By Josh Smith and Hamid Shalizi
KABUL U.S. troops are still battling suspected Islamic State fighters near the site where a massive bomb was dropped in eastern Afghanistan last week, a U.S. military official said on Wednesday.Nicknamed "the mother of all bombs", the GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb was dropped last Thursday from an American MC-130 aircraft in the Achin district of Nangarhar, bordering Pakistan.Since then questions have surrounded the decision to use the weapon, which is one of the largest conventional bombs ever used in combat by the U.S. military. The strike drew condemnation from some prominent figures, including former Afghan president Hamid Karzai and Afghanistan's ambassador to Pakistan.After arriving at the site the day after the strike, U.S. troops, who are fighting alongside Afghan forces, have since left but continue to conduct operations in the area, said U.S military spokesman Captain William Salvin."Access has been restricted but that's because it’s a combat zone," he told Reuters. "We are in contact with the enemy."
Echoing initial estimates, Salvin said the U.S. military has "high confidence" that no civilians were harmed, although no independent investigators have been able to visit the site.Some Afghan officials have complained of a lack of information about the effects of the bomb."We were and we are kept in the dark and still we haven’t been able to go to the site," said one senior Afghan security official. "We are confused ourselves and we wonder what MOAB could have caused."
In meetings of the Afghan security council, some ministers told President Ashraf Ghani they feared the dearth of information from the U.S. side could be exploited by Islamic State, which has continued radio broadcasts claiming that none of its fighters were killed."We haven’t suffered any casualties from this bomb," said one recent Islamic State broadcast. "We are fighting for the sake of God who is much stronger than this bomb."
Salvin would not comment on claims by Afghan defense officials that nearly 100 Islamic State fighters died in the strike.The attack was aimed at destroying an "extensive" complex of fortified tunnels and mines and not any particularly large concentration of fighters, he said."Our assessments are ongoing," Salvin said, but noted that the strike appeared to have collapsed many tunnels, destroyed mines, and "reduced" several nearby structures.U.S. troops have continued to use explosives to collapse other tunnel entrances not destroyed by the bomb, he said. (Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Gareth Jones)
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Published Date: Apr 19, 2017 10:47 pm | Updated Date: Apr 19, 2017 10:47 pm