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Bomb Dropped On Afghan Province Was Historic In Size


President Trump's administration has yet to clarify just how it may shift some U.S. foreign policies. But it is sending signals. It's not clear how the president intends to resolve the war in Syria, for example, but he did signal a willingness to use force in last week's missile attack. In the same way, it's not clear how the president intends to address the long-running war in Afghanistan, but he did signal a willingness to increase the firepower. Yesterday, the United States dropped the largest non-nuclear weapon it has ever used in combat. NPR's Scott Horsley is on the line to talk about this.

Scott, good morning.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What was the target?

HORSLEY: This weapon was aimed at a network of tunnels and caves in a remote part of Afghanistan - not far from the Pakistan border - that ISIS fighters have been using. The aim was to make it more difficult for those ISIS fighters to move around freely. The Afghan ministry of defense says 36 of those fighters were killed and that there were no civilian casualties. The president called this a very successful mission.

INSKEEP: I don't want to get too technical here, but help me understand this. You would use such a vast explosive device on caves not to, like, collapse the caves but because the power would actually reach into those caves. Is that correct?

HORSLEY: And we're told that people in villages on either side of the border were able to hear this bomb. And it was so loud, they thought it was being dropped really in their own backyard.

INSKEEP: Wow, OK. Did the president himself authorize the use of this weapon for the first time?

HORSLEY: This was a question at the White House yesterday because as you know just a week ago, we had this president very personally authorizing that cruise missile strike in Syria. In this case it sounds like, from what the president himself says, that he has simply given his military commanders wide latitude to go after ISIS. Here's what the president said yesterday.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: What I do is I authorize my military. We have the greatest military in the world, and they've done a job as usual. So we have given them total authorization, and that's what they're doing. And frankly, that's why they've been so successful lately.

HORSLEY: Remember - this is a president who said during the campaign he wanted to bomb the stuffing, or words to that effect, out of ISIS. Meanwhile, Central Command says just yesterday 14 more strikes were carried out against ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria. We're also learning of a deadly error in the Syrian strike on Tuesday in which 18 allied fighters were killed after they'd been mistakenly identified as ISIS field troops.

INSKEEP: Scott, let me ask if there's a comparison to be made between the dropping of this weapon in Afghanistan and the Syria bombing. In each case, is it true that this makes a headline but it doesn't really change the basic situation? I mean, the general in Afghanistan says this is a tactical decision to use this particular weapon.

HORSLEY: Steve, I remember back in 2001. You were in Afghanistan, and I was sort of backfilling your old job at the Pentagon. And I remember reporting at that time on what was then the largest conventional weapon that U.S. military forces had dropped. It was dropped at that time on Taliban forces. I think the fact that we are still bombing Afghanistan 16 years later suggests that weapons like this, for all their demonstrated power, are not always decisive.

INSKEEP: OK. Scott Horsley, thanks very much. Really appreciate it.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.