Using MOAB can exert positive but limited effects on the Afghan peace process

By Xiao Bin Source:Global Times Published: 2017/4/19 21:13:39

On April 13, the US military dropped "Mother of All Bombs" on an Islamic State (IS) cave complex in Achin District, Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan. The GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) is a large-yield bomb touted as the most powerful non-nuclear weapon in the American arsenal. The bomb is highly destructive. Its explosion is equivalent to 11 tons of TNT and the blast radius can be up to 1.6 km.

The US military's action made MOAB the largest non-nuclear weapon  ever used on the battlefield. As it was used for the first time, the extremist group in Afghanistan didn't have any preventive measures, and thus, guaranteeing the US' success in the attack. It is reported  that 36 IS militants were killed.

The use of MOAB has attracted worldwide attention. There are heated debates on how MOAB would impact the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan.

The use of MOAB is motivated by Afghanistan's domestic development and the Donald Trump administration's political needs.

For starters, it intends to enhance the negotiation advantage of the Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai administration in the reconciliation process in Afghanistan. After the airstrikes, the Ghani Office expressed support and said the US' action was in coordination with the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.

The Trump administration is also in urgent need to improve his public reputation. Compared with his domestic policy, which frequently encounters setbacks, its foreign policy is less restrained.

Furthermore, the attack aims at deterring rebel groups in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan and forcing them to return to the reconciliation process.

However, MOAB can only play a limited role in advancing the peace process in Afghanistan. It's without a doubt that MOAB will be a great deterrent for most extremist groups. But the Trump administration cannot reverse the current situation in Afghanistan via military action.

Some military experts said that MOAB is more tactical in nature. If the US wants to launch a strategic attack, it needs to rely on the strength of ground forces. Otherwise, IS will re-surge in Afghanistan. For this reason, General John Nicholson, commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said the current US military and NATO troops in Afghanistan have sufficient resources to carry out anti-terrorism missions, but there is a need for more troops to train and advise local Afghan forces. Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain urged the Trump administration to boost the presence of US forces in Afghanistan and give commanders there "the resources and authorities they need to seize the initiative and force the enemy to react."

The use of MOAB demonstrates that the Trump administration is inclined to choose a more active policy toward Afghanistan. It indicates that the core objective of the Trump administration's Afghan policy is to curb the growth of Taliban forces, crack down on IS and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and use military pressure to push the rebels to negotiate. Therefore, in the next two years, the US will not only maintain its military presence in Afghanistan but also may increase the number of troops.

The US Afghan policy will also focus on promoting the Ghani administration's reform and governance capacity, improving the transparency of elections in Afghanistan, and reducing local corruption and so on.

In addition, the US will choose to cooperate with countries around Afghanistan; establish a constructive political, economic and security relationship with Pakistan; and cooperate with China on the Afghanistan issue.

Considering the current security situation in Afghanistan, using MOAB has some positive effects on moving the reconciliation process in Afghanistan forward. However, to completely reverse the security situation in Afghanistan and to promote the peace process, the Trump administration needs to continue to strengthen cooperation with the international community and strengthen the authority of the Afghan government as well as win strategic victories in ground military operations.

The author is an associate research fellow at the Institute of Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.


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