS name when it was at its most powerful and influential. The joint American and Afghanistan push against IS has put the group on the verge of extinction.
Sadly however with the focus on IS the Taliban has been growing in strength. During a testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee in February, the American commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, gave a stark warning that the current level of U.S. troops in Afghanistan would not be adequate to prevent the Taliban from retaking their lost territory, particularly in the insurgencies heartland of Helmand province.
President Trump’s national security adviser, Herbert Raymond McMaster, will be visiting troops in Afghanistan and will be returning to D.C. with an in-depth analysis of the situation in the country and recommendations on how the new administration will continue to carry out America’s longest lasting war.
What the use of the MOAB tells us is that General Nicholson will quite likely be getting the ‘few thousand’ new troops he’s been asking for, combined with a more intensive air campaign no doubt. The American war in Afghanistan is escalating as the need to eradicate the numerous insurgencies mounts and Trump appears happy to pull the trigger.
Unlike Mr Obama, who was often skeptical of the military advice to increase their war effort, Mr Trump appears open to any and all advice from his generals. The President took noticeable pride in the use of the GBU-43 and clearly looks to continue giving his military the authority they request: “We have the greatest military in the world. We have given them total authorisation, and that’s what they’re doing, and frankly, that’s why they’ve been so successful lately.”