Trump dropped the biggest non-nuclear bomb ever used in Afghanistan on Thursday. Just where is this escalation going?
“I’m really very good at war. I love war, in a certain way,” bragged candidate Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Iowa. This is the same Donald Trump who avoided the Vietnam draft by claiming a bone spur in his foot, a medical problem that never kept him off the tennis courts or golf courses, and miraculously healed on its own.
But with the escalation of US military involvement in Syria, the record number of drone attacks in Yemen, more US troops being sent to the Middle East and, now, the dropping of a massive bomb in Afghanistan, it looks like Trump may indeed love war. Or at least, love “playing” war.
In Syria, Trump went for 59 Tomahawk missiles. Now, in Afghanistan, he has opted for a “super weapon”, the second largest of the US military’s non-nuclear bombs. This 21,600-pound explosive, never before used in combat, was used to blast a bunch of tunnels and caves in an Afghan province near the border of Pakistan.
Officially called a Massive Ordinance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB), its nickname — “the mother of all bombs” — reeks of misogyny, as no mother loves bombs.
The military is still assessing the results of the MOAB blast and insists that it “took every precaution to avoid civilian casualties”. But given this weapon’s colossal size and power (simulator calculations show the effects of the bomb reaching as far as a mile in each direction), damage to the surrounding area is probably enormous.
In an unconfirmed report, a parliamentarian from Nangarhar, Esmatullah Shinwari, said locals had told him one teacher and his young son had been killed. One man, the MP recounted, had told him before the phone lines went down: “I have grown up in the war, and I have heard different kinds of explosions through 30 years: suicide attacks, earthquakes different kinds of blasts. I have never heard anything like this.”
The idea that the US military can vanquish the enemy with ferocious air power is certainly not new, but history tells a different story. The US military dropped over seven million tons of explosives in south-east Asia and still lost the Vietnam war.
In the first days of the Afghan war, we were told that US airpower was no match for the ragtag, poor, uneducated Taliban religious fanatics. Indeed, we saw the precursor to the MOAB used right after the US invasion in 2001. It was the so-called Daisy Cutter, named after the shape of the crater it leaves, weighing 15,000 pounds.
The US military also dropped 5,000-pound bunker busters to blow up caves where Osama bin Laden was hiding in the Tora Bora mountains. The Bush administration bragged that this awesome airpower would ensure the Taliban’s demise. That was 16 years ago, and now US military is not only fighting the Taliban but Isis, which first appeared in this war-torn nation in 2014.
So, are we really supposed to believe that releasing the deadly power of the MOAB will be a game changer? What will happen when it becomes clear, yet again, that airpower is not enough? There are already about 8,500 US troops in Afghanistan. Will Trump drag us deeper into this endless war by granting the US Afghan commander, Gen John Nicholson, his request for several thousand more troops?
More military intervention won’t win the war in Afghanistan, but it will probably win Trump more favorable ratings in the polls, as he discovered with the Syria missile strike.
Bombing other countries certainly takes the attention off Trump’s domestic woes, but perhaps instead of the congratulatory adulations by Trump himself, and his fans and critics alike, we should be asking: just where is this escalation leading?
This president does not have a track record for deep thinking or long-term planning. Trump told reporters that this bombing was “another very, very successful mission”, but when asked about long-term strategy he remained elusive. He deflected a question about whether or not he himself had ordered the bombing by offering one of his canned responses about having the world’s greatest military.
In a statement immediately after the MOAB explosion, Democratic congresswoman Barbara Lee from California said: “President Trump owes the American people an explanation about his escalation of military force in Afghanistan and his long-term strategy to defeat Isis. No president should have a blank check for endless war, especially not this president, who is acting without any checks or oversight from the Republican-controlled Congress.”
This “mother of all bombs” and Trump’s newfound penchant for war will not help Afghan mothers, many of whom are widows struggling to take care of their families after their husbands have been killed. The $16m cost of this one explosion could have provided over 50 million meals for Afghan children.
Alternatively, with Trump’s original playbook of “America First” — a phrase which originated with isolationists and Nazi sympathizers in the 1940s — the money spent on this one bomb could have helped American moms by easing Trump’s proposed cuts in the after-school programs so critical for their children.
Trump’s trigger-happy finger is careening the world down a reckless and dangerous path, not only deepening US involvement in ongoing conflicts but threatening new ones with nuclear powers from Russia to North Korea.