Nicknamed the ‘mother of all bombs’, could it also have been the mother of all mistakes?

Having vowed to militarily crush the militant Islamic State group, stocked his administration with retired military leaders and seemingly in thrall to the unrivalled US war machine, President Donald Trump has delivered another military spectacle that is high on theatre and low on strategic planning or intent.

The fight against IS along the Pak-Afghan border is important. The group must not be allowed to find a long-term foothold in the region. By all accounts, military operations by the Afghan forces aided by US firepower and a small military presence on the ground has eroded IS’s strength from a high of several thousand fighters to under 1,000.

The Achin district in Nangarhar province, where the devastating bomb was dropped on Thursday, has seen an intense campaign by Afghan and US forces for several weeks, resulting in the first US casualty of the year in Afghanistan recently.

So why was a bomb with political, diplomatic and international repercussions dropped? It has immediately alarmed some sections of the Afghan state and possibly alienated a fresh swathe of the population; what the US president believes is marvellous, many consider terrifying.

As cheering sections of the media and Trump supporters in the US suggest, the Achin bombing is supposedly meant to signal to the wider world that Mr Trump means business. From North Korea to IS in the Middle East, enemies of the US have supposedly been put on notice.

But what does it mean for Afghanistan? Does it presage an announcement of more US troops to Afghanistan, as the generals have demanded and National Security Adviser Gen H.R. McMaster’s trip to the region is scheduled to determine? If so, where does that leave a stalled reconciliation between the Afghan government and the Taliban?

The American bombing has occurred as representatives from many countries, but not the US, gather in Moscow for a summit on peace and reconciliation. And while the Afghan Taliban were not the target of Thursday’s bombing, the perception that the US is willing to use Afghanistan as a testing ground for its more powerful and destructive conventional weapons cannot bode well for peace in the country.

The longest war in US history has gone from the forgotten war under Bush to the reluctant war under Obama to what under Trump? Strategic clarity in Afghanistan is needed.

Published in Dawn, April 15th, 2017

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