The number of Islamic State fighters killed when the the U.S. dropped its most powerful non-nuclear “mother of all bombs” in Afghanistan Thursday rose from 36 to a projected 94, Afghan officials reported Saturday.
The U.S. military targeted a number of underground tunnels, operated by Islamic State militants and containing weapons and ammunition, in the Nangarhar province, located near Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan. The “Massive Ordinance Air Blast” (MOAB) bomb destroyed three tunnels without killing any civilians, according to both U.S. and Afghani officials.
“The United States takes the fight against ISIS very seriously.”
“The number of Daesh fighters killed in the U.S. bombing in Achin district jumped to 94, including four commanders,” Nangarhar provincial spokesman Attaullah Khogiani told CNN. “Daesh” is an alternative name for the Islamic State.
Dawlat Waziri, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense, told CNN, “Our team is in the area and they are doing clearance, so the figure might change as they find more bodies.”
Although Afghanistan and the U.S. now estimate 94 militants were killed by the MOAB, the Islamic State’s official media wing, Amaq News Agency, denies that any of its fighters were killed.
The White House hailed the Pentagon decision to drop the 30-foot-long, 21,600-pound bomb.
“The United States takes the fight against ISIS very seriously,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said during a briefing Thursday. “And in order to defeat the group, we must deny them operational space, which we did. The United States took all precautions necessary to prevent civilian casualties and collateral damage as a result of the operation.”
The Department of Defense noted in a statement Thursday that its strike “was designed to minimize the risk to Afghan and U.S. forces conducting clearing operations in the area while maximizing the destruction of ISIS-K fighters and facilities.”
“As ISIS-K’s losses have mounted, they are using [improvised bombs], bunkers, and tunnels to thicken their defense,” Army Gen. John W. Nicholson, commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan, said in the statement. “This is the right munition to reduce these obstacles and maintain the momentum of our offensive against ISIS-K.”
The Department of Defense also noted that the U.S. took all possible precautions to avoid civilian casualties. Thus far, none have been reported.
Currently 8,400 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan and carry out counterterrorism operations. Just prior to the MOAB’s detonation, U.S. and Afghan forces had been unable to advance further in the region due to intensified resistance from Islamic State fighters, CNN reported.
The Afghanistan bombing followed one week after President Donald Trump ordered a missile strike in Syria in retaliation against the use of chemical weapons, which killed more than 80 Syrian civilians. While both military moves earned Trump praise, others expressed their concerns that the actions represent a dramatic reversal in foreign policy for the president who touted less foreign intervention while on the campaign trail.
Trump has claimed that he is giving the U.S. military more support and more power to engage in the frontline fight against the Islamic State.
“Everybody knows exactly what happened,” the president told reporters Thursday. “We have the greatest military in the world and they’ve done a job as usual, so we have given them total authorization. And that’s what they’re doing.”