The U.S. estimates 600 to 800 IS fighters are present in Afghanistan, mostly in Nangarhar. The U.S. has concentrated heavily on combatting them while also supporting Afghan forces battling the Taliban. Just last week a U.S. Army Special Forces soldier, Staff Sgt. Mark R. De Alencar, 37, of Edgewood, Maryland, was killed in action in Nangarhar.
The MOAB is a custom-made Air Force weapon that has been in the arsenal for more than a decade but never used on the battlefield, although it was available throughout the Iraq war. It is designed to hit softer targets such as surface facilities, tunnel entrances and troop concentrations. It is pushed out the rear of the launching aircraft, guided to its target by GPS and slowed by a parachute.
A separate non-nuclear weapon known as the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, or MOP, which is larger in its physical dimensions but carries a smaller load of conventional explosives, is designed to take out deeply buried targets like reinforced bunkers. The MOP has never been used in combat.
In its 2003 review of the legality of using the MOAB, the Pentagon concluded that it could not be called an indiscriminate killer under the Law of Armed Conflict.
“Although the MOAB weapon leaves a large footprint, it is discriminate and requires a deliberate launching toward the target,” the review said. It added: “It is expected that the weapon will have a substantial psychological effect on those who witness its use.”