Kabul to probe health impact of US ‘mother of all bombs’ as complaints rise

A group gathers around a GBU-43B, or massive ordnance air blast (MOAB) weapon, on display at the Air Force Armament Museum on Eglin Air Force Base. (File/AP)
Updated 06 December 2019

Kabul to probe health impact of US ‘mother of all bombs’ as complaints rise

KABUL: The Afghan government is to investigate claims that America’s dropping of the “mother of all bombs” in eastern Nangarhar more than two years ago has caused diseases among the local population and affected crops, officials have revealed.

The US target had been described as a Daesh hideout in the Mohmand Dara area of Achin district, but the bombing was criticized by many Afghans, including former President Hamid Karzai, who accused Washington of treating Afghanistan as a testing ground for its weapons.

Officially known as the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB), the bomb was used for the first time in Afghanistan in April 2017. When developed, it was said to be the most powerful non-nuclear weapon in the American arsenal.

Following sustained operations in the region by joint Afghan and US forces, as well as attacks from the Taliban, hundreds of Daesh affiliates have reportedly been killed and hundreds of others have surrendered to the government, allowing villagers displaced by the fighting to return.

However, the returnees and those who were present at the time the bomb was dropped, have complained that it harmed their health, causing conditions such as skin disease, loss of memory, respiratory illness, and malformed birth of some children. The bomb had reportedly also contaminated soil and affected agriculture.

Although an Afghan parliamentary delegation visited Nangarhar province to investigate the aftermath of the impact just days after the bomb was dropped, no further probes could take place due to the unstable security situation in the region.

But now, the Afghan Ministry of Public Health has announced it will send researchers and doctors to the bombing site and to hospitals in Jalalabad, the provincial capital of Nangarhar.

A report by Afghanistan’s Tolo News channel featured Mohmand Dara villagers voicing their health-related concerns. The TV station said that according to experts, anyone within 300 meters of the explosion would have been evaporated, while those in a 1 km radius from ground zero would have been rendered deaf.

“The government evacuated the people (before the bomb was dropped), but when we came back, we saw that the houses were destroyed,” resident Mohammadullah told Tolo News.

Another local, Pacha Shinwari, said: “You can see that the stones can be broken easily, the plants are dry, the trees are dry, the nearby houses are all destroyed, 40 or 50 of them.”

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s adviser and state minister for human rights and international relations, Sima Samar, confirmed to the television channel that the use of the MOAB in Nangarhar has had long-term effects on residents.

Retired Afghan army general, Atiqullah Akmarkhail, said such bombs had a long-lasting impact. “They have three-stage effects: They impact the eyes; people will feel irritation in their eyes. Second, they impact the inner organs of those who breathe the air where it was used. They also impact pregnant women and newborn babies,” he told Arab News.


Biden expected to nominate Blinken as secretary of state

Updated 23 November 2020

Biden expected to nominate Blinken as secretary of state

  • Antony Blinken, 58, served as deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser during the Obama administration and has close ties with Biden
  • Biden has pledged to build the most diverse government in modern history, and he and his team often speak about their desire for his administration to reflect America

WASHINGTON: President-elect Joe Biden is expected to nominate Antony Blinken as secretary of state, according to multiple people familiar with the Biden team’s planning.
Blinken, 58, served as deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser during the Obama administration and has close ties with Biden. If nominated and confirmed, he would be a leading force in the incoming administration’s bid to reframe the US relationship with the rest of the world after four years in which President Donald Trump questioned longtime alliances.
In nominating Blinken, Biden would sidestep potentially thorny issues that could have affected Senate confirmation for two other candidates on his short list to be America’s top diplomat: Susan Rice and Sen. Chris Coons.
Rice would have faced significant GOP opposition and likely rejection in the Senate. She has long been a target of Republicans, including for statements she made after the deadly 2012 attacks on Americans in Benghazi, Libya.
Coons, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, lacked the granular experience in managing day-to-day foreign policy issues that Blinken would bring to the job.
Biden is likely to name his Cabinet picks in tranches, with groups of nominees focused on a specific top area, like the economy, national security or public health, being announced at once. Advisers to the president-elect’s transition have said they’ll make their first Cabinet announcements on Tuesday.
If Biden focuses on national security that day, Michèle Flournoy, a veteran of Pentagon policy jobs, is a top choice to lead the Defense Department. Jake Sullivan, a longtime adviser to Biden and Hillary Clinton, is also in the mix for a top job, including White House national security adviser.
For his part, Blinken recently participated in a national security briefing with Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and has weighed in publicly on notable foreign policy issues in Egypt and Ethiopia.
Biden’s secretary of state would inherit a deeply demoralized and depleted career workforce at the State Department. Trump’s two secretaries of state, Rex Tillerson and Mike Pompeo, offered weak resistance to the administration’s attempts to gut the agency, which were thwarted only by congressional intervention.
Although the department escaped massive proposed cuts of more than 30% in its budget for three consecutive years, it has seen a significant number of departures from its senior and rising mid-level ranks, from which many diplomats have opted to retire or leave the foreign service given limited prospects for advancements under an administration that they believe does not value their expertise.
A graduate of Harvard University and Columbia Law School and a longtime Democratic foreign policy presence, Blinken has aligned himself with numerous former senior national security officials who have called for a major reinvestment in American diplomacy and renewed emphasis on global engagement.
“Democracy is in retreat around the world, and unfortunately it’s also in retreat at home because of the president taking a two-by-four to its institutions, its values and its people every day,” Blinken told The Associated Press in September. “Our friends know that Joe Biden knows who they are. So do our adversaries. That difference would be felt on day one.”
Blinken served on the National Security Council during the Clinton administration before becoming staff director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Biden was chair of the panel. In the early years of the Obama administration, Blinken returned to the NSC and was then-Vice President Biden’s national security adviser before he moved to the State Department to serve as deputy to Secretary of State John Kerry.
Biden also is expected to tap longtime diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield as the US ambassador to the United Nations.
Biden has pledged to build the most diverse government in modern history, and he and his team often speak about their desire for his administration to reflect America. He is being watched to see whether he will make history by nominating the first woman to lead the Pentagon, the Treasury Department or the Department of Veterans Affairs or the first African American at the top of the Defense Department, the Interior Department or the Treasury Department.
Ron Klain, Biden’s incoming chief of staff, said Sunday the Trump administration’s refusal to clear the way for Biden’s team to have access to key information about agencies and federal dollars for the transition is taking its toll on planning, including the Cabinet selection process. Trump’s General Services Administration has yet to acknowledge that Biden won the election — a determination that would remove those roadblocks.
“We’re not in a position to get background checks on Cabinet nominees. And so there are definite impacts. Those impacts escalate every day,” Klain told ABC’s “This Week.”
Even some Republicans have broken with Trump in recent days and called on him to begin the transition. Joining the growing list were Sens. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Former Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a longtime Trump supporter, told ABC that it was time for the president to stop contesting the outcome and called Trump’s legal team seeking to overturn the election a “national embarrassment.”
Meanwhile, planning was underway for a pandemic-modified inauguration Jan. 20. Klain said the Biden team was consulting with Democratic leadership in the House and the Senate over their plans.
“They’re going to try to have an inauguration that honors the importance and the symbolic meaning of the moment, but also does not result in the spread of the disease. That’s our goal,” Klain said.