Analysis. American advances in Afghanistan and other Central Asian republics can be read as part of a quiet battle for spheres of influence.

The ‘mother of all bombs’ is part of a tussle for Central Asia

The day after the U.S. dropped the “mother of all bombs,” American combat helicopters continued clearing Afghan territory in Nangarhar province, in the Achin district, where tunnels built by the mujahideen during the Soviet war (using American money, as Edward Snowden pointed out in a tweet) are now being used as tactical shelters by the Islamic State.

The district is largely deserted, and, according to the Afghan government, only a single family lived in the area of bombardment (the village of Mohmand Dara) and was evacuated in time. No civilians were killed, according to Kabul, only “Caliphate” militants.

The dead number at least 40, or as many as 70, but the toll is probably temporary, and so could the news of civilian casualties. At the very least, they have lost crops and houses in the operation, which unleashed 11 tons of explosives at a cost to American taxpayers of $15 million.

Reactions to the operation, which took place on the eve of a conference on Afghanistan called by Russia, have been varied. Kabul, for its part, is pleased. The government has long been under the thumb of U.S. dictates, and it supports the escalation of air raids, which have been going on for over a year. The presidential palace views the American bomb as an adjunct to national army operations.

It’s no secret the the two-headed executive of Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah has been awaiting the arrival of Trump in the hope that the Americans (who now have 8,500 soldiers in Afghanistan alongside fewer than 5,000 NATO troops, including 1,000 Italians) will decide, in contrast to Obama, to increase the military contingent.

For Ghani, it would be a relief, not because of the prospect of war, but because of the injection of fresh money that more troops would mean in an increasingly asphyxiated economy. As foreign militaries have withdrawn, they’ve left only the memory of the good old days when more than 100,000 soldiers were stationed in the country.

The harshest voice opposing the air strike is that of the ex-President Hamid Karzai, who testily asserted that to Washington, Afghanistan is just a place to test new weapons. The Special Envoy for Pakistan Uman Zakehlwal echoed that sentiment, calling the bomb “wrong and counterproductive.”

Reactions from the people on the street, according to accounts in the local press, are also mixed. There are those who believe the attack was out of self-interest and not to help the Afghans, and others, like a student in Kabul, say the bomb was directed at Moscow.

That student’s reaction is the most interesting reading. At the Afghanistan summit, which opened Saturday in Moscow, the Americans arrived amid an atmosphere of anxiety about the Russian advances toward the country it occupied in 1979.

Two other conferences have already been organized, bringing together everyone from Iran to China, from India to Pakistan and the five republics of the former Soviet Union in Central Asia. And there is, of course, Kabul, which, although it’s publicly siding with Washington and its politics, has willingly accepted some support initiatives from the Russians.

This part of the world seems to be backsliding toward the days of the “Great Game” and the Cold War, a pawn to be played in bout of two giants. If Washington is concerned by the return of Russia to the stage, Moscow is alarmed by the American advances on its southern side. Since taking control of Afghanistan, it’s now broadened its scope to wooing the Central Asian republics, traditional allies of Russia.

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