An expert on military airpower and national security at the University of Kentucky says this week’s airstrike in Afghanistan was surprising, but media coverage may be overhyping the size of the weapon dropped near the Pakistani border Thursday.
Dr. Robert Farley with UK’s Patterson School of Diplomacy says the ordinance, nicknamed the “mother of all bombs,” hasn’t been used in this context before.
"This is the first weapon of this sort that has been dropped in combat, so it's most definitely unusual," he says.
Reports have referred to the weapon as the country's largest non-nuclear bomb, but Farley warns that comparison can be misleading. The bomb used in Afghanistan had an explosive force of around 10 tons, he says, while the nuclear weapon dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 had a force of 12 kilotons.
"12 kilotons is 12,000 tons," Farley notes. "There was actually a diagram in USA Today which may have confused this difference and misunderstood what a kiloton was... and so this weapon is much smaller. It's a really big bomb that's nothing like a nuclear weapon."
Still, Farley says the unexpected moves have some observers concerned about the future direction of U.S. foreign policy, and whether early signs from the Trump administration could signal an overreliance on air power.
"I think there's definitely a concern that the administration and the president will come to see air power as an easy way in which to have an effect on the world. So, launch a few cruise missiles here, drop an extremely large bomb there and then problem solved, when in fact everything we know about air power and really everything we know about military force is that everything is much more complicated and that we risk much more significant engagement simply by the act of using force," he says.
Farley says with two unusual U.S. military strikes in the past two weeks in Syria and Afghanistan, all eyes are now shifting to North Korea.