Dozens of militants killed by US mega bomb - Afghan defence officials

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By Catherine Hardy  with Reuters
Dozens of militants killed by US mega bomb - Afghan defence officials

At least 36 suspected ISIL militants are thought to have been killed when the US dropped “the mother of all bombs” in Afghanstan.

The deaths have not been independently verified. However, Afghan defence ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri said no civilians were harmed in the massive blast that destroyed a network of caves and tunnels. 

“No civilian has been hurt and only the base which Daesh used to launch attacks in other parts of the province was destroyed,” Waziri said in a statement.

What happened?

A Pentagon spokesman said the 21,600 pound GBU-43 bomb was dropped from an MC-130 aircraft in the Achin district of the eastern province of Nangarhar bordering Pakistan.

Why is the bomb unusual?

The device is known as “the mother of all bombs”.

It is a GPS-guided munition that had never before been used in combat since its first test in 2003.

WATCH: Pentagon images of bomb destroying the tunnel system

On the ground – what locals are saying

At a village around five kilometres from the remote, mountainous area where the bomb was dropped, witnesses said the ground shook but homes and shops appeared unaffected.

“Last night’s bomb was really huge, when it dropped, everywhere was shaking,” said local Palstar Khan.

On the ground – what the military is saying

US officials say the bomb has been positioned for possible use in Afghanistan for “some time”, since the administration of former president Barack Obama.

The US has steadily intensified its air campaign against ISIL and Taliban militants in Afghanistan.

The Air Force has deployed nearly 500 weapons in the first three months of 2017, up from 300 in the corresponding period in 2016.

The strike was part of a joint operation by Afghan and international troops, according to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s office.

“Afghan and foreign troops closely coordinated this operation and were extra cautious to avoid any civilian casualties,” the statement said.

Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai condemned the use of the weapon on Afghan soil.

“This is not the war on terror, but the inhuman and most brutal misuse of our country as testing ground for new and dangerous weapons,” Karzai said on Twitter.

On the ground – what the Taliban is saying

The Taliban has condemned the use of the bomb.

“Using this massive bomb cannot be justified and will leave a material and psychological impact on our people,” it said in a statement.

UN concerns

The United Nations is concerned that the US air campaign is swelling civilian casualties in Afghanistan.

Last year, air strikes by the military coalition led to at least 127 civilian deaths and 108 injuries.

That is up from 103 deaths and 67 injuries in 2015, it says.