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‘Mother of all bombs’ owes origins to anti-Nazi weapons

Reuters WASHINGTON (Reuters) — The 11-ton “mother of all bombs” dropped by U.S. forces on fighters linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militant group in Afghanistan is a highly specialized weapon with a heritage dating back to huge bombs developed for use against Nazi targets in World War II.

The 9,797-kilogram GBU-43 (Guided Bomb Unit), one of only 15 ever built, was developed after the U.S. military found itself without the ordnance needed to deal with Al-Qaida tunnel systems in the hunt for Osama Bin Laden in 2001. But the Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb, or MOAB, as it is also known, had never been used in combat until a U.S. MC-130 aircraft dropped one on the Achin district of Nangarhar, bordering Pakistan, on Thursday.

Experts said that while the use of the bomb was likely a technical decision of matching the most effective ordnance to a specific target — tunnels and caves in an unpopulated area — its shock waves would have been sent not only to ISIL fighters, but also to North Korea, which conceals its nuclear weapons program deep underground, and Iran, which has a large uranium enrichment facility buried in a granite mountain.

“Certainly there’s a signaling element as a by-product — possibly being a signal to Syria or North Korea; certainly there is a signal to ISIL that no matter how much you try to hide, no matter how deep you dig, we can still get you,” said Mark Cancian, a retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel and ordnance specialist.

Retired U.S. Air Force Gen. Dave Deptula, a former commander of the air operations center for Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in 2001, said the GBU-43 was developed to replace the 6,800-kilogram “Daisy Cutter” bomb he employed there. The Daisy Cutter, which was first used to clear landing strips for helicopters in Vietnam, was employed partly for the psychological effect of its massive blast.

Deptula, Cancian and U.S. military officials said the United States has an even larger bomb in its inventory — the 14,000 kilogram GBU-57 Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), which would be more effective against North Korea’s nuclear test site, given its ability to penetrate reinforced concrete and anti-blast steel doors.

The MOAB and the MOP owe their origins to massive “Tallboy” and “Grand Slam” bombs developed by the British in WWII for use against Nazi targets, such as V-1 and V-2 missile sites and the battleship Tirpitz.

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