Suicide bomber kills cadets in Afghanistan

Fifteen cadets have died in the second deadly suicide bomb attack in the capital, Kabul, within 24 hours. An attack on a mosque on Friday evening claimed at least 56 lives and injured some 55 more.

Firefighters and soldiers near the scene of Saturday's attack (Getty Images/AFP/W. Kohsar)

A suicide car bomber killed 15 Afghan army cadets as they left their military base in Kabul on Saturday, in the second deadly attack in the capital within 24 hours.

“This afternoon, when a minibus carrying army cadets was coming out of the military academy, a suicide bomber on foot targeted them, martyring 15 and wounding four,” said Defense Ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri.

It was not immediately clear who carried out Saturday’s attack, but a resurgent Taliban has been attacking military posts and installations with devastating effect, while Islamic State (IS) militants have stepped up attacks against Shiite mosques.

Watch video00:38

Suicide bomber attacks Shiite mosque in Kabul

IS claimed responsibility for Friday evening’s suicide bomb attack inside a Shiite mosque, which left 56 deadand another 55 injured.

Over the past five days there have been seven major attacks that have left more than 200 dead.

The barrage of deadly assaults underscores the deteriorating security situation across the country.

NATO’s Resolute Support mission tweeted that the latest strike was an “attack on the future” of Afghanistan and its security forces.

“This attack in #Kabul shows the insurgents are desperate and cannot win” against Afghanistan’s security and defense forces, it said.

This attack in  shows the insurgents are desperate and cannot win against  on the battlefield (2/2)

Attacks on the rise

But among the recent attacks, one of the deadliest — claimed by the Taliban — killed about 50 Afghan soldiers during an assault on a military base in the southern province of Kandahar on Thursday.

The militants blasted their way into the military base using two Humvees packed with explosives. It was one of three such attacks this week, according to officials.

The base, in the Chashmo area of Maiwand district, was razed to the ground, according to the Defense Ministry.

Afghan security forces secure the site of a Shiite mosque after a suicide bomb attack.More than 50 people were killed in Friday’s attack on the Imam-e-Zaman mosque in Kabul

On the same day, Taliban militants surrounded a police headquarters in the province of Ghazni, attacking it for the second time in a week.

Afghan security forces have endured soaring casualties as they struggle to hold back the insurgents. Their casualty rate has accelerated since NATO withdrew its combat forces from the country at the end of 2014.

The number of casualties jumped 35 percent in 2016, with some 6,800 soldiers and police officers killed, according to SIGAR, a US watchdog.

Insurgent attacks against security forces have become more sophisticated over the past year. SIGAR described Afghan casualty rates in the early part of the year as “shockingly high.”

People inspect the aftermath of a suicide bomb attack inside a Shiite mosque in Kabul.Friday’s mosque attack underscores the fragile security situation in Afghanistan

An attack on a military base in Mazar-i-Sharif in April was devastating, killing 144 people. Similarly, an attack on a military hospital in Kabul in March killed as many as 100.

People are growing increasingly angry at the government’s inability to protect them, particularly in Kabul, where nearly 20 percent of the country’s civilian deaths in the first half of the year occurred.

“If our government officials cannot protect us, they have to resign and let other competent officials take charge,” said an eyewitness to the mosque bombing Friday night.

bik/tj (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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Dozens dead after ‘IS’ attack on Shiite mosque in Kabul

Islamic State fighters have killed several people and injured many more at a Shiite mosque in Kabul. The attack lasted for four hours before security services could kill the assailants without harming hostages.

The scene of the attack in Kabul

At least 20 people were killed when militants loyal to “Islamic State” (IS) stormed a mosque in the Afghan capital, Kabul. This was the latest in a string of attacks targeting Afghanistan’s minority Shiites.

The attack occurred during afternoon prayers and reportedly lasted for four hours, with the death toll expected to rise due to the dozens of seriously wounded victims who were brought to local hospitals.

Two assailants blew themselves up inside the mosque, while a further two were shot dead by Afghan security forces.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said that IS terrorists were turning to attacks on places of worship because they were losing on the battlefield, and called on all Islamic clerics in the nation to condemn the violence.

One of the first groups to do so was actually the Afghan Taliban, which is fighting an armed insurgency against Ghani’s government. Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid made it clear in a phone call to the news agency AP that his group had nothing to do with the attack and did not approve of it.

US promises more troops

The attack comes on the heels of US President Donald Trump announcing his new strategy for America’s longest war. After promising a complete removal of troops during his campaign, Trump said on Monday that after speaking with advisors, he realized a pullout was simply not feasible.

He added that he would send more troops to the region, but did not give a specific number.

Trump said that the removal of US soldiers from the country would leave a “vacuum” that could allow both the Taliban and IS to make gains against Ghani’s democratically elected government. He added that the US would focus on “killing terrorists” instead of “nation building,” without clarifying what he meant by either of those terms, though he did say he believed the future of Afghanistan should lie in the hands of its people and not Washington.

Trump’s speech received mixed reactions from allies in Kabul and around the world. For its part, Ghani’s government agrees that prolonged US presence is necessary as it continues its asymmetrical conflict with two armed Islamist insurgencies.

es/rt (AP, dpa)

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Trump’s Afghanistan plan: Can it actually work?

Trump acknowledges flip-flop on Afghanistan
Trump acknowledges flip-flop on Afghanistan 00:45

(CNN)On Monday night, President Donald Trump unveiled his new strategy for American involvement in Afghanistan — a country that has been the stage for a seemingly unwinnable war for 16 years.

There was not much in terms of specifics, though Trump did reveal that more US troops would be deployed and the military would have more freedom to fight America’s opponents as it sees fit. He also singled out Pakistan as part of the problem — implying that unless the Pakistanis stopped providing safety for terrorists, they might lose financial aid from the United States.
Perhaps the most significant revelation was Trump’s desire to find a political solution to end the war — one that includes bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table.

What’s new in Trump’s plan?

Trump’s Afghanistan plan
  • Five key pillars of Trump’s plan
  • OPINION: The view from Islamabad
The new plan for American engagement in Afghanistan that Trump announced is — until he puts more meat on the bones — the same old plan, only with less accountability to Washington.
Yes, Trump more publicly called out Pakistan as being part of the problem. But he failed to lay out any serious detail, making it hard to see exactly now this plan differs from existing US policy and how it will succeed where the old one failed.
On the other hand, the lack of clarity may keep the enemy guessing: no drawdown dates, no troop numbers, only the threat that the enemy cannot win on the battlefield.

How realistic is it?

Trump said: “Someday after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan.”
A political solution to the fight with the Taliban is the only realistic way for US forces to leave Afghanistan and not give a free hand to al Qaeda and ISIS. In acknowledging this, it is clear that Trump is now listening to the advice of his generals.
If you listened carefully, you’ll have noticed that Trump differentiated between his enemies. This is key to leaving the door open for a political deal with the Taliban. He said that his objectives are to “obliterate ISIS,” “crush al Qaeda” and “prevent the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan.”
The Taliban have responded by seemingly leaving the door open for talks. They couched their threat to keep fighting the United States by saying, “If the US keeps following a war strategy, we will keep fighting them.” That careful use of the word “if” may come to be incredibly important.

Will the tough talk on Pakistan work?

Pakistan fears that India would like Afghanistan to become a client state on the Pakistani border.
Pakistan has long supported the Afghan Taliban to prevent this from happening and as a result has a controlling influence in the Afghan government.
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, the Taliban have complained that Pakistan has prevented their efforts at negotiating peace on their own terms.
Trump’s demand that Pakistan stop offering a haven to criminals, terrorists and other groups is not new.
Trump: US in Afghanistan to kill terrorists
Trump: US in Afghanistan to kill terrorists 00:54
But when the United States has previously blamed Pakistan for supporting the Taliban — and in particular the Haqqani network — it has not worked out so well: Vital US troop resupply routes that run through Pakistan have been shut down, local tribes have protested and the government has closed the border.
In such situations, the United States has turned to Russia for help. Russia has allowed resupply trains to run across its territory to Afghanistan. But the Russia route is not ideal because it takes much longer — supplies can take more than a month to arrive, as opposed to days from Pakistani ports.
And the political situation today means that Russia is far less likely to allow United States the luxury of a backup path for supplies, should Pakistan close its borders again.

What does success look like?

Success for the United States in Afghanistan would be a negotiated political solution that sees the Taliban as a political entity in the Afghan government.
It is something the Taliban have demanded in the past. The group is seeking ministerial places as well as senior positions in the army.
The Taliban are a national force that has a nationalist agenda, unlike al Qaeda and ISIS, which both have international ambitions.
Recognizing that — as Trump appears to have — is key. Certainly, it wouldn’t guarantee success, but it would help create conditions where success may be possible.
Haley: Trump listened to his generals
Haley: Trump listened to his generals 01:32
It would certainly require more diplomatic heavy lifting than the United States has managed in the past. The Taliban have a vested interest in seeing ISIS defeated and al Qaeda diminished — both are threats.
Both groups share a broadly common conservative Islamic philosophy and, to a significant degree, their fighters in Afghanistan and Pakistan are drawn from the same Pashtun ethnic group, with similarly strong cultural beliefs. This makes it even more important for the Taliban to gain recognition as a political force to represent their community and shut down sympathy for ISIS and al Qaeda.
And that’s the Taliban’s value to the Afghan government and to Trump: to co-opt them into denying territory to terrorists.

What will it take to achieve the plan?

Trust between all parties is central to this plan working.
Pakistan will have to feel that it can trust the United States to act in Pakistan’s interest as well as its own — something that will be complicated because of Trump’s huge appeal in India.
First, the United States cannot afford to make any mistakes — by this we mean civilian casualties that further damage its reputation. Second, it needs to practice quiet diplomacy and try to build a working relationship with the Taliban — which has suffered the most from American intervention.
India has to hold its venom on Pakistan, which it came close to doing in its statement Tuesday responding to Trump’s address.
And the Afghan government needs to win the confidence of its own people through curbing corruption and cronyism.
This is the only way it can build an army that thinks it has a country worth fighting for.
The fate of Afghanistan has always been in the hands of the generals who are invading it.
Trump’s announcement Monday night has done nothing to change this.
Courtesy, CNN

Taliban storm police headquarter in eastern Afghanistan

Taliban gunmen and a suicide bomber have attacked a police headquarters in eastern Afghanistan, killing at least five officers and injuring 22. The assault comes as the US is preparing to send more troops to the country.

Afghanistan Selbstmordanschlag (Reuters/S.Peiwand)

The attack began Sunday morning when a suicide bomber detonated a car laden with explosives at the main entrance of the police headquarters in the eastern city of Gardez in Paktia province.

The blast cleared the way for the other six attackers who stormed the police station and targeted Afghan officers.

Najib Danish, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said two gunmen were immediately killed by Afghan police, while the other others held out for hours. It took Afghan security forces most of the day to kill the last gunmen.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement.

“Around 6:20 (local time) this morning, a martyr attack was conducted by our mujahideen against a special forces base in Gardez, Paktia,” Mujahid said.

“First a car bomb detonated then our mujahideen entered the building, opening fire on police,” he added.

In April, the Taliban launched their “spring offensive” against Afghan and international forces stationed in the war-torn country.

Read: Opinion: Observe and reflect on Afghanistan

Deteriorating security situation

The so-called “Islamic State” (IS) militant group and the Taliban have launched numerous attacks in Afghanistan in the past few months, with experts saying that President Ashraf Ghani’s government is failing to protect citizens.

Read: ‘China and Russia want US out of Afghanistan’

“The security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated further. Afghan security forces control only about 57 percent of the country’s territory. Around 2.5 million people live in areas controlled by the Taliban and nine million more live in contested areas,” Nicole Birtsch, an Afghanistan researcher at the Berlin-based think tank, the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), told DW.

“The number of civilian victims, including many children, remains high. And many people are internally displaced due to the fighting between government forces and the Taliban,” she added.

Sunday’s attack came as the Pentagon is getting ready to send some 4,000 additional US troops to Afghanistan.

The latest wave of US troops will mainly be deployed to train and advise Afghan forces, following warnings by top US commanders in the region that the local military was facing a resurgent Taliban and a rising threat posed by IS.

Read: Afghan soldier attacks US troops near Mazar-i-Sharif

Watch video25:59

Quadriga – Afghanistan – No way forward?

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Afghans rail against Kabul, Islamabad over deadly blast

Anti-Pakistan sentiment runs high in Afghanistan following the huge bomb blast in Kabul’s diplomatic area that claimed over 90 lives. The Afghan government blamed Pakistan-based militant Haqqani Network for the attack.

Aghanistan Kabul Protest Demonstration (Reuters/M. Ismail)

“For how long we will have to tolerate this bloodshed in our country?” a Kabul resident said Thursday, a day after a deadly vehicle bomb killed and wounded hundreds of people in the capital’s highly secure area.

“I have lost my brother in the blast, and the government is constantly failing to provide us with security,” he added.

More than 1,000 demonstrators took to the streets in Kabul on Thursday and Friday, many carrying pictures of bomb victims, chanting slogans against the leaders of the national unity government –  President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.

Protesters demanded answers from the government over the perceived intelligence failure leading to the attack.

As a demonstration in the city turned violent, police fired into the crowd, killing at least three protesters, according to local media reports.

No militant group claimed responsibility for the Wednesday bombing, but the Taliban and self-styled “Islamic State” (IS) groups have staged large-scale attacks in Kabul in the past.

Read: Opinion: Observe and reflect on Afghanistan

After initial investigations, Afghan authorities said Pakistan-based militant Haqqani Network carried out the attack, and that the Pakistani military’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) security agency was also responsible. A source close to the Afghan presidential palace said that President Ghani had signed an order to execute 11 imprisoned Haqqani Network and Taliban convicts following the attack.

Apart from the Afghan government, a number of independent Afghanistan experts and Western officials have pointed to the ISI-Haqqani nexus.

Sediq Siddiqui, the spokesperson for Afghanistan’s interior ministry, told media the role of Pakistan’s ISI had been established in Kabul explosion. “We have nailed Pakistan’s ISI role (in Kabul blast). Afghanistan expects Pakistan to crack down on Haqqani Network. The attack will surely impact ties between the two (Afghanistan, Pakistan) countries,” Siddiqui said.

Rahmatullah Nabil, the former chief of Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security intelligence agency, alleges that Pakistan has been “playing a deadly game in Afghanistan.”

“Pakistan wants to find new support for its proxy jihadists. It also wants to convey a message to the US that without Pakistan’s help, Washington is going to fail in Afghanistan,” Nabil told DW.

Read: Angela Merkel announces temporary halt on Afghan deportations after Kabul bombing

Pakistan on Thursday dismissed the allegations that its intelligence agencies were behind Wednesday’s truck attack. “We reject the baseless allegations. The accusatory approach is unhelpful towards efforts for peace,” Foreign Office spokesperson Nafees Zakria said at a weekly news briefing in Islamabad.

Watch video01:38

Grief and outrage in Kabul

Pakistan and the Haqqanis

It is not the first time that Afghan officials have accused Islamabad of giving Islamists logistical and military support to launch attacks on Afghan soil. Afghanistan and Western countries have long accused Pakistan of distinguishing between “good and bad jihadists” – the ones that attack Pakistani soldiers, and the ones that it allegedly uses as proxies in Afghanistan and India-administered Kashmir.

Pakistan continues to deny it is backing Haqqani Network, which is largely based in its Waziristan region close to the Afghan border. Pakistan no longer believes in separating the “good” and “bad” Taliban, a senior government official said in 2015.

Last year, President Ashraf Ghani’s government blamed Haqqani Network for a major terrorist attack on the headquarters of an Afghan security agency in Kabul. The attack near the US embassy and government ministries killed at least 64 people and wounded over 300.

The attack infuriated the Afghan government to an extent that President Ghani had to say that his country “no longer expects Pakistan to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table” – a clear indication that the Afghan authorities no longer trust Islamabad in the fight against Islamic militants.

Mujahed Andarabi, the head of news for the Kabul-based 1TV, said the Wednesday bombing was part of a “big game” being played by the Taliban, Haqqani Network and some regional countries, including Pakistan. The Afghan government needs a clear-cut approach toward Pakistan, he underlined.

Andarabi says there is an international consensus against Pakistan, which is being isolated regionally and globally. Ghani’s government should use this opportunity to make Afghanistan more independent, he stressed.

Read: Iranians show solidarity with Afghan neighbors after Kabul attack

Afghan expert Miagul Wasiq believes the success of the Afghan peace process largely depends on Pakistan’s role. If Pakistan really wants to bring the Taliban into negotiations, it would be impossible for the militants to turn them down, he told DW.

“It is clear that the Taliban leaders are based in the Pakistani cities of Peshawar, Karachi and Quetta. Pakistan hasn’t forced them to shun their activities and stop using its soil,” said Wasiq. “If Pakistani officials stop backing them, I am sure the militants will have no option but to join the peace talks.”

But Naufil Shahrukh, a researcher at the Islamabad-based Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), says that Pakistan has practically no influence over the Taliban leadership. “Such preconceived notions should be cleared before any meaningful initiative can take root,” he told DW. “We must admit that the Taliban are still a potent force in Afghanistan. They control, and have public support, in several Afghan provinces.”

History of mistrust

The ties between Afghanistan and Pakistan have never been worse. Apart from allegations and counter-allegations that the other country is backing armed militants, the two neighboring countries have been engaged in sporadic border clashes.

Amid worsening ties with Afghanistan, Pakistan announced in March it had started building a fence along the volatile Afghan-Pakistani border. Islamabad said the move was aimed at restricting the movement of Islamist militants that cross over the porous border and launch attacks on Pakistani soil.

In fact, there has been a long history of mistrust between the two nations.

“History has proven that Pakistan wants a weak government in Afghanistan so it can remain as the only mediator for the crisis in its neighborhood for the international community,” Ahmad Zia Ferozpur, a lecturer at the Balkh University, told DW, adding that the only time Pakistan was happy with Afghanistan was during the Taliban regime.

“In 2001, Islamabad agreed to join the campaign against the Taliban due to international pressure but started a double game of supporting the Islamist insurgency and the international effort in Afghanistan simultaneously,” Ferozpur underlined.

But he emphasized that Afghanistan’s anger is directed against the Pakistani military and the ISI, not its people,

According to Sadaf Gheyasi, an Afghan journalist and activist, social media has played a big role in how the Afghans see Pakistan now. “The Afghan government has provided ample proof of Pakistani interference in Afghanistan through social media,” she said.

But things can change now under President Ghani’s government, believes Shukria Barakzai, an Afghan parliamentarian. “What we ask from Pakistan is not impossible: We want Islamabad to sign a transit agreement with Afghanistan and stop interfering in Afghanistan’s security,” she told DW. “Afghanistan has tried all options with Pakistan. If Pakistan does not change its policies, our last option will be to consult the United Nation’s Security Council,” she warned.

Additional reporting by Ahmad Hakimi and Masood Saifullah.

Watch video01:40

Truck blast rocks Kabul diplomatic district

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US skips out on Afghanistan-Taliban conference in Moscow

The Trump administration’s decision not to attend could be yet another sign of an increasingly icy relationship between Washington and Moscow. The meeting comes just after the US bombed ‘IS’ targets in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan Taliban Kämpfer in der Provinz Zabul (picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. Khan)

Despite receiving an invitation, the Trump administration will not attend Friday’s meeting in the Russian capital aimed at facilitating peace talks between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban.

Conference participants are expected to include representatives from Pakistan, Iran, India, China and several other central Asian nations. Representatives of NATO nations and the United Nations will not be in attendance.

Read More: Taliban expansion worries north Afghans

In a press briefing on Thursday, US State Department spokesperson Mark Toner cited skepticism of the conference aims as the reason for the United States’ lack of participation.

“I think just to end it, we just felt that these talks – it was unclear to us what the purpose was,” Toner told the assembled press. “It seemed to be a unilateral Russian attempt to assert influence in the region that we felt wasn’t constructive at this time,” he added.

However, Toner also stated that “we do plan to work with Russia and other key regional stakeholders to enhance dialogue” between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

Russland Moskau Rex Tillerson und Sergei Lawrow (picture-alliance/dpa/TASS/S. Krasilnikov)Tillerson and Lavrov met earlier in the week to discuss deteriorating US-Russian relations

A sign of geopolitical competition?

Washington’s thanks-but-no-thanks to its conference invitation came amid rapidly deteriorating relations between the US and Russia, due in large part to US President Donald Trump’s order to fire cruise missiles at a Syrian air base also used by Russian forces in support of Syrian President Assad.

Nicole Birtsch (SWP)Nicole Birtsch from SWP thinks the US will not accept Russian leadership on Afghanistan negotiations

The announcement of the administration’s absence from the conference coincided with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visit with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on Wednesday. After the visit, Tillerson described US-Russian relations as being at a “low point,” with many experts suggesting an increasing geopolitical rivalry.

In an interview with DW, Nicole Birtsch from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) pointed out that a previous Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) headed up by the US had failed to reach its goal of establishing peace talks. “Washington will not likely accept Russia in a leading role,” Birtsch said.

Read More: Will Washington and Moscow come together on Afghanistan?

A questionable relationship between Russia and the Taliban

One reason for the QCG’s failed outcome was a lack of willingness on the part of the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government. Experts agree that the Taliban’s participation is essential for reaching a lasting peace in the war-torn country.

“Precisely because the Taliban has had real power for over 20 years, an Afghan peace is not possible without them,” Russian expert in central Asia Arkadi Dubnow told DW.

Read More: Entrechened instability in Afghanistan

Arkadij Dubnov russischer Experte für Zentralasien (DW/G.Fasthudinov)Arkadi Dubnow is a Russian expert for central Asia

At the end of March, the Russian Ambassador to NATO Alexander Gruschko announced, “We have contact with the Taliban,” adding that the two-fold purpose for such communication centered on the security of Russian citizens and Taliban participation in peace talks.

But NATO has accused Moscow of supporting the rebel Islamic group with weapons.

Birtsch believed Russia’s relationship to the Taliban had two key policy purposes: firstly, supporting the Taliban in the fight against the so-called Islamic State (IS); and secondly, maintaining an influence in Afghanistan.

Despite Russia’s ties to the Taliban, it remains unclear whether or not Taliban representatives will attend Friday’s conference.

US policy in Afghanistan unclear

The underlying foundation of US policy in Afghanistan also remains unclear, especially in light of the Trump administration’s surprise bombing of an IS cave in Afghanistan on Thursday.

The Afghan presidential palace said the largest non-nuclear bomb was dropped in coordination with the Afghan government. However, the confirmed presence of Afghan government officials in Moscow on Friday and the absence of the US could raise questions as to just how close the two countries are.

Watch video01:29

US drops ‘mother of all bombs’ on IS caves

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‘Mother of all bombs’ – what has it achieved?

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.

USA Bombe GBU-43/B in Florida (picture-alliance/ZUMA Wire/US Air Force)

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.

Watch video01:29

US drops ‘mother of all bombs’ on IS caves

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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US drops largest non-nuclear bomb on ‘IS’ target in Afghanistan

The Pentagon has confirmed the first-ever combat use of the GBU-43, also known as the MOAB, or “mother of all bombs,” in a targeted attack on ‘Islamic State.’ Afghan officials said the bomb killed at least 36 fighters. (13.04.2017)

Opinion: A calculated step toward the apocalypse?

What makes MOAB Mother of All Bombs?

Nangarhar: Gateway to Afghanistan for ‘Islamic State’

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.

Bildergalerie IS in Afghanistan (picture-alliance/dpa/G. Habibi)IS is expanding in Nangarhar and other parts of Afghanistan

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.

Moscow conference

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.

Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Gipfel in Ufa Premierminister Nawaz Sharif und Präsident Wladimir Putin (picture alliance/dpa/SCO Photoshot/Ria Novosti)Pakistan is seeking to forge closer ties with China and Russia to counter New Delhi’s growing influence in Kabul

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.”

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