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Efficiency: Pentagon Big Bomb Killed Militants at $4,722 Each

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Tags War and Foreign Policy

04/21/2017

Renowned surreal fiction writer Franz Kafka would have had trouble conceiving of a more absurd plot than last week's dropping of a 30-foot, 22,000-pound conventional bomb on poverty-stricken, war-ravaged Afghanistan right before Good Friday which commemorates the Prince of Peace.

The $170,000 GBU-43/B massive ordnance air blast bomb (MOAB, a.k.a., "mother of all bombs") was dropped on a network of caves where it annihilated everything within 1,000 yards including allegedly 36 ISIS fighters. This means that at least $4,722 was spent to kill each militant. 

Based on more than a decade of suspect figures from the US-controlled Afghan government, where dead hunters, farmers, and goat herders have been fudged as Taliban, al Qaeda, or ISIS fighters, the 36-casualities figure comes with major caveats, as a subsequent figure of 94 casualties warrants even more skepticism. No civilian casualties have been admitted so far, which seems unlikely given Afghanistan's hunter-gatherer-agrarian economy where even in the remotest areas, civilians are seldom far from clusters of militants.                 

But this latest adventure in military central planning goes well beyond the usual brazen government waste and fudged numbers. Afghanistan's chapter of ISIS is a bizarre invented threat to the US. It consists of only about 700 members who are mostly former Taliban. Even more ironic, the cave complex that was bombed is situated in Nangarhar province, where the US CIA spent almost a decade and more than $3 billion (almost $6 billion in today's dollars) on arms, training, and fortifying/enlarging mountain cave and tunnel systems (the most famous being Tora Bora) for Osama bin Laden and his mujahedeen's use in its proxy war against the Soviets from 1979–1989.

Did the Big Bomb Send a Message to the US's Enemies?

Regnant speculation is that Donald Trump and the Pentagon were sending an intimidating message to North Korea, Iran, China, and Russia that the US is not to be tangled with. Skeptical military analysts dismiss this as nonsense. The unwieldy MOAB has to be delivered from a massive and slow aircraft such as a Lockeed MC-130 that would never survive significant penetration of the airspace of any nation with an adequate air force or air-defense system. 

"Afghanistan is a US military property not all that different from White Sands [New Mexico]. The whole operation was a massive public-relations fraud. They would have done taxpayers a huge favor burning $170,000 in a bonfire at White Sands," one analyst told me. "At least that would have assured no blowback," he added.           

How Military Central Planning Unwittingly Created ISIS

The final irony of the MOAB bombing? ISIS. Its story begins with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who literally followed US troops into Iraq after their invasion in March of 2003. Taking full advantage of the US invasion's destruction of Iraq's social order, by August Zarqawi had not only set up Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (JTJ) in Iraq but bombed the Jordanian embassy, Canal Hotel, and Shi'ite Imam Ali Mosque, killing a combined 125 people and maiming/injuring countless others.

In October of the following year, JTJ changed its name to Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). This made sense since Zarqawi was a protégé/frenemy of former US ally and al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden. Two years later, in October of 2006, AQI became the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). In August of 2011, ISI helped form the al-Nusra Front in Syria. Finally, in April of 2013, al-Nusra and ISI combined into the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Thus ISIS was born, and scooping up US weapons, vehicles, and millions of dollars in CIA cash in attacks, robberies, and burglaries around Iraq, it became one of the most well-armed and financed terrorist organizations in the world.

So here's the gist of MOAB: the US government dropped a $170,000 big bomb on dirt poor, destitute Afghanistan on militants living in a cave complex that it had originally helped construct to kill a tiny portion of a small, non-indigenous terrorist group that it had helped create 3,000 miles away in perhaps its greatest military blunder 14 years ago. And to top it all off, this pointless bombing was, according to US President Donald Trump, a rousing "successful job."

Kafka would be proud.

Dale Steinreich is an economist and an Associated Scholar of the Mises Institute.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
Image source: Wikimedia
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