United States/Syria/Chemical Attack – US forces fired a barrage of cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase on the 7 Apr 17 in response to what President Donald Trump called a "barbaric" chemical attack he blamed on the Damascus regime. The massive strike, the first direct US action against President Bashar al-Assad's government and Trump's biggest military decision since taking office, marked a dramatic escalation in American involvement in Syria's six-year civil war. It followed days in which images of dead children and victims suffering convulsions from the suspected sarin gas attack in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun shocked the world. Syria's regime has denied any use of chemical weapons and state media on the 7 Apr 17 described the US strike, which was reported to have pulverised the base and killed at least four servicemen, as an "act of aggression". Russia too denounced the US action, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying President Vladimir Putin considered it "aggression against a sovereign state" that would inflict "considerable damage" on US-Russia ties. The Syrian army said that six people were killed and serious damage caused by a US missile strike on the airbase. "At 0342 hrs local (0042 hrs GMT) the United States carried out a flagrant aggression with missiles against one of our airbases in the central region, killing six people and wounding a number of others, and causing significant damage," a spokesman said, reading from a statement on state television. He did not specify whether the casualties were civilian or military. Trump announced the strike in a brief televised address delivered hours after the UN Security Council failed to agree on a probe into the suspected chemical attack. Declaring it in America's "vital national security interest" to prevent the spread of chemical weapons, Trump accused Assad of a "very barbaric attack" in which "even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered." "Tonight I call on all civilised nations to join us in seeking to end this slaughter and bloodshed in Syria and also to end terrorism of all kinds and all types," Trump said. The missiles were fired from the USS Porter and the USS Ross, which belong to the US Navy's Sixth Fleet and are located in the eastern Mediterranean. The strike targeted radars, aircraft, air defence systems and other logistical components at the military base south of Homs in central Syria, from where Washington believes the 4 Apr 17 deadly strike was launched. Officials said measures had been put in place to avoid hitting sarin gas they said was stored at the airfield. "The airbase was almost completely destroyed, the runway, the fuel tanks and the air defences were all blown to pieces," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The Britain-based monitoring group said at least four servicemen were killed, including an air commodore. The base was the second most important for Syria's air force, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said, after the Latakia airbase in Assad's coastal heartland where Russia also maintains extensive facilities. Homs governor Talal Barazi said there were several dead and wounded at the base and that large parts of it were on fire. "It will take some time to determine the extent of the damage," he said. "Of course we condemn this, all action targeting Syrian military bases is condemnable." Syrian state media confirmed the strike, with news agency SANA saying: "This American aggression follows the slanderous media campaign by some countries after what happened in Khan Sheikhun." Iran, another key Assad ally, also condemned the action. But Syria's opposition National Coalition hailed the strike and called for further US action against Assad's air force. "The Coalition welcomes the strike and urges Washington to neutralise Assad's ability to carry out air raids," spokesman Ahmad Ramadan said. "We hope for more strikes and that these are just the beginning." The strike came despite a warning from Russia of potential "negative consequences" if Washington carried out military action in Syria. Russian has insisted that the chemical weapons that caused the deaths in Khan Sheikhun had been stockpiled by "terrorists" on the ground and possibly released by a conventional strike. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson accused Russia, which props up the Assad regime and agreed to mothball Syrian chemical weapons in a 2013 deal, of being incompetent or complicit in permitting Assad's actions. Russian military officials in Syria were informed of the strike beforehand in order to avoid casualties that could prompt a broader crisis. The White House was quick to paint the decision as limited to deterring the use of chemical weapons, and not part of a broader military campaign to remove Assad by force. "The intent was to deter the regime from doing this again, and it is certainly our hope that this has had that effect," Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis told reporters. Tillerson said the attack should leave no one in any doubt that Trump is willing to act if any actor "crosses the line." It will send ripples around the world, from Pyongyang to Tehran, as nations and leaders take the measure of the novice but often bellicose president. The timing of the strike, during a meeting with China's President Xi Jinping, will give weight to Trump's threats to deal with North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes unilaterally if necessary. Allies rushed to support the US military action including Britain, Saudi Arabia and Israel. "In both word and action, President Trump sent a strong and clear message today that the use and spread of chemical weapons will not be tolerated," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said. On the 5 Apr 17 Trump had decried the suspected attack, which killed at least 86 people, including 27 children, and wounded more than 500, as an "affront to humanity." "It crossed a lot of lines for me," Trump said, alluding to Barack Obama's failure to enforce his own "red line" on the use of chemical weapons in Syria four years ago. In 2013, Trump had urged then-president Obama not to intervene against Assad. The Khan Sheikhun incident appears to have marked a turning point for Trump, just days after his administration signalled it was no longer seeking the Syrian leader's departure from power. Tillerson called the 6 Apr 17 for "a political process that would lead to Assad leaving" and said his future role in the country was "uncertain." 361 COMMENT: Those who support Assad will condemn the attack. Trump and his allies have certainly shown the world that they intend to stand up for their beliefs. Questions should still be asked regarding where the chemical weapon came from as Assad had “supposed” to have surrendered the chemical weapon arsenal. He is either producing his own or is being supplied with them. Other points that must be observed is that Assad and his allies have constantly used barrel bombs on his own people killing scores of men, women and children. In the above report it also states that the Americans “avoided hitting sarin gas they said was stored at the airfield.” This gives indication that American intelligence knows that there are chemical weapons on the airfield and indeed it knows that Assad has the capability. There are numerous reports regarding the dropping of barrel bombs on hospitals and heavily built up areas. The question that has to be answered now is how are Assad’s allies going to react against the United States? COMMENT ENDS
United States/World Response to the Air Strike – From strong messages of support to fierce condemnation, here are the main global reactions to a US strike on a Syria air base in response to a suspected chemical attack.
Unsurprisingly, the main ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was robust in its opposition to the strike. Moscow slammed the strike as "aggression against a sovereign state", and suspended a bilateral agreement to help avoid clashes in the skies over the war-torn country. "President Putin considers American strikes on Syria aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international norms, and under an invented pretext," said the statement by the Kremlin press service posted on the official website. US President Donald Trump ordered a military strike on a Syrian air base at 0040 hrs GMT, in retaliation for what he said was a "very barbaric attack" Tuesday that is suspected to have contained a nerve agent. Moscow has been flying a bombing campaign in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces since September 2015 and on the 5 Apr 17 said it would continue to back the regime. The Russian foreign ministry announced the suspension of a memorandum signed with the US in October 2015 which set up a hotline to avoid clashes between their air forces in Syrian airspace as they carried out separate bombing campaigns. "We call upon the UN Security Council to hold an extraordinary meeting to discuss the situation," the ministry said in a statement, calling the strike "thoughtless." Russia had sought to deflect blame from Assad over the incident, claiming Syrian jets struck a rebel arms depot housing "toxic substances" and denying that the regime has access to any chemical weapons. "The Syrian army does not have any chemical weapon stockpiles," the Kremlin statement said, accusing Washington of trying to "divert attention of the international community from the many civilian casualties in Iraq." "The fact of destruction of all chemical weapon stockpiles of the Syrian armed forces was recorded and confirmed by the (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons)." "This step by Washington inflicts considerable damage to US-Russia relations, which are already in a lamentable state," the Kremlin said.
The Iranian regime, another Syrian ally, "strongly condemned" the strike, just as it condemned "all unilateral military action". It said the US action was taken under the "pretext" of the chemical strike.
China warned against "further deterioration" of the situation in Syria as Xi Jinping met with US President Donald Trump at his Florida resort in Mar-a-Lago. China was "concerned" by the recent events in Syria, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters at a regular press briefing, adding: "What is urgent now is to avoid further deterioration of the situation. "We oppose use of chemical weapons by any country, organisation or individual in any circumstance, for any purpose," she said. News of the air strike overshadowed a two-day tete-a-tete between the Chinese president and his US counterpart, which concluded on the 7 Apr 17. Shortly after his dinner with Xi, Trump announced the strike in a brief televised address delivered hours after the UN Security Council failed to agree on a probe into the suspected chemical attack. Trump had personally informed the Chinese head of state of the Syrian strike, a White House official said. China is a veto-wielding permanent member of the UN Security Council, and consistently says the crisis needs a "political solution"
Syrian rebels on the 7 Apr 17 urged additional action, with one powerful faction saying a single strike was "not enough." "Hitting one airbase is not enough, there are 26 airbases that target civilians," a key figure in the Army of Islam faction, Mohamed Alloush, said on his Twitter account. "The whole world should save the Syrian people from the clutches of the killer Bashar (al-Assad) and his aides." Other rebel groups welcomed the US strike and called for continued military action against the regime. "The American strike against the killing tools used by Bashar al-Assad is the first step on the correct path to combating terrorism and we hope it will continue," said Issam Raes, spokesman for the Southern Front rebel faction. "In my opinion, the message is political, and the message has arrived to Russia and been understood," he said. Colonel Ahmed Osman, of the Turkey-backed Sultan Murad rebel group said: "We welcome any action that will put an end to the regime that is committing the worst crimes in history." Mohamed Bayrakdar, another leader of the Army of Islam, which operates mainly around the capital Damascus, described the strike as "a bold and correct step." "We welcome any response to the crimes of the regime," he said.
Turkey on the 7 Apr 17 welcomed the US missile strike on Sharyat airbase in Homs province as retaliation for the suspected chemical attack, calling for a no-fly zone in the country to prevent further bloodshed. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said the strike against the base in northern Syria, was "a positive response" to the "war crimes" of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. "In order to prevent similar massacres from happening again, it is necessary to enforce a no-fly zone and create safe zones in Syria without further delay," he added in a statement. He said the destruction of Sharyat airbase marked "an important step to ensure that chemical and conventional attacks against the civilian population do not go unpunished." The Turkish health ministry on the 6 Apr 17 said initial analysis suggested victims were exposed to the deadly nerve agent sarin. Kalin said the incident in Idlib demonstrated the regime's "complete disregard" for a political transition and efforts to enforce a ceasefire agreed late last year and sponsored by Russia, Turkey and Iran.
Earlier, the Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said Turkey believed that "the Assad regime must be punished completely in the international arena" in comments quoted by state-run news agency Anadolu. He described the strikes against the base as "significant" and "meaningful" after civilians had been targeted in the suspected chemical weapons attack.
"The Assad regime's barbarism must be stopped at once," Kurtulmus said, saying the peace process should hasten a "fair" and "lasting" peace for the people. "I hope that this United States operation will contribute to securing peace." Turkey has repeatedly called for Assad to go while Russia and Iran remain the president's most important allies in the more than six-year war. In a statement, the Turkish foreign ministry said Ankara would give its "full support to steps taken to ensure that similar crimes do not go unpunished and (that there is) accountability".
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he supports the "strong and clear message" sent by the strike. The Israeli military said it had been informed in advance of a massive cruise missile strike on a Syrian airbase, the first US operation against the Damascus regime in six years of civil war. "In both word and action, President (Donald) Trump sent a strong and clear message today that the use and spread of chemical weapons will not be tolerated," a statement from Netanyahu's office said. "Israel fully supports President Trump's decision and hopes that this message of resolve in the face of the Assad regime's horrific actions will resonate not only in Damascus, but in Tehran, Pyongyang and elsewhere." Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said the "clear and determined steps" taken "constitute a fitting and appropriate response to such unthinkable brutality." Israel has repeatedly struck alleged weapons convoys in Syria they claim are bound for Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah. However it has been reluctant to be dragged into the civil war and has rejected calls for a more substantial intervention. Last month, Syria fired missiles at Israel after the Zionist state struck a number of sites in the country, in the worst flare-up between the two governments since the civil war began in 2011. Netanyahu said at the time that the Israeli strikes targeted Hezbollah and warned the army would do so again if necessary. On the 6 Apr 17 Russian President Vladimir Putin called Netanyahu and slammed "unfounded accusations" by the Israeli premier that Assad was responsible for the alleged chemical attack. Former Israeli security adviser Yaakov Amidror said US regional allies would take the strike as a sign Trump would be more willing to use force to protect their interests than his predecessor Barack Obama. He said it was also a message to Assad and its allies Russia and Iran that "America is back." "I think that the chances for an attack initiated by either Syria or Hezbollah is even less today than before because now it's understood that if they violate the interests of the United States of America... unlike the previous administration, this administration is ready to take action."
A foreign ministry official hailed US President Donald Trump as "courageous" for taking action when "the international community has failed to put a halt to the regime's actions."
In a joint statement, President Francois Hollande and Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Assad bore "sole responsibility" for the US strike following the suspected chemical attack.
The close American ally said it "fully supported" the strikes, judging them an "appropriate response to the barbaric chemical weapons attack". It said the strikes were "intended to deter further attacks."
United States/Syria/Russia/Chemical Attack Aftermath – Russia and the United States have traded barbs at an ill-tempered emergency session of the UN Security Council called by Moscow after the US army launched a barrage of cruise missiles against a Syrian government airbase it was reported on the 8 Apr 17. Syria's army said six people were killed in the early hours of Friday morning after the US fired nearly 60 Tomahawk missiles at Shayrat airbase, in retaliation for a suspected chemical weapons attack. Vladimir Safronkov, Russia's deputy ambassador to the UN, "strongly" condemned the US for what he called a "flagrant violation of international law and an act of aggression". "The consequences of this for regional and international stability could be extremely serious," he told the Security Council. For her part, US Ambassador Nikki Haley said the missile strikes were "fully justified" and warned that Washington was ready to take further military action. "The United States took a very measured step last night," she told the council. "We are prepared to do more, but we hope it will not be necessary." Mounzer, deputy Syrian ambassador to the UN, called the US strike a "barbaric, flagrant act of aggression" that will embolden "terrorist groups" to use chemical weapons in the future. According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 88 people, including 29 children, were killed in the suspected poison gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province, which the US has blamed on Assad. Haley said the missile strikes destroyed the airfield from which the US believes the suspected chemical attack was launched. "The United States will no longer wait for Assad to use chemical weapons without any consequences," Haley said. "Those days are over." While threatening further strikes, the US envoy also said it was time to press on with a political solution to the six-year war. "Is it because US President Donald Trump wants to prove he is a resolute, decisive leader who is independent of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, or is this punitive attack part of a comprehensive effort aimed at leveraging American influence in Syria to lead to a diplomatic solution," he said. Haley also took a swipe at Russia for failing to rein in its ally, and said Moscow must reconsider its support for Assad. "The world is waiting for the Russian government to act responsibly in Syria. The world is waiting for Russia to reconsider its misplaced alliance with Bashar al-Assad," she said. The US said 58 of the 59 cruise missiles fired at the Shayrat airfield hit their targets, dealing heavy damage to the base. But the Russian defence ministry downplayed the damage, claiming only 23 missiles landed on target. Satellite footage showed many of the runways were fully intact, as well as several untouched defence surface-to-air rocket launcher and radar systems. Less than 24 hours after the US strike, two Syrian jets took off from the targeted base and bombed nearby rebel targets, according to the Observatory, which monitors Syria's conflict via a network of contacts on the ground. Regardless of its damage, the attack - Trump's biggest military decision since taking office - marked a dramatic escalation in US involvement in Syria's war. It followed days of outrage over images of dead children and victims suffering convulsions from the suspected poison gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun. Homs Governor Talal Barazi said the US' direct strike on the Syrian military was a clear sign it was supporting "terrorists". 361 COMMENT: with all the bravado from Syria and Russia regarding the air-strike it is understandable that they state that most of the airfield was still intact and that most of the cruise missiles did not hit the target. But there is no mention of civilian casualties where the missiles would have fallen along their target path. Another minor point to consider is that Russia is responsible for the air defence system that Syria has in place and there is no mention of any missiles being shot down. Lastly on the 7 Apr 17 Russia stated that, “Syrian air defences are to ‘strengthened.’ You would believe that the initial threat assessment would have taken into consideration a missile attack. COMMENT ENDS
United States/Korean Peninsula – The Pentagon says a group of US warships is headed to the western Pacific Ocean to provide a physical presence near the Korean Peninsula it was reported on the 9 Apr 17. The strike group, called Carl Vinson, includes an aircraft carrier and will make its way from Singapore towards the Korean Peninsula. The development comes in response to North Korea's "reckless, irresponsible" conduct, a US navy official said, referring to recent missile tests. "US Pacific Command ordered the Carl Vinson Strike Group north as a prudent measure to maintain readiness and presence in the Western Pacific," Commander Dave Benham, spokesperson at US Pacific Command said. "The number one threat in the region continues to be North Korea, due to its reckless, irresponsible and destabilising programme of missile tests and pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability." In a statement late on the 8 Apr 17 the US navy's Third Fleet said the strike group had been directed to sail north, but it did not specify the destination. The military vessels will operate in the western Pacific rather than making previously planned port visits to Australia, it said. Deployed from San Diego to the western Pacific since the 5 Jan 17 the Carl Vinson strike group has participated in numerous exercises with the Japan Maritime Self Defence Force and Republic of Korea Navy, various maritime security initiatives, and routine patrol operations in the South China Sea. The US decision comes close on the heels of a US missile strike on Syria that was widely interpreted as putting North Korea on notice over its refusal to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Earlier this month, North Korea tested a liquid-fuelled Scud missile which only travelled a fraction of its range. This year (2017) North Korean officials, including leader Kim Jong-un, have repeatedly indicated an intercontinental ballistic missile test or something similar could be coming, possibly as soon as the 15Apr 17, the 105th birthday of North Korea's founding president and celebrated annually as the Day of the Sun. North Korea is on a quest to develop a long-range missile capable of hitting the US mainland with a nuclear warhead, and has so far staged five nuclear tests, two of them in 2016. Expert satellite imagery analysis suggests it could well be preparing for a sixth, with US intelligence officials warning that North Korea could be less than two years away from developing a nuclear warhead that could reach the continental US. Earlier this week, US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in Florida, where Trump urged his counterpart to do more to curb North Korea's nuclear programme. Trump's national security aides have completed a review of US options to try to curb North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes. These include economic and military measures but lean more towards sanctions and increased pressure on China to restrain North Korea. In Feb 17 the North simultaneously fired four ballistic missiles off its east coast, three of which fell provocatively close to Japan, in what it said was a drill for an attack on US bases in the neighbouring Asian country. In Aug 16 North Korea also successfully test-fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile 500km towards Japan, far exceeding any previous sub-launched tests, in what Kim described as the "greatest success".
United States/North Korea – North Korea denounced the US deployment of a naval strike group to the region on the 11 Apr 17 warning it is ready for "war" as Washington tightens the screws on the nuclear-armed state. The strike group, which includes the Nimitz-class aircraft super-carrier USS Carl Vinson, cancelled a planned trip to Australia this weekend, heading to the Korean peninsula instead in a show of force. "This goes to prove that the US reckless moves for invading the DPRK have reached a serious phase," a spokesman for the North's foreign ministry said according to state news agency KCNA. "The DPRK is ready to react to any mode of war desired by the US," he said, using the country's official name. President Donald Trump, fresh from ordering a missile strike on Syria that was widely interpreted as a warning to North Korea, has asked his advisors for a range of options to rein in Pyongyang, a top US official said on the 9 Apr 17. Trump has previously threatened unilateral action against Pyongyang if China, the North's sole major ally, fails to help curb its neighbour's nuclear ambitions. But Pyongyang's response suggested the reclusive state is determined to continue on its current path, despite repeated rounds of United Nations sanctions. "We will take the toughest counteraction against the provocateurs in order to defend ourselves by powerful force of arms," the foreign ministry spokesman said. "We will hold the US wholly accountable for the catastrophic consequences to be entailed by its outrageous actions." Speculation over an imminent nuclear test is brewing as the North marks anniversaries including the 105th birthday of its late founder on Saturday, sometimes celebrated with a demonstration of military might. Thousands of troops and top military officials gathered in Pyongyang on the 10 Apr 17 to pledge loyalty to leader Kim Jong-Un ahead of his grandfather's birth anniversary, state media said. State TV showed thousands of goose-stepping soldiers marching in unison, carrying giant portraits of the regime's founder Kim Il-Sung and his son, Kim Jong-Il, in front of the Kumsusan mausoleum where their embalmed bodies are on display. "If they (the US and the South) try to ignite the spark of war, we will wipe out all of the invaders without a trace with, our strong pre-emptive nuclear strike," Hwang Pyong-So, director of the political bureau at the North's army, said in a speech. Kim was not seen at the event televised on the 11 Apr 17. The South's prime minister and acting president warned of a "grave provocation" by the North to coincide with other anniversaries, including the army's founding day on April 25. "There is a possibility that the North launches more grave provocations such as another nuclear test to mark a number of anniversaries," Hwang Kyo-Ahn said in a cabinet meeting. Pyongyang is on a quest to develop a long-range missile capable of hitting the US mainland with a nuclear warhead, and has so far staged five nuclear tests, two of them last year. Satellite imagery analysis suggests it could be preparing for a sixth, with intelligence officials warning it could be less than two years away from achieving the ability to strike the continental United States. South Korea's top nuclear envoy said on the 10 Apr 17 after talks with his Chinese counterpart that the two nations had agreed to "strong" new measures to punish Pyongyang if it carried out another nuclear test. The talks came shortly after Trump hosted Chinese leader Xi Jinping for a summit at which he pressed Beijing to do more to curb the North's nuclear ambitions. "(We) are prepared to chart our own course if this is something China is just unable to coordinate with us," US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said after the summit. While a US unilateral strike on North Korea from a shorter range might be more effective, it would likely endanger many civilians in the South and risk triggering a broader military conflict, experts warn.
United States/Kuwait/Da’esh – Suspected ISIS militants arrested in Kuwait and the Philippines were planning to carry out bombings against US military forces in Kuwait, the Gulf country's al-Rai newspaper reported on the 10 Apr 17. The suspects were also plotting a suicide attack on a hussainiya, or Shiite Muslim meeting hall, said al-Rai, which has close ties to the security services. Philippine security forces arrested a Kuwaiti and a Syrian for suspected links to Islamic State on the 25 Mar 17 three months after they arrived in Manila. Al-Rai said Kuwaiti security forces also arrested a Syrian chemistry teacher suspected of involvement with the plots. A spokesman for the US Embassy in Kuwait referred queries to Kuwaiti authorities. Kuwaiti security officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Kuwait, home to several US military bases, suffered its deadliest militant attack in decades when a Saudi suicide bomber blew himself up inside a packed Shiite mosque in June 2015, killing 27 people. ISIS claimed responsibility.
United States/Afghanistan/Da’esh – The US military's largest non-nuclear bomb killed dozens of Islamic State militants as it smashed their mountain hideouts, Afghan officials said on the 14 Apr 17 ruling out any civilian casualties despite the weapon's destructive capacity. The GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb, dubbed the "Mother Of All Bombs," hit IS positions in Achin district in eastern Nangarhar province on the 13 Apr 17. The bomb, unleashed by the US for the first time in combat, is expected to further erode IS's capabilities in Afghanistan and sends a warning to the much bigger Taliban group ahead of their annual spring offensive. It comes only a week after US President Donald Trump ordered missile strikes against Syria in retaliation for a suspected chemical attack, and as China warned of the potential for conflict amid rising tensions over North Korea. "As a result of the bombing, key Da’esh hideouts were destroyed and 36 IS fighters were killed," the Afghan defence ministry said, adding that the bombing was carried out in coordination with local military forces. Trump had earlier called the mission "very, very successful". The huge bomb, delivered via an MC-130 transport plane, has a blast yield equivalent to 11 tons of TNT, and the weapon was originally designed as much to intimidate foes as to clear broad areas. The explosion reverberated for miles and engulfed the remote area in towering flames, destroying what Afghan officials called a network of underground IS tunnels and caves that had been mined against conventional ground attacks. "The explosion was the biggest I have ever seen," Achin governor Esmail Shinwari said, adding the bomb landed in the Momand Dara area of the district. An Afghan militant source said from an undisclosed location that locals had described the ground shaking "like an earthquake", with people being knocked unconscious by the blast. The arsenal was dropped after fighting intensified over the past week and US-backed ground forces struggled to advance on the area. An American Special Forces soldier was killed last Saturday in Nangarhar while conducting anti-IS operations. Security experts say IS had built their redoubts close to civilian homes, but the government said thousands of local families had already fled the area in recent months of fighting. "Precautions were taken to avoid civilian casualties," President Ashraf Ghani said on Twitter, throwing his support behind the bombardment. It was "designed to support the efforts of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and US forces conducting clearance operations in the region." The bombardment marks a surge in US military raids against global jihadist groups. The Taliban, who are expected to soon announce the start of this year's fighting season, also condemned what it called "America's heavy use of weapons on Afghanistan". Nangarhar, which borders Pakistan, is a hotbed of IS militancy. US forces have conducted a number of air strikes on jihadist bases in the area since Aug 16. Da’esh has been making inroads into Afghanistan in recent years. It has attracted disaffected members of the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban as well as Uzbek Islamists. But the group has been steadily losing territory in the face of heavy pressure both from US air strikes and a ground offensive led by Afghan forces.