The Killid Group, May 7, 2017

Truths from the Epicentre of US Bomb in Achin

"And after the bombing the helicopters returned but we doubt whether they fired on ISIS; they may have equipped ISIS or carted away precious minerals"

By Akmal Zahir & Asadullah Dawlatzai

The US dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb ever used in combat on Achin, Nangarhar province, to target what the military described as a "tunnel complex" used by the ISIS's Afghanistan affiliate. A Killid investigation reveals other truths.

Colloquially called the "mother of all bombs", the GBU-43/B is meant for destroying underground targets with an explosive yield of more than 11 tonnes of TNT. As the bomb detonates in mid-air, the blast radius is enormous. According to media reports, the shock-and-awe effect on survivors or observers is considered an added impact of the massive bomb.

Killid travelled to the epicentre, Asad Khil village in Achin district, and was told by locals of emerging health concerns and also the tyranny of the ISIS. More importantly they said the tunnels were not dug by ISIS but by miners well before the area was taken over by ISIS.

She said she was forced out of her home by ISIS but the bomb, she said, has cost her vision. "The bomb made people blind and deaf," she says. "I cannot see anything, my skin is itching, my four grandchildren have chest problems, and they also complain about their eyes."
The Killid Group, May 7, 2017

Abdul Rahman, commander of the first detachment of the 4th Brigade who is now leading the coordination team, confirms the mines are for the extraction of shawkani (slate, which is used for roofing) and other minerals. Even the Member of Parliament (MP) from Nangarhar, Haji Zaher Qadeer, referred to the mines when he told Parliament on Monday that the bomb must have split the mountain and made it easier to extract the minerals.

While Mohammad Radmanesh, deputy spokesperson in the Ministry of Defence, chose not to challenge the MP's view ("We respect the view of Haji Zaher Qadeer but the extraction of mines cannot be done by bombing."), authorities in the mines presidency of Nangarhar province say the area has never been surveyed for its geological wealth.

The presidency's Sayed Saleh Shinwarai told Killid there are "some contracts" in Mamandara area of Achin, but they are not aware of the existence of mines where the Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) was dropped.

Qadeer, the MP from Nangarhar, wonders how come none of the other centres of ISIS in the province were bombed. He mentions "four centres of ISIS next to the area the MOAB has been used … They (insurgents of ISIS) carry PK (an automatic gun) and rockets, but there is no one to ask what they are doing."

The Afghan defence ministry claims commandos of the 4th Brigade, Base 201, are busy in operations to eliminate ISIS. General Mohammad Radmanesh, deputy spokesperson, says, "We will continue our operation to clean up the Mamandara area." He claims that sometimes the enemy fires on the Afghan forces.

Built by miners

Nangarhar province on Afghanistan map
Photo: CNN

However, in Asad Khil village, locals say the warren of tunnels the US military have claimed was an "ISIS-tunnel complex" was old. One was from the time of the mujahedin – Afghan fighters who were armed by the US via Pakistan to fight its Cold War rival Soviet Union – and the rest "dug by local miners to extract precious minerals". However, locals do not deny that there may be some newer tunnels dug more recently by ISIS since its fighters would not allow local people in any more.

Talking to Killid, Shaker Shinwarai, a resident of Mamandara, Achin district, said ISIS militants "tryrannised" people a lot but they were not so strong that the biggest (non-nuclear) bomb had to be used against them. The government and the US could have eliminated the fighters without inflicting harm on local people by dropping a MOAB, he says.

The defence ministry's General Radmanesh points out there have been operations in Achin in the past too where Afghan security forces have eliminated an ISIS base, and killed some fighters. "We have killed 96 ISIS insurgents including 13 commanders. The bodies of some were beyond recognition; some can be identified. The bodies that are fine have been buried," he told Killid. He did not say what the hurry was in burying the dead.

Shinwarai from Mamandara feels that if the US were really keen on eliminating ISIS, it would have targeted their main centres across the Durand Line, the so-called border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. "The bomb was more damaging to people who were told to leave the area," he feels, "Why would ISIS stay if people were told to leave because of an operation? How many ever times the government and the US may so the ISIS have not suffered great losses."

Locals warned

Mohammad Gulab, another local, who aired similar opinions including that the tunnels were dug for mining, confirmed that two weeks before the bombing, helicopters had airdropped flyers at night, asking people to leave their homes. He also refers to some of the tunnels as being very old. "The ISIS had first come through the mountains," he says. Afghan helicopters came to the valley (to find them), he adds. "They airdropped sheets of paper for locals before the MOAB bombing. And after the bombing the helicopters returned but we doubt whether they fired on ISIS; they may have equipped ISIS or carted away precious minerals," he says, deeply suspicious like Shinwarai of foreign forces. Gulab claims the ISIS had left the valley before the bombing.

General Radmanesh confirms only helicopters of the Afghan Air Force and NATO were flying over the area.

Like the Atom Bomb dropped over Hiroshima in August 1945, MOAB has destroyed all the houses and trees in the radius of the blast. "The ISIS is still strong here, the radio of ISIS is broadcasting as clearly and we can hear them say that even if you throw the father of all bombs we will not be eliminated, which only means that the bomb has done no damage to ISIS," says Mohammad Gulab.

Another local Shad Mohammad says ISIS have been present in the area from Asad Khil, the village targeted by the MOAB, to Shadal Bazaar. "Their frontline was in Shadal Bazaar. There were caves in the hillsides where they kept prisoners. We still don't know how many of them were killed when the bomb was dropped," he says.

Immediately after the bombing US forces took control of the area and did not let anyone enter even after two weeks. Local authorities told Killid the Americans were investigating, but the fact is that even Afghan forces were not allowed past Shadal Bazaar.

Eye witnesses

After some persistence, Killid found an elderly woman, Noor Bibi, from Asad Khil. She said she was forced out of her home by ISIS but the bomb, she said, has cost her vision. "The bomb made people blind and deaf," she says. "I cannot see anything, my skin is itching, my four grandchildren have chest problems, and they also complain about their eyes."

Another Asad Khil resident Ghazeer who lives with his family in Shadal Bazaar also says that while he lost everything including his home to ISIS, the bomb has created health problems. "When the bomb was dropped we were next to Shadal Bazaar. We saw a big cloud of fire – now my children are scared to sleep at night. Our skin is itching, small spots have appeared on the bodies of all people here. Our throats hurt. We are scared."

A child sitting against a wall showed us his hands. The skin was peeling. Lal Wali, another resident of Achin, has red spots all over his body. He says he accepts his condition; he just wants Afghan forces to defeat ISIS.

Dr. Esmail Shinwari, district governor of Achin, refuses to believe the bombing has had health effects. He also told Killid that there were no homes in the targeted area. "No one has come to us saying they are facing an illness. All this (reports of health effects) is a lie," he insists.

Moqadasa Meraj, deputy head of the Nangarhar health presidency says a team of health professionals including doctors from the Ghani Khil Hospital did not find any evidence of health effects either in Achin or in neighbouring districts.

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