WHEN Karim, a police officer in the eastern Afghan district of Shinwar, heard the sound boom through the night sky he was taken aback by the sheer magnitude of the sound.

“I never heard anything like it before,” he said.

He and his colleagues didn’t know what to make of the sound, but they knew they had to respond.

“We thought maybe it’s a suicide bombing.”

But it wasn’t.

The sound was of a 300-million-dollar, 21,600-pound bomb being dropped by the US forces in neighbouring Achin district.

According to US and Afghan officials, the Thursday evening bombing, using what has been called “the mother of all bombs,” was meant to target a gathering of fighters claiming loyalty to the militant Islamic State group.

“The people of Afghanistan should have no fears. They should rest assured that there were no civilians killed, but numerous enemies did die,” said Esmael Shinwari, the governor of Shinwar district.

An Afghan official said on Saturday that at least 94 Daesh (the Arabic acronym for the IS) fighters were killed in the Thursday evening bombing targeting a series of caves in the area.

Shinwari said the people of Achin, and Afghanistan as a whole, should be rejoicing. For the last three years, IS forces in Achin and neighbouring districts were feared for their brutality.

News of the “mother of all bombs” travelled quickly throughout the country. In Kabul and Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province, locals were in disbelief at the news.

“I can’t believe it, why use such a bomb, why now?” said Daoud, a resident of Jalalabad, in the hours following the bombing.

For their part, the Taliban, who are engaged in a rivalry with IS, condemned the bombing calling it “inhuman” and an unacceptable act for foreign forces.

The bombing, which came after more than a dozen operations over the last 15 days, was meant to be a decisive blow to forces claiming loyalty to the Syria and Iraq-based IS group.

Nearly 24 hours later, however, the exact details of what went on in the little village are hidden behind a green valley and two towering hills.

Afghan and US forces have closed off the site in Asadkhel village where the bomb went off.

What they will say is that the area was cleared of civilians long before the bombing.

Noorjaan, whose relatives, including a 60-year-old man and three children, died in the ongoing operations, said civilians had been warned to flee.

“The security forces handed out cards telling people to leave,” he said pointing to a picture of the card on his mobile phone.

Civilians have in fact been leaving Achin and surrounding districts for the last three years as IS continued to gain ground in the area.

Still, there were some civilians left and Afghan security forces fear that an IS threat against anyone who left meant some were still in the area at the time of the bombing.

“IS told them anyone who leaves, they should forget about ever coming back to their land,” said one solider who has been part of the two-week-long operation in the area.

Speaking to the press on Friday, General John Nicholson, the top US commander in Afghanistan, said Washington worked to ensure no civilians were harmed.

“We have US Forces at the site and we see no evidence of civilian casualties nor have there been reports,” Nicholson said.

The US forces were still engaged in battles as several explosions were heard throughout the day.

Locals near the scene were unwilling to speak to the press and insisted that they saw and heard nothing.

However, with Afghan journalists from local and foreign media waiting well into the evening for the area to be cleared and US helicopters still flying overhead, the actual casualty count remains unknown.

Published in Dawn, April 16th, 2017



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