(Exclusive): Surprising as it looks, the Trump’s administration’s decision to use ‘Mother of All Bombs’ (MOAB) in Afghanistan against ISIS hideouts has come at a time when geo-political landscape in the region, stretching from the west to south and central Asia, is trembling.
With Chinese and Russians appearing on the horizon in Afghanistan, which continues to remain under the US occupation even after 16 years of continuous war, the US is seemingly all but comfortable; hence, the need for a big bomb to stamp its own relevance and importance to the war.
While this is a macroscale US concern, what we have on the micro-level is a potential emphasis back on a military solution of the Afghan war. Will it payoff is a highly most question.
An important question, in this behalf, that arises here is: does dropping a single bomb indicate a war strategy or the absence of it?
The question becomes especially significant when we take into account the fact that, according to US’ own military officials, the fight against ISIS in Afghanistan has been ‘very successful’ in last one year or so and that they have destroyed a number of sub-groups and eliminated many cells.
As a matter of fact, just this month, the US forces announced that they had nearly decimated the group, claiming to have reduced Islamic State-controlled territory in Afghanistan by two-thirds. The military also said it had killed about half of the affiliate’s fighters and carried out hundreds of airstrikes on the group’s positions this year alone.
Why, then, the same military used the big-bomb against an enemy which, according its own assessments, is weak and facing defeat?
Another pertinent question, in this behalf, is: why has the US used this bomb against ISIS, which has a very limited presence in Afghanistan, and not against the Taliban, who continue to pose the greatest challenge to the US hegemony in Afghanistan?
In this context, the US State Department’s claims and Donald Trump’s “mission accomplished” boost notwithstanding, what is certainly clear is that the war in Afghanistan is not nearing its end, at least in the foreseeable future, nor is the US following any coherent strategy to this end.
Had this been the case, the US might have used other, more effective, means of bombing its enemies.
In Afghanistan, where a guerilla war is being fought, such weapons could possibly yield no to very limited results. And as the preliminary reporting has indicated, the Islamic State seems to have suffered no major loses.
Let’s remind ourselves of the fact that this bomb has been in the service since 2003—and the US did not decide to use it as long as its ground forces were there in large numbers, thus underscoring the fact that the use of such big bombs is irrelevant to question of winning a guerilla war.
What adds substance to this element is the fact that even when the US had a large ground presence, it did use MOAB’ smaller predecessor, the BLU-82, several times against the Taliban in late 2001, including during the battle of Tora Bora. But the insurgency has refused to die down and, on the contrary, has spread far and wide, controlling a much larger territory than it had under its control until few years ago.
What, then, is the use of such a bomb against IS?
While the prevailing perception in the West is that the Trump administration is, unlike its predecessor, giving more freedom of action to its military generals in Afghanistan to ‘wrap up the war’, this is contrary to what US commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicolson, has been asking for.
For instance, in his testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee in February, Nicholson warned that current American troop levels are ‘insufficient’ to prevent the Taliban from continuing to retake territory, especially in Helmand province, the heartland of the insurgency, and Kunduz in the north.
Interestingly, it is the same general who decided to use this particular bomb against an enemy that, according to his own assessment, has suffered many “battlefield loses.”
Notwithstanding the obvious contradiction of approach here, what we must be asking is: can bombs, instead of ground troops, do the job for the US?
Given the history of ‘big bombs’ the US has used in Afghanistan, it is unlikely that MOAB would be of substantial, if not any at all, assistance to the Trump administration save that it has produced headlines of the kind that Donald Trump, in the afterglow of the cruise-missile attack on Syria, relishes and seems to have fond them politically useful to dispel ‘negative impressions’ about his presidency.
Even if we accept, for a moment, that Donald Trump has given more freedom of action to his generals, it does not indicate a potential strategy against IS, or even against the Taliban.
What it does indicate is that the US military, in line with Donald Trump’s own political likings, is stretching its traditional sphere of authority and jurisdiction.
As such, with military generals deciding what tactics and strategy to be followed and which bombs to be dropped, what we can expect in the future is that the emphasis would be squarely placed on a ‘military solution’, as opposed to political dialogue and a negotiated settlement, of the war in Afghanistan—a war that has, obviously, defied such a solution since 2001.
What, new, can then the US military do expect using hitherto unused bombs?
The answer is simple: it is going to stretch the war for some more years and keep itself engaged in the theatre. Such a scenario would be extremely fatal for the region.
Were the war to intensify, its effects would be felt far beyond Afghanistan and it will invite rather than detest more outside actors, particularly Russia and China, to play their own role.
Therefore, what the Trump administration is doing is likely to end up taking the Afghan war back to the square one as in 2001.
Its strategy, that is if it has any, is geared towards prolongation of the war than towards a political resolution and its objective is to increase its own military involvement as a means to thwart its potential rivals.
Salman Rafi Sheikh is an independent journalist based in Pakistan. His areas of interest include politics of terrorism, global war on terror, ethno-national conflicts, foreign policies of major powers, application and consequences.