Why the ‘mother of all bombs’ and why now?

Updated 7:05 AM EDT, Fri April 14, 2017
In this U.S. Air Force handout,  a GBU-43/B bomb, or Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) bomb, explodes November 21, 2003 at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. MOAB is a 21,700-pound that was droped from a plane at 20, 000 feet.
U.S. Air Force/Getty Images
In this U.S. Air Force handout, a GBU-43/B bomb, or Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) bomb, explodes November 21, 2003 at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. MOAB is a 21,700-pound that was droped from a plane at 20, 000 feet.
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Afghan police said over 17 alleged Taliban militants including two Pakistani nationals were arrested during a five-week operation in Nangarhar province. / AFP PHOTO / NOORULLAH SHIRZADA        (Photo credit should read NOORULLAH SHIRZADA/AFP/Getty Images)
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Alleged Taliban fighters and other militants stand handcuffed while being presented to the media at a police headquarters in Jalalabad on March 6, 2018. Afghan police said over 17 alleged Taliban militants including two Pakistani nationals were arrested during a five-week operation in Nangarhar province. / AFP PHOTO / NOORULLAH SHIRZADA (Photo credit should read NOORULLAH SHIRZADA/AFP/Getty Images)
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Story highlights

Peter Bergen: Use of bomb should be seen as part of effort to reverse course of Afghan war

Afghan conflict has not been going well for the country's government or the United States

Editor’s Note: Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, a vice president at New America and a professor of practice at Arizona State University. He is the author of “United States of Jihad: Investigating America’s Homegrown Terrorists.”

CNN —  

The dropping of a “mother of all bombs” Thursday by the United States on an ISIS cave and bunker complex in Achin district in eastern Afghanistan should be understood as part of an effort to reverse a war that is not going well for the Afghan government and, by extension, the United States.

The non-nuclear 21,600-pound GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB) “targeted a system of tunnels and caves that ISIS fighters use to move around freely,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said.

Thursday’s bombing had a feeling of deja vu. A decade and a half ago the US Air Force dropped massive 15,000 pound “Daisy Cutter” bombs on the Tora Bora complex where Osama bin Laden was hiding in December 2001. Achin district is only a dozen or so miles from the Tora Bora region.

While those Daisy Cutter bombs certainly killed many members of al Qaeda, bin Laden and many of his senior leaders escaped. That’s a useful reminder that very few military campaigns are won from the air.

There are perhaps secondary effects of Thursday’s bombing in Afghanistan such as signaling to the North Koreans and the Syrians that the United States can deploy such weapons against their bunker systems, but the key is that the war in Afghanistan is at a critical point.

In fact, the war in Afghanistan is at its lowest point for the Afghans and their American allies since the Taliban were overthrown in the months after 9/11.

The Taliban “control or contest” about a third of the population of the country, according to senior US military officials, a total of around 10 million people, which is more than the population that ISIS controlled in Syria and Iraq at the height of its power during the summer of 2014.