MOAB: Weapon of mass distraction from FBI's "smoking gun"
AFTER the US dropped the "mother of all bombs" targeting an Islamic State complex in Afghanistan, many were left scratching their heads about the timing.
Tensions are escalating fast, with North Korea threatening nuclear action, China amassing troops at its border, and America accused of an "act of war" over a missile strike on Syria in retaliation to last week's chemical attack.
Yet Donald Trump has chosen this moment to detonate the largest non-nuclear bomb ever deployed in combat. Is there more to this than meets the eye?
'IMPEACHMENT LEVEL SMOKING GUN'
A dramatic theory has emerged that the US President is trying to draw attention away from the news the FBI has "impeachment-level smoking gun" evidence of his long-suspected collusion with Russia in the lead-up to the election.
One Twitter user labelled Mr Trump "Commander-in-distraction" after the report emerged in a Guardian story about British spies being the first to spot his campaign team's contact with Russian officials back in 2015.
The article claims Australia, Germany, Estonia and Poland all relayed intelligence about links between Russia and Trump's campaign before mid-2016.
A source told the newspaper the official [US] investigation was now making progress and had "specific concrete and corroborative evidence of collusion ... between people in the Trump campaign and agents of [Russian] influence relating to the use of hacked material."
The Mother of all Bombs. The perfect distraction from Chump’s endless media embarrassments. Bomb an insignificant target in Afghanistan pic.twitter.com/LpNZBe9tuz— Franco (@FrancoandMarco) April 14, 2017
Slate noted in a blog post that this could be a "bombshell because evidence that Trump advisers were involved in any way with the release of hacked Hillary Clinton-related emails would be an impeachment-level smoking gun in a scandal that currently involves a lot of reports about sketchy relationships but no proof of clearly illegal conduct."
Twitter users were quick to jump on the theory, with writer Resist Now posting: "Warships heading 2 North Korea / MOAB blows desert in Afghanistan / ME WITH EYES ON #TRUMPRUSSIA #RUSSIAGATE."
BrooklynDad_Defiant! added: "The bigger the #TrumpRussia threat, the bigger the distraction needed ... timing of Afghanistan MOAB drop no surprise."
Starbuck2017 added: "Can someone answer why we are bombing #Afghanistan & with such a massive bomb? #distraction from #Trumprussia is my guess #MOAB #impeach."
Other Twitter users referred to "weapons of mass distraction", with some suggesting the bomb could also be a distraction from the President signing a bill to defund Planned Parenthood.
But others were scornful. "Oh my word, atrocity is not a distraction," tweeted Charlotte Geater. "People discussing acts of war in afghanistan are not trying to f***ing distract you."
A POLITICAL MESSAGE TO AMERICA'S ENEMIES?
Rather than aim a series of smaller bombs at the suspected IS-controlled network of bunkers and tunnels in Afghanistan, the US for the first time deployed the GBU-43, which contains 11 tonnes of explosives.
It is known by the air force as the Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb (or MOAB, from which it gained the nickname Mother Of All Bombs).
It was developed in 2002-2003 at around the time of the US-led invasion of Iraq, but not used because of fears it would cause widespread damage or civilian deaths in the country's densely populated cities.
Another theory comes from those who believe the surprise bombing was intended to send a political message about the US government's willingness and ability to use extreme force as it attempts to intimidate North Korea, Russia and Syria.
But the US military officials insisted the MOAB was the appropriate weapon to use in these circumstances, and that the attack had been planned for some time.
As the jihadists' losses in the region have mounted, they have taken a more defensive position in Achin district, near the border with Pakistan, US Forces report. General John Nicholson said the gigantic weapon was "the right munition to reduce these obstacles and maintain the momentum of the offensive against ISIS-Khorsan [the local IS affiliate]".
The MOAB explodes in midair, causing shockwaves the military hoped would cause the tunnels to collapse.
Mr Trump boasted of the attack on Thursday night after the bomb was dropped at around 7.30pm (1.02am Friday AEST). "We have the greatest military in the world and they've done a job as usual," he said.
"We have given them total authorisation and that's what they're doing and frankly that's why they've been so successful lately.
"We have incredible leaders in the military, and we have incredible military. We are very proud of them. This was another very, very successful mission."
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said all appropriate measures were taken to avoid civilian injuries and the military is doing a damage assessment, with casualty figures not yet known.
It comes shortly after the US military confessed that another Coalition air strike on Syria on April 11 - this one targeting IS - had resulted in the deaths of 18 Syrian soldiers. The US said partnered forces had wrongly identified the location as an IS base, when it was in fact a strategic position for the Syrian Democratic Forces.
That error came just four days after the strike deliberately aimed at a Syria-controlled airfield thought to be the origin of a chemical attack on civilians.
The April 11 attack on Tabqah is the third US-led air strike in a month that may have killed civilians or allies. The Pentagon is also investigating two previous attacks that killed or wounded scores of civilians in a mosque complex in Syria and in a building in the west of Mosul, Iraq, the New York Times reports.
Claims regarding collateral damage have mounted as the campaign against IS in the Middle East intensified over the past few months.
The US is determined to stamp out the militants once and for all, with Iraqi forces attempting to retake Mosul and America's allies moving in on their stronghold in Raqqa, Syria.
Mr Trump has said he will allow the military more freedom, so this may simply be the result. Or it may be an attempt to tell a far bigger story about the great power of the US under its provocative President.