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Editorial: ‘Mother of All Bombs’ creates troubling precedent for U.S. warfare

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The United States dropped the “Mother of All Bombs,” the country’s most powerful non-nuclear bomb, in Afghanistan Thursday. The bombing targeted tunnels and caves that allowed ISIS members to move about the area freely.

The bomb, which weighs in at around 21,600 pounds according to CNBC, was developed during the Iraq War and is the first of its kind to be used in a battlefield. The original aim of the MOAB (Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb) was to act as a non-nuclear deterrent for former Iraq dictator Saddam Hussein.

While the damage caused is still unknown, it’s a surprising and important tactical decision by the United States Armed Forces. A 2008 article from Elgin Air Force Base reports that, in testing, the bomb produced a mushroom cloud visible from 20 miles away, meaning the damage to the ISIS hive could be significant.

During the 2016 presidential campaigns, President Donald Trump promised to “bomb the s**t” out of ISIS. However, Trump was mum on whether or not he had authorized the use of the dramatic weapon, though he did voice his support for the attack.

“Everybody knows exactly what happens, and what I do is I authorize my military,” Trump said. “We have given them total authorization and that’s what they’re doing.”

A Pentagon official released a statement following the bombing in which Army Gen. John W. Nicholson, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said he did not need clearance from Trump to drop this attack.

This is the second major attack carried out by the United States in less than a week. The United States carried out an assault on a Syria airfield April 7, where the U.S. believes the Syrian government, under President Bashar al-Assad, launched a toxic chemical attack against its own people. At the request of Trump, the United States launched 59 Tomahawk missiles at the airfield, the first U.S. attack on the Assad government following years of tension between the administration of former President Barack Obama and Assad.

Some criticized the attack for its ineffectiveness — the attack only took out about 20 percent of Syria’s Air Force, according to the Pentagon — while others were more concerned with the foreign relations the attack could complicate. For instance, Russia, one of the world’s largest nuclear powers, has intervened in the Syrian Civil War since 2015 and was unenthused by Trump’s Syrian missile launch, with Russian President Vladimir Putin nearly cancelling a meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson this week.

The attack also raised questions about Trump’s use of such weapons, and if the president’s reaction was out of genuine concern or political expediency. With the White House in near-constant disarray, the Syrian attack and the use of the MOAB have likely provided welcome distractions for the White House. Trump is nearing the end of his first 100 days as president, after all, so it might be the optimal time to wag the dog.

Thursday’s bombing, though, carries implications far beyond a single presidency. With widespread uncertainty as to whether or not the use of the MOAB is justified or whether it sets an uncertain precedent for the United States’ use of weapons in future conflicts, it will be essential to see if the use of a MOAB is an isolated case or represents the new normal for the United States when it comes to warfare.

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