The United States military used its GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB), nicknamed “the mother of all bombs,” for the first time in combat. The US Air Force used it in Afghanistan to target Islamic State tunnels and personnel. The 21,000-pound (9,525 kg) bomb was dropped in the Achin district of the Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan. Newsclick spoke to Prabir Purkayastha, to know more about MOAB. He explains that MOAB is nothing but larger form of barrel bomb. They are not hi-tech and can be constructed by anyone. A barrel bomb is an improvised unguided bomb, sometimes described as a flying IED (improvised explosive device). They are typically made from a large barrel-shaped metal container just like MOAB that has been filled with high explosives, possibly oil or chemicals as well, and then dropped from a helicopter or airplane.
Pranjal: Hello and welcome to the Newsclick. The Americans have dropped what they call Mother of all Bombs in Afghanistan. To discuss this issue we have with us, Prabir Purkayastha, Editor in Chief of Newsclick. So they have dropped what they are calling Mother of all Bombs. What is this bomb, what are its features and specification, how is it different from others?
Prabir Purkayastha: Well let’s be clear about it. This is actually just a big, large barrel bomb. This is what the Americans have been charging the Syrians with, that they’re dropping barrel bombs over their people and how the barrel bombs are savage, bad etc. We’ve been hearing this propaganda all the time. The question is, is the so called mother of all bombs any different from what the Syrians are dropping except for being much larger. Let’s look at what you said; what are the features of the bomb. It’s essentially kind whale oil which spreads like an aerosol and then it’s ignited by some charges. So when it ignites because it’s basically a coin vapour that’s igniting, what it does is, the blast radius is much larger and some more continuous blast, a longer blast than what you have normally is an explosive charge which is a combination of oxidising agents and whatever is going to be used to burn it. So here also there are oxidising agents which are sort of scattered in the oil aerosol which that helps to ignite the whole oil at one point. But the point is, that the primary action is really that of an aerosol oil vapour which is ignited sort of simultaneously using various charges.
The destructive action is not only through a large blast that takes place but also sucking out oxygen from the atmosphere because that’s what is used to continue the burning. Oil burns, it requires oxygen and that oxygen is taken from the surrounding atmosphere which is around the aerosol. So it sucks oxygen around it and therefore not only the blast radius but a much the larger radius or people are affected who then would not get oxygen. Essentially therefore it’s not high tech. It is relatively something which anybody can construct except for the fact it’d been put into a very large casing and dropped. Now even the dropping is very similar to what they claim the Syrians do which is roll it out of the, essentially of helicopters or ships, aeroplanes which carry a lot of goods. So you just essentially use it for transportation. So you used this transportation planes or helicopters to really drop this barrel bombs, helicopters are supposed to be the one which is commonly used.
In this case also this was dropped by using a C-130 Hercules Helicopter. The bomb was literally dragged out by a parachute which was opened, the parachute dragged out the carriage on which the bomb was resting. And when the carriage was dragged out, it floated up with the parachute with the result the bomb drops down. So, even the principle of dropping the bomb is not something which is very sophisticated. It is very similar to what again, the barrel bombs that the Syrians have been claimed to be dropping, what happens with them. So in essence it may be called by all kinds of name but essentially it is nothing but one big barrel bomb.
The difference is that it’s very large. So this 22,000 pounds which is the destructive capacity of the bomb, so it’s much, much larger than anything the Syrians have claimed to have done. But in principle it has the same effect meaning that it is very much distributed in its impact and therefore the possibility of civilian casualties are very high and this is one of the reasons that in Iraq this bomb was not used.
Pranjal: Why do you think US has used it? Because as you have pointed out it was not used in Iraq war and now Trump is boasting about and using it and calls it a successful mission.
Prabir: You know it’s very interesting; the media is all over with this mother of all bombs, giving its detail as if it’s a major technological breakthrough. This as I said being a barrel bomb, is simple to construct. Any country in the world can really do it. Size and dropping it cannot be very high-tech either. It’s also clear that the military reason given dropping in Afghanistan to clear caves cannot be a very serious reason. Because if that was so, then how many of the combatants supposedly have died? 50 or 60 are what the claim is. In reality these claims are always inflated and you know the numbers are relatively smaller.
I think the strategic significance is; a) to show that we are going to be there for the long haul in Afghanistan. So it also shows that Trump wants to give a signal, that we are going to continue the occupation of Afghanistan and America will be the pre-eminent player there. Instead of what is being argued that Afghanistan requires a solution, we should involve all the players particularly the regional players. So I think that’s putting on the ground that the Americans have the pre-eminent, the pole position in Afghanistan and are willing to back it up militarily even for the long haul is one message it seems to give Afghanistan. Karzai already has already protested against the impact it will have on the Afghan people. So here we are seeing Afghanistan being “pacified” without the support of Afghan people because obliviously any such weapon would really rebound on the American militarily. And the second is vis-a-vis Syria and vis-a-vi North Korea. I think the Trump regime wants to give a signal that it means business and how else to make this demonstration except with the hapless Afghan population. So I think this is an attempt to pass a massage to the world, to Syria, the Assad government and the North Korean government. America means business and doing it in Afghanistan is then a safe bet because after all Afghanistan is already war toned, you can claim you are clearing some Taliban caves etc. while making the main message.
Pranjal: Thanks a lot Prabir and as these things proceed we will be coming back to you on such issues. Thank you for watching Newsclick.
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