Back in April, the U.S. military dropped its most powerful non-nuclear weapon on an ISIS tunnel complex in Afghanistan. Formally named the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB), it is more commonly called the Mother Of All Bombs. It is based on the Vietnam-era daisy cutter which was used to clear landing zones in the jungle via a fuel-air explosives. The Department of Defense particularly liked the weapon’s intimidation factor after using the MOAB’s predecessor during the Gulf War and against the Taliban early in the War on Terror.
Weighing in around 21,000 pounds, the MOAB was designed with surface targets in mind or unprotected tunnel and cave complexes, as opposed to hardened underground targets which would require a bunker buster or penetrator-type munition. Underground cave and tunnel networks present a vexing problem for defense planners, and the Department of Defense is now making a renewed effort to develop technologies to help soldiers clear underground structures. The MOAB presents one such solution to this tactical challenge.
Lieutenant General Scott Howell was the commander of the Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan (SOJTF-A) in April of 2017 when operational plans were drafted to destroy a tunnel complex occupied by ISIS fighters (largely former Taliban members who rebranded themselves) in Nangarhar Province in Eastern Afghanistan. Rather than risk the lives of squads and platoons of soldiers who would have to engage in risky close-quarter battle in underground and likely booby-trapped tunnels, the military looked to the MOAB, a bomb so big it would have to be flown in and delivered by a C-130 by rolling it off the ramp.
General Howell had previously commanded a secretive Air Force unit called the Aviation Tactics Evaluation Group (AvTEG), a unit that uses non-standard aviation assets acquired outside the normal DOD procurement process in order to provide JSOC operators with methods of clandestine insertion options into denied areas.
While The New Yorker reported it was President Trump who dropped the MOAB, he had just loosened some of the restrictions placed on commanders in the field. It was actually General Howell who made the call.
On April 14th, 2017, the MOAB was dropped on enemy forces for the first time in history, to devastating effect. Local officials on the ground estimated that around 90 ISIS fighters were killed in the blast.