The US has dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb on an “Islamic State” (IS) target in Nangarhar. DW examines the reasons behind the attack, its timing, and whether IS really poses a big threat to the US in Afghanistan.
Residents of Achin district, where the US dropped the “Massive Ordinance Air Blast” or MOAB – touted as the “mother of all bombs” – described the explosion as the biggest they had ever seen. And the Afghans have definitively seen a lot of colossal bombings in the past few decades, particularly during the US invasion of their country in 2001 and after the consequent fall of the Taliban’s Islamist regime.
Defense experts say the MOAB is a successor to the BLU-82 “Daisy Cutter,” used during the Vietnam War and the start of the post 9/11 Afghanistan conflict.
“What it (MOAB) does is basically suck out all of the oxygen and lights the air on fire,” said Bill Roggio of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, to an American journal.
“It’s a way to get into areas where conventional bombs can’t reach.”
But President Donald Trump’s administration’s decision to drop such a huge bomb in the war-ravaged Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province raises a number of questions.
First of all, does the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) pose such a massive threat to US interests in the region that justified the use of the MOAB against the group?
Secondly, what did Washington achieve by killing some 36 IS fighters in Afghanistan through this very expensive explosion?
“I’m familiar with the area and I believe the US military did not need to use such a huge bomb to target a small number of IS fighters,” Attiqullah Amarkhail, a Kabul-based retired military general, told DW.
“When you drop 11 tons of explosives and kill only 36 of your enemies, it is a waste of your weaponry, unless you have some other targets to achieve,” Amarkhail added.
‘IS’ in Afghanistan
According to US’ own estimates, there are between 600 and 800 IS fighters in Afghanistan, primarily in Nangarhar province. The militant group is much more active and has a much bigger presence in Iraq and Syria. The US has never used the MOAB in these Middle Eastern countries.
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An Afghanistan conference without Afghanistan
But that certainly does not mean IS is not expanding in Nangarhar and other parts of Afghanistan.
Reports of IS presence in Afghanistan emerged in early 2015. In 2014, the Afghan government and US military officials acknowledged that the terror group was recruiting fighters in eastern Afghanistan, using the power vacuum in the Taliban leadership.
“If this group is not stopped here [in Nangarhar province], it will pose a danger not only to Afghanistan but also to other countries in the region,” a resident of Achin district told DW in 2015, calling on the Afghan government to support their fight against the terror group.
The scene in Achin district in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Nangarhar, which shares a border with Pakistan’s tribal areas, bears resemblance to parts of Syria and Iraq under IS command. Members of the terror group control large parts of the district, killing opponents, looting houses and spreading fear among residents with the help of their recently-launched propaganda tool, “The Caliphate Radio.”
IS members broadcast threats to harshly punish those who oppose Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, head of the self-declared “caliphate” extending over parts of Iraq and Syria.
“The MOAB was clearly meant to telegraph a message of intent, that the US will come after IS militants wherever they may be, whether in Afghanistan or elsewhere,” Michael Kugelman, Afghanistan expert at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, told DW. “That said, we shouldn’t assume that this bomb will set some type of precedent for assaults on IS elsewhere around the world.”
The American expert admits that the group’s presence in Nangarhar has been weakened in recent months. “The US and Afghanistan have been leading a joint effort to eliminate IS fighters there for quite some time, and in fact just earlier this week they took out a large number of fighters in the very district where the bomb was dropped. My sense is that this bomb was meant to eliminate those fighters that survived the earlier US-Afghan operation and had fled into the tunnels that the bomb targeted,” Kugelman noted.
Experts say the Thursday bombing in Afghanistan could also be a message to Afghanistan’s neighboring country Pakistan, which many policymakers in Washington believe is supporting Afghan militant groups, including the Taliban and IS.
Despite the fact that the “IS” presence in Afghanistan seems quite limited, there is a possibility that the militant group is getting assistance, and possibly fighters, from neighboring Pakistan. In the past few months, IS has claimed a number of deadly attacks on Pakistani soil.
The Islamic country also has a reputation as a breeding ground for Sunni militant groups. Afghan authorities have repeatedly accused Islamabad of supporting the Taliban and other militant groups and sending them into Afghanistan to destabilize the government.
Observers find it interesting that the US chose to use the biggest non-nuclear bomb in its arsenal at a time when Russia is hosting an Afghanistan conference in Moscow.
Twelve countries, including Afghanistan, China, India, Iran and Pakistan, are participating in the Friday conference. The US was invited to take part, but it turned down the invitation.
In December last year, representatives of Pakistan, China and Russia met in Moscow to discuss the Afghan conflict but they excluded Afghan officials from the gathering.
Geostrategic relations are rapidly changing in southern Asia. Former Cold War rivals India and the US are bolstering their defense and trade ties amid growing concerns about China’s assertiveness in the region, particularly in the disputed South China Sea. On the other hand, Islamabad and Washington, who were allies against the former Soviet Union and collaborated in the 1980s Afghan War, are drifting apart. Simultaneously, Islamabad and Moscow are reviving their ties, as the two Cold War-era foes held their first-ever joint military drills last year.
The changing geopolitics has also prompted Pakistan to forge closer ties with its long-time ally China. Beijing is expanding trade and military cooperation with Islamabad in view of the New Delhi-Washington maneuvers.
Experts say the US does not want Russia and China to increase their presence and influence in Afghanistan with the help of Pakistan and Iran. They note that the Nangarhar bombing was a message from the Trump administration to these countries that they should not take Washington’s somewhat minimal role in Afghanistan as its weakness.
“The US is showing its military power to Russia and China. The timing of the use of MOAB is very important to understand the situation. Moscow is hosting a conference on Afghanistan and the US has sent a warning to everyone participating in the meeting,” underlined Afghan expert Amarkhail.
But Amarkhail believes that the Nangarhar bombing will exacerbate the security situation in Afghanistan.
“The militants will use this bombing to recruit more fighters.”
AUDIOS AND VIDEOS ON THE TOPIC
- Date 14.04.2017
- Author Shamil Shams, Masood Saifullah
- Related Subjects Taliban, Vladimir Putin, People’s Republic of China, Afghanistan, Moscow, Russia, Pakistan, Donald Trump, Asia, Melania Trump
- Keywords Asia, MOAB, Nangarhar, Afghanistan, Mother of All Bombs, US, Donald Trump, Islamic State, ISIS, IS,Russia, Moscow, Vladimir Putin, China, Pakistan, Taliban
Three months after the truck attack on a Berlin Christmas market, domestic intelligence officials say they can’t rule out further attacks. They add that there are other reasons to be concerned about security in Germany.
It happened just a few days before Christmas. The very thing German security officials, supported in part by foreign intelligence services, had long been able to prevent: a terrorist attack, claiming many lives. Jihadist Anis Amri killed 12 people on December 19 when he drove a stolen truck into the crowds at a Christmas market in Berlin. Now, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Gemany’s domestic security agency, has warned that it could happen again. “We continue to have a high threat level in Germany,” said BfV President Hans-Georg Maassen.
Speaking to journalists, he said that an important indicator was the high number of leads that his office continues to receive both nationally and from foreign sources. “We are seeing a qualitative change in the type of information we’re getting,” Maassen said. Every single tip is investigated thoroughly. During the period after the Berlin attack until the start of this year, 20 so-called unspecific threat indicators were examined. In the best-case scenario, security officials are able to discover plans for attacks and prevent them from happening.
Terror hotlines ringing
The BfV also considers information leading to raids on apartments or arrests by police officers to be a measure of success. In this regard, the hotline on Islamist terrorism, or HiT, is becoming ever more significant. The number of contacts via the hotline in 2016 (1,100) more than doubled compared to the number recorded in 2015. But, as Maassen said, there has also been growth in the number of potentially violent Islamists, with the figure currently standing at almost 1,600. There is no doubt, he said, that Germany is increasingly becoming a focal point for the terrorist militia Islamic State, or IS.
Maassen also said that he is concerned about developments in Turkey. “For a long time now, we’ve observed that the conflicts playing out in Turkey also affect the security situation in Germany,” he said, adding there is a danger that proxy conflicts could escalate between members of the Kurdish PKK and nationalistic or right-wing Turkish extremists. The PKK is officially classed as a terrorist group by Germany and the EU.
Many observers say that the diplomatic dispute between Ankara and Berlin over appearances by Turkish politicians in Germany could spill over. Or, to quote Maassen: “The fault lines between the different camps in Turkey are reflected one to one here in Germany.”
AUDIOS AND VIDEOS ON THE TOPIC
- From the sectionMiddle East
Iraqi government forces have moved closer to the southern outskirts of western Mosul, on the second day of a fresh offensive against so-called Islamic State.
The outlying village of Abu Saif, which overlooks Mosul, has been hit by air strikes and helicopter gunships as the military advanced.
Iraqi forces have now entered Abu Saif.
The eastern part of Mosul was liberated from IS fighters last month after heavy fighting.
Abu Saif, which overlooks Mosul’s airport, is seen as a key IS stronghold on the southern approach to western Mosul.
The BBC’s Quentin Sommerville, who is embedded with government troops, said Iraqi forces had faced stiffer resistance inside the village, coming under rocket fire in their first advance.
The bodies of some IS fighters had been seen by the roadside to the village, apparently hit by mortar fire or other artillery.
Progress has been slowed down by improvised bombs planted by IS along the route of the offensive, he said. But the army seized several villages on Sunday, when it launched its fresh offensive.
No civilians had been spotted until the army reached Abu Saif – when a small group waving a white flag was seen, our correspondent added.
Other government forces have been moving towards the Ghazlani military base, which they plan to use as a staging post for the attack on western Mosul itself.
On Monday, US Defence Secretary James Mattis arrived in Baghdad on an unannounced visit.
He told reporters the US military was “not in Iraq to seize anybody’s oil”, seemingly to allay concerns after Donald Trump said last month that the US “should have kept the oil” when it pulled troops out of Iraq in 2011.
Thousands of Iraqi troops, backed by artillery and air power, are involved in the assault to retake Mosul.
On the ground with Iraqi forces
The embedded Quentin Sommerville is tweeting updates as his convoy attempts to move forward in Mosul.
14:55 GMT: A colleague spotted the first civilians outside Abu Saif in the distance. They were carrying a white flag.
13:51 GMT: The day ends as it begins … bomb disposal team dealing with a roadside bomb.
12:44 GMT: Just passed two IS fighter corpses in a ditch. Looks like they were hit by a mortar.
12:27 GMT: Federal policeman, Ali Lazim Lafta, was injured by an IS drone which dropped a grenade on his unit.
11:57 GMT: Coalition air strike on western Mosul. We can see the landmark Nineveh Hotel from here.
Iraqi forces have now all but surrounded the western part of Mosul.
Concern has been voiced by the UN about the welfare of civilians trapped in the city, amid reports that they could number up to 650,000.
Leaflets warning residents of an imminent offensive were earlier dropped over western parts.
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Military officials say west, with its narrow, winding streets, may prove a bigger challenge than the east.
Although slightly smaller than the east, it is more densely populated and includes districts that are seen as pro-IS.
All bridges from there to the west of the city, across the Tigris river, were destroyed.
The offensive against the east was launched on 17 October, more than two years after jihadists overran Mosul before seizing control of much of northern and western Iraq.
The UN said in late January that almost half of all the casualties in Mosul were civilians.
At least 1,096 have been killed and 694 injured across Nineveh province since the start of October.
- From the sectionEurope
France says it was the subject of 24,000 cyber-attacks against defence targets last year.
Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said such attacks were doubling every year and this year’s presidential elections could be targeted.
He said it would be “naive” to think France was immune to the type of cyber-campaign that targeted the US election, which has been blamed on Russia.
Mr Le Drian is overseeing an overhaul of France’s cyber-security operations.
Cyber-attacks in France have increased substantially in the last three years and have become a serious threat to the country’s infrastructure, Mr Le Drian said.
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In an interview with Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper, Mr Le Drian said that France “should not be naive”.
He said that thousands of external attacks had been blocked, including attempts at disrupting France’s drone systems.
His warning comes in the wake of a US intelligence report alleging that Russia was involved in an attempt to influence the 2016 presidential campaign.
Russia denies any involvement in cyber-attacks or hacking.
French elections in April and May this year are being carefully watched after the surprise victory of US President-elect Donald Trump, who said on Saturday that those who oppose good relations with Russia are “stupid people, or fools“.
French conservative candidate Francois Fillon has said that he wants to improve relations with Russia and has been praised by Russian president Vladimir Putin. Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen also favours closer relations with Russia.
Relations between the two countries deteriorated after France’s socialist president, Francois Hollande, played a key role in imposing sanctions on Russia when Crimea was annexed by Russia in 2014.
Mr Hollande also suggested last year that Russia could face war crimes chargesover its bombardment of the Syrian city of Aleppo.
In April 2015, a powerful cyber-attack came close to destroying French TV network TV5Monde, which was taken off air.
A group calling itself the Cyber Caliphate, linked to so-called Islamic State (IS), initially claimed responsibility. But an investigation later discovered that it was carried out by a group of Russian hackers.
- From the sectionEurope
So-called Islamic State says it was behind the new year attack on a Turkish nightclub that killed 39 people.
The group said in a statement it was carried out by “a heroic soldier”.
At least 600 revellers were celebrating in the early hours of Sunday at Istanbul’s Reina nightclub when the gunman began firing indiscriminately, discharging some 180 bullets.
The gunman is still at large and a manhunt is under way. Police say they have made eight arrests so far.
IS has been blamed for recent attacks in Turkey, which is taking military action against the group in neighbouring Syria.
The militant group has already been linked to at least two attacks in Turkey last year.
The IS statement accused Turkey of shedding the blood of Muslims through “its air strikes and mortar attacks” in Syria.
- Partygoers describe Istanbul massacre
- The victims
- Istanbul’s glamorous Reina nightclub
- In pictures: Istanbul after club attack
Turkey launched a military operation in August aimed at pushing back IS and Kurdish forces, with some of the most intensive recent fighting against IS around the northern town of al-Bab.
Turkey has also been a key player with Russia in negotiating a truce between moderate rebel forces and the government.
Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said on Monday that the nightclub attack was a “message” against Turkey’s operations in Syria but that they would not be affected.
More details of the nightclub attack have been emerging. The gunman arrived by taxi before rushing through the entrance with a long-barrelled gun he had taken from the boot of the car.
The attacker fired randomly at people in an assault lasting seven minutes, starting with a security guard and a travel agent near the entrance. Both were killed.
The gunman is reported to have removed his overcoat before fleeing during the chaos.
Turkish media reports quote police sources as saying he may have been from Uzbekistan or Kyrgyzstan.
Kyrgyzstan’s foreign ministry said the reports that the suspect might be Kyrgyz were “doubtful” but that it would carry out checks.
Mr Kurtulmus said Turkish authorities were still working to identify the attacker.
“Information about the fingerprints and basic appearance of the terrorist have been found,” he said.
Police are investigating whether he belongs to an IS cell blamed for an attack in June on Ataturk Airport in Istanbul.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused groups such as IS of trying “to create chaos”.
“They are trying to… demoralise our people and destabilise our country,” he said.
Turkey suffered a bloody 2016 with a series of attacks, some carried out by Kurdish militants.
But a day before the IS claim, the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) was quick to distance itself from the nightclub attack, saying it would “never target innocent civilians”.
Some two-thirds of those killed were foreign, according to local media, among them citizens from Israel, Russia, France, Tunisia, Lebanon, India, Belgium, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
Bollywood director and producer Abis Rizvi was one of those who died, Indian media report.
Victims by nationality:
- Turkey: 11
- Saudi Arabia: 7
- Iraq: 3
- Lebanon: 3
- Jordan, India, Morocco: two nationals from each country
- Germany, Syria, Israel, France-Tunisia, Tunisia, Belgium, Kuwait, Canada, Russia: one national from each country
A complete record of those killed has yet to emerge. The body of one of those who died has yet to be identified.
Security guard Fatih Cakmak was one of the first to die.
His brother said he narrowly escaped a double bombing three weeks ago, having been on duty when Kurdish militants launched an attack near a football stadium, killing at least 44 people, mostly police.
At least 69 people are being treated in hospital, officials said, with three in a serious condition.
The nightclub, which sits on the banks of the Bosphorus, is one of Istanbul’s most fashionable venues – popular with foreigners and often frequented by singers and sports stars.
Some guests are reported to have thrown themselves into the water to escape.
Deadly attacks in Turkey in 2016
Istanbul was already on high alert with some 17,000 police officers on duty in the city, following a string of terror attacks in recent months.
10 December: Twin bomb attack outside a football stadium in Istanbul kills 44 people, Kurdish militant group claims responsibility
20 August: Bomb attack on wedding party in Gaziantep kills at least 30 people, IS suspected
30 July: 35 Kurdish fighters try to storm a military base and are killed by the Turkish army
28 June: A gun and bomb attack on Ataturk airport in Istanbul kills 41 people, in an attack blamed on IS militants
13 March: 37 people are killed by Kurdish militants in a suicide car bombing in Ankara
17 February: 28 people die in an attack on a military convoy in Ankara
- From the sectionMiddle East
Fighting between government and rebel forces has been reported in parts of Syria despite a nationwide truce coming into force early on Friday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said there had been fierce clashes and air strikes in northern Hama province.
It added that rebel-held Wadi Barada near Damascus was also bombarded. But the military denied doing so.
There has been no comment from Turkey and Russia, which brokered the truce.
The rival jihadist groups, Islamic State (IS) and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, and the Kurdish YPG militia are excluded from the initiative, which is aimed at restarting peace talks in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana next month.
Reports of clashes emerged within hours of the truce starting at midnight local time on Friday (22:00 GMT on Thursday).
The Syrian Observatory said government warplanes had carried out 16 air strikes on rebel-held areas in the northern countryside of Hama province during the day on Friday.
The Local Co-ordination Committees (LCC), an opposition activist network, said the town of Halfaya had been targeted.
The Syrian Observatory and LCC also reported fighting in Wadi Barada, a valley in the mountains north-west of Damascus.
They said helicopters had attacked the village of Basima and positions held by rebels and allied jihadists from Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, which was known as al-Nusra Front until it formally broke ties with al-Qaeda in July.
But a Syrian military media unit denied that troops had shelled Wadi Barada and accused the opposition of aiming to show it was not abiding by the truce.
The new kingmaker – Lyse Doucet, BBC chief international correspondent
This deal was declared before it was done and dusted. Seven groups said to have signed up include Ahrar al-Sham, which Moscow and Damascus have always described as terrorists. Ahrar al-Sham says it has “reservations”. Do they have anything to do with backers like Saudi Arabia and Qatar?
But a new top table has been forged before a new US president enters the scene. Russia is confirmed as the foreign force which matters. Turkey displaced the US as kingmaker on the other side. It has bargaining chips and, most of all, wants to stop the sway of Syrian Kurdish forces, who are US allies.
Many opposition fighters will welcome a pause after their stinging defeat in Aleppo. But they and Turkey still want President Assad to step down. That conflicts with Iran, the other key player, as well as Mr Assad’s own circles. But that’s for the next round in this new great game which could be talks in Astana, in Russia’s orbit.
The UN expressed concern about the fighting in Wadi Barada on Thursday, saying combatants were deliberately targeting and damaging springs used to supply some four million people in the Damascus area with drinking water.
The LCC also reported on Friday that government shellfire had caused casualties in rebel-held Douma, in the Eastern Ghouta region outside Damascus.
Abdulkafi Alhamdo, a teacher who was living in a rebel-held enclave in the northern city of Aleppo before being evacuated as part of a deal negotiated by Turkey and Russia earlier this month, said he was not optimistic.
“I can sleep a bit better and not wake up during the night in fear. But we have also experienced many ceasefires in the past and they don’t last,” he told the BBC.
“I believe [government forces] use that time to prepare their troops, and fix their planes and then they just target us again.”
Meanwhile, Turkish military officials said Russian aircraft had carried out three air strikes against IS militants around the northern town of al-Bab.
The strikes appeared to be the first Russian support for a Turkish-backed rebel offensive aimed at recapturing the last IS stronghold in Aleppo province.
Russia has carried out an air campaign against President Bashar al-Assad’s opponents since September 2015, while Turkey supports the rebellion.
Who is included by the truce agreement?
On the one side, Syrian government forces, allied militias and the Russian military.
On the other, a loose alliance of moderate rebel factions that operate under the banner of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), plus several other groups.
The Russian defence ministry named seven “moderate opposition formations” included in the truce as Faylaq al-Sham, Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam, Thuwwar Ahl al-Sham, Jaysh al-Mujahidin, Jaysh Idlib and Jabhah al-Shamiya.
Ahrar al-Sham, which said it had “reservations” about the deal, and Jaysh al-Islam are Islamist groups that Russia has previously described as terrorist organisations.
Who is not included?
The jihadist groups Islamic State and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, “and the groups affiliated to them”, are not part of the agreement, according to the Syrian army.
Jabhat Fateh al-Sham said on Friday it would continue to fight Bashar al-Assad, with a spokesman for the group saying the political solution under the truce would “reproduce the criminal regime”.
Members of the group are currently operating as part of a rebel alliance that controls Idlib province.
The FSA also said the deal did not include the Kurdish Popular Protection Units (YPG). The militia, which has captured large swathes of north-eastern Syria from IS with US support, is designated a terrorist organisation by Turkey.
Where does it cover and what are the terms?
It is nominally nationwide, although that really only covers the areas where the sides who have signed up have a presence – western Syria.
Swathes of central and eastern Syria are under IS or Kurdish control.
Under the terms of the deal, talks on a political solution to end the civil war should begin within a month of the start of the truce and would be held in Kazakhstan.