US drops the MOAB on Afghanistan against the Islamic state
The US military has used its GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB), nicknamed “the mother of all bombs,” for the first time in combat. The US Air Force used it in Afghanistan to target Islamic State tunnels and personnel.
The Afghanistan strike had been in the works for a number of months, MSN reports. The weapon was brought into Afghanistan specifically for this mission.
The 21,000-pound (9,525 kg) bomb was dropped in the Achin district of the Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan.
The Pentagon has confirmed the use of the MOAB, and is currently assessing damage. General John Nicholson, commander of US forces in Afghanistan, signed off on its use, CNN reported. Authority was also sought from General Joseph Votel, commander of US Central Command (CENTCOM).
The MOAB is so massive it had to be dropped out of the back of a U.S. Air Force C-130 cargo plane.
"We kicked it out the back door," one U.S. official told Fox News.
For comparison to the 21,000-pound MOAB, each Tomahawk cruise missile launched at a Syrian military air base last week was 1,000-pounds each.
The Air Force developed the MOAB in 2003, but it had never been used in combat until 7pm local time on Thursday.
The use of the bomb comes as the US involvement in Afghanistan heads into its 16th year in the fall, and days after a US Special Forces operator was killed in the same region.
"The soldier was mortally wounded late Saturday during an operation in Nangarhar Province," US Navy Captain Bill Salvin tweeted.
The MOAB was designed to target large below-ground areas. It would have “feel like a nuclear weapon to anyone near the area," Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona (ret.) told CNN.
The device carries an approximate blast radius of 1 Mile in every direction.
The GPS-guided munition would have already been in country before it was dropped out of an MC-130 aircraft, operated by Air Force Special Operations Command, military sources told CNN’s Barbara Starr.
“The strike was designed to minimize the risk to Afghan and U.S. Forces conducting clearing operations in the area while maximizing the destruction of ISIS-K fighters and facilities,” US Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a statement, referring to Islamic State Khorasan, the branch of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan.
Nicholson described the MOAB as “the right munition to reduce” the improvised explosive devices (IEDs), bunkers and tunnels IS is using to “thicken their defense.” The bomb will also “maintain the momentum of our offensive against ISIS-K,” he said.
The Air Force “took every precaution to avoid civilian casualties,” CENTCOM said.
A peace conference on Afghanistan is scheduled to begin on Friday in Moscow, involving the Afghan government and representatives of twelve other nations. The US was invited to the conference, but reportedly declined to participate.
CIA director calls Julian Assange an enemy of western values and a demon
CIA Director Mike Pompeo called Julian Assange and his associates “demons” and accused WikiLeaks of siding with the world’s dictators and endangering the security of the “free world” with the help of states like Russia.
Speaking at an event organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC on Thursday, the former Kansas congressman went on the warpath against the whistleblower website, accusing its editor Julian Assange of being on the “wrong side of history” and seeking to harm America, freedom and democracy.
“It’s time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is, a non-state hostile intelligence service, often abetted by state actors like Russia,” Pompeo told the audience.
Assange “knows nothing about America and our ideals,” Pompeo declared, adding that had he lived in the 1930s he would have been on the “wrong side of history,” as he “and his ilk make common cause with dictators today.”
“Their currency is clickbait, their moral compass nonexistent,” Pompeo added, accusing Assange of being a “narcissist… a fraud, a coward hiding behind a screen.”
The CIA director rejected Assange’s reasoning that WikiLeaks had the right to publish documents that WikiLeaks obtained, arguing that the right to free speech does not apply to non-Americans.
“Julian Assange has no First Amendment freedoms,” Pompeo said. “He’s sitting in an embassy in London. He’s not a US citizen.”
“These are not reporters doing good work, to try and keep the American government honest, but people actively recruiting agents to steal American secrets with the sole intent of destroying the American way of life,” he added. “No one has the right to actively engage in the theft of secrets from America with the intent to do harm to it.”
This is a marked departure from President Donald Trump’s position on WikiLeaks during the campaign, and even Pompeo’s own tweets while he was a member of the House of Representatives from Kansas, as some observant journalists pointed out.
Here's one of many tweets from wikileaks in response to Pompeo's accusations.
Pompeo confirmed that it was his agency that concluded that the Syrian government was responsible for the chemical weapons attack in Khan Shaykhun, which persuaded Trump to fire 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase last week.
“We were good, and fast,” he said, “and we got it right.”
He dismissed the statements from the Russian government questioning the US narrative about the attack, saying Russia is “on their 6th or 7th story, none of which have an ounce of truth to them.”
“This is the man for whom veracity does not translate into English,” Pompeo said of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“We have to preserve the American democracy from this threat of misinformation and propaganda that poses a real risk to our democratic values,” Pompeo said, when asked about alleged Russian “active measures.”
Earlier on Thursday, Trump tweeted that things will “work out fine” between the US and Russia. “At the right time everyone will come to their senses & there will be lasting peace!” he wrote.
Poland welcomes US contingent of NATO
Poland has officially welcomed the US soldiers who will form the backbone of NATO’s multinational battalion in the country as part of the bloc's enhanced strategy to contain Russia. President Duda said it is something Poles have "dreamt of for generations.”
The American contingent of 900 troops, who arrived in Poland in March, will serve side by side on a rotational basis with 150 British and 120 Romanians soldiers in Orzysz.
In the future, the battalion will be joined by the Croats who entered NATO in the sixth enlargement in 2009.
The multinational battalion which is part of NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence in Eastern Europe will be stationed just a stone’s throw away from the Russian border enclave of Kaliningrad.
“Generations of Poles have waited for this moment since the end of World War II, generations that dreamt of being part of the just, united, democratic and truly free West,” Said Duda.
Speaking alongside Duda, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, US General Curtis Scaparrotti, told his countrymen they are now an important part of NATO’s “enhanced doctrine of deterrence and defense.”
“Deploying of these troops to Poland is a clear demonstration of NATO's unity and resolve and sends a clear message to any potential aggressor,” said Scaparrotti.
“You now form NATO's eastern flank," he told the American troops, saying they should “be proud” of being a part of the “largest” collective defense contingent of the “entire generation.”
“NATO troops have come to Orzysz to defend us and deter any enemy who could threaten Poland and its allies,”added Polish Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz.
NATO's forces in Poland are just one of four multinational battalion-size battle groups which the alliance started positioning earlier this year in Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia on a rotational basis.
The concept of “rotational” deployment was introduced by the alliance to maintain a continuous military presence, bypassing the existing agreements with Russia which limit “permanent” troop deployments in Eastern Europe. The new “defensive” measures were agreed during the NATO-Warsaw summit in July.
These units – led by the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, and the United States, along with their military hardware – signals NATO’s biggest deployment of troops along Russian borders since the end of the Cold War. The battalions are set to become fully operational by June.
Besides stretching its reach into Eastern Europe, NATO is also beefing up its presence in the Black Sea region – on land, sea, and air with several countries already contributing their forces and expertise.
Mike Pence is off for South Korea
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will travel to South Korea on Sunday in what his aides said was a sign of the U.S. commitment to its ally in the face of rising tensions over North Korea's nuclear program.
Pence's Seoul stop kicks off a long-planned 10-day trip to Asia - his first as vice president - and comes amid concerns that Pyongyang could soon conduct its sixth nuclear test.
President Donald Trump has warned against further provocations, sending an aircraft carrier group to the region as a show of force. His officials have been assessing tougher economic sanctions as well as military options to curb North Korea's nuclear ambitions.
Pence plans to celebrate Easter with U.S. and Korean troops on Sunday before talks on Monday with acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn.
"We're going to consult with the Republic of Korea on North Korea's efforts to advance its ballistic missile and its nuclear program," a White House foreign policy adviser told reporters, previewing Pence's trip.
Pence will land in Seoul the day after North Korea's biggest national day, the "Day of the Sun." The White House has contingency plans for Pence's trip should it coincide with a another North Korean nuclear test by its leader Kim Jong Un, the adviser said.
"Unfortunately, it's not a new surprise for us. He continues to develop this program, he continues to launch missiles into the Sea of Japan," the adviser said.
"With the regime it's not a matter of if - it's when. We are well prepared to counter that," the adviser said.
Pence expects to talk about the "belligerence" of North Korea at stops in Tokyo, Jakarta and Sydney, the White House adviser said.
But the need for "free and fair trade" will also be a theme, the adviser said.
On Tuesday, Pence will kick off economic talks with Japan requested by Trump and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The discussions will focus more on setting a "framework" for future talks rather than on specific industry issues, a White House official said.
Pence will meet with business leaders at each stop, including in Jakarta, though he was not expected to wade into the weedy details of disputes between the Indonesian government and U.S. companies like mining giant Freeport-McMoRan Inc (FCX.N).
"We're going to discuss the business environment in Indonesia in a general sense," a White House official said.
Moon in Saturn may support life
New research from NASA indicates that Saturn’s moon Enceladus may support microbial life. Details of new findings about ocean worlds in our solar system, arising from discoveries by the agency’s Cassini spacecraft and the Hubble Space Telescope were announced live by the agency.
NASA scientists have detected hydrogen from hydrothermal vents in ice plumes from Saturn’s ocean-bearing moon Enceladus in conditions which they say could have led to the rise of life on Earth.
The discovery makes Enceladus the only place beyond Earth where scientists have found direct evidence of a possible energy source for life, according to the findings published in Science.
Chris Glein, Cassini INMS team associate at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), said during the news conference that they believe the hydrogen is produced by a chemical reaction between warm water and rocks.