“Mother Of All Bombs” Never Used Before Due To Civilian Casualty Concerns

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Above Photo: Marc Garlasco, a senior military analyst for the Human Rights Watch organization gestures as he speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem, on June 30, 2009. Photo: Sebastian Scheiner/AP

FULFILLING DONALD TRUMP’S campaign promise to “bomb the shit” out of ISIS, the Pentagon dropped the “mother of all bombs” — one of its largest non-nuclear munitions — for the first time on Thursday, in Afghanistan. The 21,600 pound weapon was developed over a decade ago, but was never used due to concerns of possible massive civilian casualties.

The Pentagon said it used the weapon on an ISIS-affiliated group hiding in a tunnel complex in the Nangarhar province. The group, according to the Pentagon, is made up of former members of the Taliban.

The Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB), nicknamed the “mother of all bombs,” has a mile-long blast radius.

When it first introduced the bomb, the Pentagon said it was designed to terrify America’s enemy into submission. “The goal is to have the capabilities of the coalition so clear and so obvious,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in 2003, “that there is an enormous disincentive for the Iraqi military to fight against the [invading] coalition.”

Thursday’s attack drew condemnation from Hamid Karzai, the U.S.-backed former president of Afghanistan. “This is not the war on terror,” he said, “but the inhuman and most brutal misuse of our country as testing ground for new and dangerous weapons.”

Marc Garlasco, a former senior targeting official in the Bush-era Pentagon, told The Intercept on Thursday that the weapon was never put to use “due to collateral damage concerns.”

Garlasco was the Pentagon’s chief of high-value targeting, and ran the intelligence cell whose goal was to “find, target, and kill Saddam Hussein.”

Marc Garlasco, a senior military analyst for the Human Rights Watch organization gestures as he speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem, on June 30, 2009.

The Pentagon considered using the MOAB in Iraq in 2003, he said.

“We were going after a target, I would say, in a similar manner,” said Garlasco. “But the concern there was that once the weapon was put forward as an option, we reviewed it, did a collateral damage estimate, and well let’s just say the collateral damage was impressive. It was decided that the civilian harm greatly outweighed the military gain.”

Garlasco said the strike would have been in a “high-collateral region.” And he said that to his knowledge that was the only time the use of the MOAB was ever suggested.

“It’s got a huge blast radius. I mean, it’s beyond huge,” Garlasco said. “I’m sure the collateral damage estimate is going to be fairly extensive. And you’re not talking about just blast, and people within that blast, you have to consider secondary and tertiary effects of use of the weapon. So looking at things like: How does that affect the water supply to people? Is it going to destroy power within the area?”

Thursday’s bomb drop came a week after the death of Army Special Forces Sgt. Mark De Alencar, the first combat death in Afghanistan in 2017. Alencar was assisting Afghan forces in an operation against a local ISIS group when he was hit with small-arms fire, the Pentagon said.

While the MOAB strike has attracted far more media attention, the U.S. and Afghan government forces have killed increasing numbers of people lately. According to a U.N. report in February, airstrikes from the Afghan government forces and the U.S.-led coalition caused 590 civilian casualties (250 deaths and 340 injured) in 2016 — almost double the number in 2015 — and have been repeatedly accused of bombing residential areas.

Correction, April 14, 2017, 12:10 p.m. ET
An earlier version of this story incorrectly characterized the findings of a U.N. report on civilian casualties in Afghanistan in 2016. 

Top photo: The MOAB, a precision-guided munition weighing 21,500 pounds, is prepared for testing at the Eglin Air Force Armament Center.