TEL AVIV — Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Thursday that the Pentagon would not discuss the amount of damage wrought by a 22,000-pound bomb dropped on an Islamic State cave complex in eastern Afghanistan last week.
Speaking to a group of reporters traveling with him here, Mattis said the decision was based in part on the ill-advised practice of using the number of enemy soldiers killed, known as body counts, as a metric for success during the Vietnam War.
“For many years we have not been calculating the results of warfare by simply quantifying the amount of enemy killed,” Mattis said. “We all know the source of the corrosive effect during the Vietnam War and it stayed with us all these years.”
“Frankly, digging into tunnels to count dead bodies is probably not a good use of our troops time,” he added.
On April 13, a U.S. Special Operations C-130 cargo aircraft dropped the massive bomb, called a GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast, on a cluster of Islamic State-held caves in Afghanistan’s Nangahar province.
It was the first use of the bomb in combat, and it is one of the largest non-nuclear munitions in the U.S. military’s arsenal. The day the GBU-43 was dropped, U.S. Central Command issued a news release, and on Friday it posted a video showing the weapon exploding over its target. The Pentagon’s social-media team also put out a “What to know about” the GBU-43 fact sheet the day after the strike.
Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said Friday that the bomb was “the right weapon against the right target” and that it “achieved its intended purpose” of eliminating the cave complex and allowing U.S. and Afghan Special Operations forces to continue pushing into the valley.
In the following days, however, U.S. military officials in Afghanistan declined to say exactly what effect the bomb had, and media reports indicated that there was still fighting around the blast site.
Afghan officials, however, said the weapon killed between 36 and 100 Islamic State fighters and a number of high-ranking commanders.
The U.S. military regularly reports on the results of its airstrikes in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Somalia, and often cites the number of fighters killed or the type of equipment destroyed in its news releases. In Afghanistan, despite the heavy use of U.S. air support to back the fledgling Afghan military, individual strikes are rarely reported.
The use of the GBU-43 has drawn backlash from some, including former Afghan president Hamid Karzai. In an interview with Al Jazeera, Karzai called the weapon’s use “brutal acts” against the Afghan people and his country’s sovereignty.