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The GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) has been used only once (as of April 2017) in Afghanistan. It was dropped on a tunnel, cave, and mine complex in Achin district, Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan on April 13, 2017. The insurgent complex was used by Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) fighters as an area to support and stage attacks throughout the province.

(Photo - U.S. Air Force)

The MOAB is also known as the "Mother of all Bombs" and is one of the largest in the United States Air Force inventory. Some news sources say it was made to replace the unguided 15,000-pound BLU-82 Daisy Cutter used in Vietnam and later in the early days of the Afghan conflict. It was first fabricated in 2003 but not used in combat operations until April 2017.

Use of Weapon. The weapon is useful in a variety of ways. At the tactical level it is a key weapon for targets such as caves, tunnels, and mine complexes. At the operational level it can be useful as a tool for psychological operations. From a strategic standpoint it signals committment and resolve and focuses the worlds attention.

Location of target. The cave, mine, and tunnel complex is located in the vicinity of the Tora Bora mountains that are found along the Pakistan border. It is a long-time infiltration route for insurgent fighters coming from Pakistan as well as a 'support zone'. The Achin district is regarded as a 'home base' for ISIS-K - accomodating nearly 600 to 800 fighters.

Timing of Strike. The MOAB was dropped to reduce the complex of mines, tunnels, and mines that ISIS was using as a defensive strategy. It was used at 7:32 pm local time on April 13, 2017. The strike was designed to minimize the risk to Afghan and U.S. forces conducting clearing operations in the area while maximizing the destruction of ISIS-K fighters and facilities. 1.

MOAB GBU-43 Air Force Photo
(Photo - U.S. Air Force)

Cost of the MOAB. There were various news reports stating the cost of a MOAB. The highest figure commonly quoted was $314 million, more moderate figures come in at around $16 million 2., and the Air Force says its costs about $170,000 3..

Features. The MOAB has lots of high explosives and large fins to direct the GPS-guided munition. The bomb weighs approximately 20,000 pounds. The fins help stabilize the bomb while dropping and there is an inertial gyro for pitch and roll control. By comparison, most bombs in the U.S. Air Force inventory are 500, 1,000, and 2,000 lb bombs.

Warhead. The warhead, known as the BLU-120/B, weighs 18,700 pounds and is made of H6. This compound is a mixture of TNT, aluminum, and cyclotrimethylene trinitramine.

Not Quite the Biggest. Although many news accounts say that the MOAB is the biggest non-nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal; . . . that isn't quite true. The biggest is the GBU-57 Massive Ordance Penetrator (MOP). The GBU043 MOAB isn't a penetrating bomb; its warhead explodes on (or perhaps just above the surface of the ground).

Delivery. The MOAB is currently put on the target by way of a cargo plane. In the case of the April 2017 drop it was deployed by a drogue parachute out of the back of a U.S. Air Force Special Operations MC-130. The weapon, once in the air and outside the aircraft, is quickly released from its platform and drogue chute.

Air Burst. The MOAB is not a ground penetrator. It explodes above the surface of the ground so its destructive power is spread across a wider area. The size of the blast radius is reported to be approximately one mile. The size of the blast crater is estimated to be about 300 meters. 5.

Bomb Damage Assessment (BDA). Estimates of enemy casualties from the blast ranged from 38 (Afghan govt estimates) to 100 (various news reports & Afghan govt estimates). Resolute Support HQs did not provide an estimate of ISIS-K casualties. It appears that most press accounts are deciding to go with 94 Islamic State Khorisan Province (ISKP) fighters killed.

Legal and Humanitarean Considerations. The MOAB is precision-guided through the use of a GPS. As long as the collateral damage is minimized it is a bomb like any other bomb. It certainly is not suited for large towns and cities where non-combatants are likely to be found.

Civilian Casualties? Ismail Shinwari, the governor of Achin district in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar, said there were no reports of civilian casualties. 4. The strike took place in a remote part of southern Nangarhar province and reportedly nearby villages were told in advance to evacuate on a temporary basis. 

Videos about the MOAB

April 25, 2017. Site of GBU-43/B, Nangarhar, Afghanistan, DVIDS. Video (2.5 mins long) provided by the Afghan Local Police of site where the MOAB struck an ISIS-K area.

April 14, 2017. Gen. Nicholson Press Conference, DVIDS. The commander of Resolute Support, General John Nicholson conducted a press conference at Afghanistan's Government Media Information Center (GMIC) to explain the rationale of using the GBU-43 on April 13th. Nicholson called the MOAB " . . . the right weapons against the right target."

(Photo from DoD DVIDS video 14 Apr 2017)

April 14, 2017. Aerial Footage of MOAB Bomb Striking Cave, Tunnel System, DVIDS. 30-second video.

April 13, 2017. "GBU-43/B MOAB 2003 Test B-Roll", DVIDS. 20-second video showing MOAB deploying by drogue chute out of cargo plane and dropping onto the target.

News Reports about the MOAB

May 5,2017. "How Much Did We Actually Achieve by Dropping the MOAB in Afghanistan?", James Clark examines the aftermath of using the MOAB, Task & Purpose.

May 3, 2017. After the Dust Settles - Making Sense of the Non-sense, provides a deeper analysis of the MOAB strike in Afghanistan.

April 29, 2017. "Here's What the 'Mother of All Bombs' Did for US Fight in Afghanistan", Task & Purpose. The use of the MOAB was less strategic and more tactical for a specific situation. It did, however, provide a 'political message'. But the U.S. emphasis on ISKP is missplaced; the more serious threat is the Taliban with its relationship with al Qaeda.

April 22, 2017. "After US Drops 'Frankenbomb' on Afghanistan, Questions Linger", by Oriana Pawlyk,

April 15, 2017. "Dropping the MOAB: a Blow to ISIS' Ambitions in Afghanistan", by Bruce Hoffman, The Cipher Brief. Hoffman is interviewed where he discusses the strikes objectives and its larger impact on the war in Afghanistan.

April 15, 2017. "Mother of All Bombs Dropped on ISKP: Assessing the aftermath", AAN.

April 15, 2017. "Afghanistan is at risk of becoming the new Vietnam", by Christopher Kolenda, The Hill. Writer appears to think that the MOAB will become ". . . the iconic symbol of a war gone hopelessly wrong".

April 15, 2017. "The Mother of All Bombs: Understanding the Massive Ordnance Air Blast Weapon", Just Security.

April 14, 2017. "What to Know About the GBU-43/B, 'Mother of All Bombs", DoDLive.

April 14, 2017. "Sound and Fury", by Max Boot, The New York Times. Max Boot cautions that the dropping of the second-largest non-nuclear explosive in the USAF's arsenal may signal that things are not going well in Afghanistan. He also questions if it is the right weapon to use in a counterinsurgency fight.

April 14, 2017. "Why the Big US Bomb Was Dropped on Afghanistan", by Hasib Danish Alikozai, Voice of America. The author explores the background behind the decision to drop the MOAB on the ISIS target in Afghanistan.

April 14, 2017. "MOAB hit caves used by ISIS, drug smugglers and Osama bin Laden", by Nic Robertson, CNN.

April 13, 2017. "What you need to know about the 'mother of all bombs'", by Valerie Insinna, Defense News.

April 13, 2017. "US Drops Most Powerful Non-Nuclear Bomb in Afghanistan", by Oriana Pawlyk, 

April 13, 2017. "U.S. Drops 'Mother of All Bombs' on ISIS Caves in Afghanistan", by Helene Cooper and Mujib Mashal, The New York Times.

April 12, 2017. "U.S. Bombs, Destroys Khorasan Group Stronghold in Afghanistan", DoD.

March 11, 2008. "Five years later, it's still known as Mother of all Bombs", Air Force Material Command.




1. Info in this paragraph provided in video entitled Aerial Footage of MOAB Bomb Strking Cave, Tunnel System, DoD, April 13, 2017.

2. For the $16 million cost estimate see a April 13, 2017 news report by The New York Times, "U.S. Drops 'Mother of All Bombs' on ISIS Caves in Afghanistan".

3. The lowest cost estimate of $170,000 for the MOAB comes from "How much the US's 'mother of all bombs' really costs', by Alex Lockie, Business Insider.

4. See "Massive U.S. bomb's death toll rises to 94, Afghan official says", The Los Angeles Times.

5. For specific data on the MOAB see "In numbers: MOAB, the 'mother of all bombs' dropped by the US in Afghanistan", iNews.



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