M. K. Bhadrakumar |
The BBC’s first-hand report from the remote site in the southern Afghanistan province of Nangarhar where the US dropped the Mother of All Bombs (MOAB) on April 13 is both shocking and funny. It highlights that MOAB was all baloney – a theatrical act by Pentagon commanders.
The MOAB was apparently not as powerful as we all were led to believe. The Afghans are saying, “There are still green trees standing 100m away from the site of the impact. Daesh hasn’t gone anywhere; there are hundreds of caves like the one the Americans bombed… [MOAB] was a trick to show the world that their mission was going well. But this wasn’t the type of bomb they showed in the media. The bomb did nothing… Let Americans bring down a bigger one, this one was small”, the BBC reports.
A couple of kilometers from the frontline, ordinary life was continuing. Women carried water, boys played cricket and people went about their daily tasks… Back in the hills, Hakim Khan and his friends were listening in to IS fighters communicating via walkie-talkies with the help of their radio. The fighters were reassuring each other and communicating with their comrades in a neighboring district. A border police officer wondered aloud if the commitment of the Trump administration would match that of IS.
Any old-timer would know that Afghans have a native intelligence that is astonishing. The big question is: What do they make out of the MOAB act? There are snide remarks heard in the Afghan bazaar. To be sure, Trump’s credibility has taken a blow. In the Afghan bazaar, he looks boastful, and that would have consequences. For, there is nothing worse than the Afghan losing his fear of Trump.
Daesh’s Operation Mansouri
The MOAB betrays that the US has neither a war strategy nor the self-confidence that it can reverse the tide of the war. By the way, the briefing by the “senior administration official” in the White House who briefed the media last Thursday regarding NSA Lt. Gen. HR McMaster’s regional tour also conveyed much the same impression.
The Taliban also seem to read the tea leaves that way. They have decided that this year’s “Spring Offensive” codenamed Operation Mansouri, which began at 5 am on Friday, will be principally targeting US forces in Afghanistan. Their statement says,
Under the circumstances, will Trump commit “thousands more” troops to Afghanistan? Or, will he prefer the “regional perspective” and engage with Pakistan to rein in Taliban attacks? Indeed, it will blast Trump’s carefully cultivated strongman-image if body bags arrive from Afghanistan.
All in all, MOAB stirred up the hornets’ nest. It was a crass sensitivity that Pentagon commanders fancied they could wound Afghan national pride by dropping MOAB on their hapless country, use it as photo-op, and thereafter get away with it. Their best choice in the period ahead should be to keep their head beneath the parapet, hold back the itch to resume combat missions, and instead quietly lead the Afghan forces from the rear.
Barack Obama did this brilliantly and kept war casualty low since 2014, which was politically important, and instead prioritized the establishment of the military bases, which is a long-term project of strategic consequence. Trump’s mistake is that he has outsourced his Afghan and Syrian wars to his generals so that he can concentrate on North Korea (and China relations). But Clausewitzean wars are serious business to be left to the generals. Trump will learn his lesson the hard way in Afghanistan.
M. K. Bhadrakumar has served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings as India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes extensively in Indian newspapers, Asia Times and the “Indian Punchline”. This piece was first published in Indian Punchline.