U.S. forces in Afghanistan dropped a 22,000-pound bomb on Islamic State forces in eastern Afghanistan Thursday, the Pentagon announcedÂ in a statement.
Gen. John W. Nicholson, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said the bomb was âthe right munitionâ to use against the Islamic State because of the groupâs use of roadside bombs, bunkers and tunnels.
It is the first time the bomb, called a GBU-43, has ever been used in combat. The GBU-43 is one of the largest airdropped munitions in the U.S. militaryâs inventory and was almost used during the opening salvos ofÂ the Iraq War in 2003. By comparison, U.S. aircraft commonly drop bombs that weigh between 250Â to 2,000 pounds.
This particular bomb is not the biggest in the Pentagonâs non-nuclear arsenal. The largerÂ 30,000 pound GBU-57 Massive Ordnance Penetrator, designed for destroying heavily fortified bunker complexes, has never been used outside a test environment. While the GBU-57 is heavier, the GBU-43 has a larger warhead and explosive yield.
The U.S. military has targeted similar complexes and dropped tens of thousands of bombs in Afghanistan, raising the question ofÂ why a bomb of this size was needed Thursday. It was unclear what the GBU-43 strike accomplished, as the bomb is not designed to penetrate hardened targets such as bunkers or cave complexes. AÂ spokesman for U.S. forces in AfghanistanÂ did not respond to a query regarding the bombâs effects on its intended target, an Islamic State tunnel complex in Nangahar province.
The Pentagon said in its statement that âU.S. Forces took every precaution to avoid civilian casualties with this strike.â
President Trump on Thursday praised the military as the âgreatestâ in the world. âWe have given them total authorization and thatâs what theyâre doing and frankly thatâs why theyâve been so successful lately,â he said.
The GBU-43 is anÂ evolution of the unguided 15,000-pound BLU-82 bomb. First used in Vietnam, the C-130-launched BLU-82 was often dropped to turn patches of jungle intoÂ helicopter landing zones. This earned the BLU-82 the nickname âdaisy cutter.â The BLU-82 was used multiple times in the early stages of the war in Afghanistan when U.S. forces were closing in on Osama bin Laden in the mountains of Tora Bora on the Afghan-Pakistan border.
The use of the GBU-43Â in eastern Afghanistan comes less than a week after a U.S. Army Special Forces soldier was killed fighting in the same region.Â Army Staff Sgt. Mark R. De Alencar, 37, was mortally wounded by small-arms fire Saturday.
U.S. and Afghan forces have been fighting the Islamic State in Afghanistan since 2015. Special Operations forcesÂ from the Armyâs Ranger battalions as well as the Green Berets have conducted numerous operations to push the militantsÂ out of their sanctuaries.
The Taliban, the insurgent group that has fought the United States and the Afghan government since 2001, also clashesÂ with the Islamic State, though many of its members have defected to the terrorist group.
Last week, Navy Capt. Bill Salvin, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan,Â told the Associated Press that the Islamic State in Afghanistan had lost more than half its territoryÂ and had 800 fighters spread between two provinces. At the groupâs height in Afghanistan, it had more than 3,000 fighters, according to the Pentagon. Salvin added that U.S. forces had carried out more than 400 airstrikes on the Islamic State since the yearâs start.
There are 8,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, primarily split between counterterrorism operations and supporting the fledgling Afghan military. There are also about 7,000 NATO troops in the country responsible for helping train Afghan troops.
Officials at the Afghan Defense Ministry said they were first alerted to Thursdayâs bomb attack through media reports.
âWe have nothing officially on this so far, but the goal this year is to annihilate Daesh in the east and any other part of Afghanistan,â ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanesh said, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State.
âWe will use whatever force that is available to us, together with Resolute Support, and with the maximum amount of caution so that we donât cause civilian casualties,â he said.
Hazrat Hussain Mashriqiwal, spokesman for police forces in Nangahar province, where the bomb was dropped, said that international and Afghan forces had âfor daysâ been involved in operations against the Islamic State affiliate. He also said he was not aware of the specific incident, which U.S. forces said took place around 7:30 p.m. local time.
Nangaharâs Achin district is a stronghold of the local Islamic State branch in Afghanistan, which U.S. officials say is made up of mostly Pakistani and Uzbek militants. The group, which calls itself Khorasan Province, has struggled to expand beyond Achin and a handful of other districts in the east.
Achin is close to the border with Pakistan, which has long been used by militants to smuggle weapons and fighters between the two countries. The group has also targeted tribal elders and fighters it suspected of being loyal to the Taliban.
Cunningham reported from Kabul. Sayed Salahuddin in Kabul contributed to this report.