Headlines across the country on Thursday focused on a massive bomb that the United States dropped in Afghanistan. Most of the stories focused on the size of the bomb and less on the reason why the US needed to drop the bomb in the first place. However, many stories are leaving out a key detail about operations in the area. An elite US military member was killed in the area just a few days ago.
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Army Staff Sgt. Mark R. De Alencar, a 37-year-old Green Beret from Maryland, was killed on Saturday after coming heavy under fire in this exact region of Afghanistan. The Achin district in Nangarhar province is a troublesome area marked with caves and tunnels where enemy combatants hide after launching ambush style attacks on allied forces.
Staff Sgt. De Alencar was there when he was killed. The Defense Department said that Staff Sgt. De Alencar died “of injuries sustained when his unit came in contact with enemy forces using small arms fire during combat operations.”
While military officials say the MOAB was chosen because it was the right weapon for the job, and not in retaliation for Alencar’s death, it’s likely that the death of a US military member in the area spurred the action that ultimately resulted in the largest non-nuclear bomb in the United State’s arsenal being deployed.
Staff Sgt. De Alencar was a with he 1st Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group, an airborne unit from Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. His unit was training Afghan troops to fight Islamic State insurgents.
Staff Sgt. De Alencar was the first American service member killed in combat this year in Afghanistan. 1,833 US servicemen and servicewomen have died in the 16 year long campaign.
“On behalf of all U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, I offer our deepest condolences to the family and friends of our fallen comrade,” wrote Gen. John W. Nicholson, commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan and Resolute Support, in a statement issued Sunday by the U.S. forces command.
“We will always remember our fallen comrades and commit ourselves to deliver on their sacrifice,” Nicholson continued.
While the military made it clear that this was not a retaliation strike, it’s hard to imagine that ISIS fighters will soon forget what happened shortly after a US Green Beret was killed in action.
The MOAB, or massive ordnance air blast, is 30-foot-long, and 21,600-pounds. It has been nicknamed the “mother of all bombs.” It had never before been used in combat against the Islamic State. The bomb is unique in that it has a grid-life fin structure that allows it to guided to its target after it is pushed out of the back of a transport of a parachute sled.
The 11-ton bomb, carrying more than 18,700 pounds of explosives, was dropped at 7:32 p.m. local time Wednesday.
“The strike was designed to minimize the risk to Afghan and U.S. forces conducting clearing operations in the area while maximizing the destruction” a Pentagon statement said.
Army Gen. John W. Nicholson, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan celebrated the success of the drop. “This is the right munition to reduce these obstacles and maintain the momentum of our offensive,” Gen Nicholson said.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer didn’t mince words about the use of the giant bomb. The militants, he said, “used to move around freely, making it easier for them to target U.S. military advisors and Afghan forces in the area.”
US commanders, he continued, “took all precautions necessary to prevent civilian casualties and collateral damage as a result of the operation.”