Sunday 19 August 2018

'The house shook...I went out and the whole area was burning'

Afghan commandos in Pandola village near the site of a US
bombing in the Achin district of Jalalabad, Afghanistan. Photo: PA
Afghan commandos in Pandola village near the site of a US bombing in the Achin district of Jalalabad, Afghanistan. Photo: PA

Ali Latifi Achin

It had been untouched for 14 years, but when the "Mother Of All Bombs" made its world debut in a remote corner of Afghanistan on Thursday night, its nickname proved more than mere hyperbole.

Shah Wali, a 46-year-old Pakistani, was asleep when the American plane dropped its giant payload. Even though he was 16km away across the border, in the Pakistani village of Goor Gari, he immediately woke. "It was an earsplitting blast," he said. "I jumped from my bed."

A few kilometres away, Mufti Khan was getting ready for the weekend in the Afghan village of Achin when he heard the bang. "The whole house was shaking," he said. "When I came out of my house I saw a large fire and the whole area was burning."

Yesterday, the scale of the devastation unleashed by the explosion was becoming clear. Footage released by the American military showed crosshairs hovering over a spot at the foot of a mountain range before a deceptively small-looking object hurtled to the ground. Smashing into the earth, it threw up a thick cloud of smoke as rubble flew threw the air. Local officials corroborated American claims that the strike did not injure any civilians, who had been warned to leave the area. The same could not be said for the Isil militants hiding out in a complex of caves and tunnels who were the target of the strike.

At least 36 of them were killed, according to Afghanistan's defence ministry, although soldiers on the ground said the final toll could be as high as 82. As many as 100 militants are thought to have been in the area at the time. One Afghan soldier who was sent to the scene of the explosion yesterday said he had come across the bodies of two suspected Isil soldiers who were mutilated beyond recognition. "Their faces were black, unrecognisable," said the 20-year-old, who declined to give his name.

The 21,600lb (9,800kg) bomb fell at 7.32pm near the small village of Asadkhel, which is nestled among verdant mountains at the end of an unpaved road a two-hour drive from the provincial capital, Jalalabad.

Yesterday, Afghan security officials kept the public, as well as reporters, about 10km back from the village, which was obscured by hills.

Esmael Shinwari, the district governor, said the bombing was a joyous occasion for his people, "who have been suffering under the brutality of [Isil] for too long now".

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