An attack on a tunnel complex in Afghanistan with the largest non-nuclear weapon ever used in combat by the US military left 36 Islamic State militants dead and no civilian casualties.
The attack was in a remote mountainous area of Nangarhar province near the Pakistan border where there had been heavy fighting between Afghan forces and Islamic State (IS) militants.
The Ministry of Defence said in a statement that several IS caves and ammunition caches were destroyed by the giant bomb, which terrified villagers on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border with its “earsplitting blast”.
Pentagon officials described it as the “mother of all bombs”.
The US maintains over 8,000 troops in Afghanistan, training local forces and conducting counter-terrorism operations. Over the past year they have largely concentrated on a surge of attacks by the Taliban but on Friday the US military appeared entirely focused on IS.
“This is the right weapon for the right target,” said US general John W Nicholson, Nato commander in Afghanistan.
The bomb, known officially as a GBU-43B, or massive ordnance air blast weapon, unleashes 11 tons of explosives.
US president Donald Trump called Thursday’s operation a “very, very successful mission”.
General Daulat Waziri, of the Afghanistan Ministry of Defence, said 36 IS fighters were killed by the blast and the death toll could rise. He said the bombing was necessary because the tunnel complex was extremely hard to penetrate, with some as deep as 40m.
“It was a strong position and four times we had operations (attacking the site) and it was not possible to advance,” he said, adding that the road leading to the complex “was full of mines”.
Pakistani villagers living near the Afghan border said the explosion was so loud they thought a bomb had been dropped in their village by US planes targeting terrorists in Pakistan.
“I was sleeping when we heard a loud explosion. It was an ear-splitting blast,” said Shah Wali, 46, who lives in the village of Goor Gari.
Mufti Khan, a resident of Achin in Nangarhar, said: “The whole house was shaking. When I came out of my house I saw a large fire and the whole area was burning.”
The US estimates 600 to 800 IS fighters are present in Afghanistan, mostly in Nangarhar.
Inamullah Meyakhil, spokesman for the central hospital in eastern Nangarhar province, said it had received no dead or wounded from the attack.
The Site Intelligence Group, which tracks extremist organisations, reported a statement from the Afghan Taliban condemning the US for its “terrorist” attack. The statement said it is the responsibility of Afghans, not the US, to remove Islamic State from the country.