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Operation Enduring Freedom - Afghanistan

At approximately 0845 hours Eastern Daylight Time on Tuesday, 11 September 2001, a commercial airplane crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center complex in New York City. At that time, the severity of the incident, the numbers of people involved, and the reason for the crash were all unknown. Shortly after 0900 hours, a second plane hit the south tower of the World Trade Center.

Around 1000 hours, reports came in that another commercial plane hit the Pentagon, in Washington, DC, and a fourth commercial plane was downed in Somerset County, PA, about 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. Shortly after 1000 hours the south tower of the World Center collapsed. Within the next half-hour, the northern tower of the World Trade Center also collapsed. At approximately 1730 hours a third tower in the World Trade Center complex, Building #7, also collapsed. Wednesday evening, September 12, another building within the World Trade Center Complex collapsed.

After the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the United States military entered into a "War against global terrorism." The President began the US response in the War on Terrorism with the stroke of his pen to seize terrorists' financial assets and disrupt their fundraising network. Unlike most previous conflicts, this war was being fought on both domestic and foreign soil. Deployment of American troops to southwest Asia and countries surrounding Afghanistan came in the days following the attacks.

The military response to the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States was assigned the name Operation Enduring Freedom, but was previously planned to have been called Operation Infinite Justice (this name was believed to have been changed following concerns that this might offend the Muslim community as Islam teaches that Allah is the only one who can provide Infinite Justice).

OEF commenced on 7 October 2001. Early combat operations included a mix of air strikes from land-based B-1, B-2 and B-52 bombers; carrier-based F-14 and F/A-18 fighters; and Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from both U.S. and British ships and submarines.

The initial military objectives of Operation Enduring Freedom, as articulated by President George W. Bush in his Sept. 20th Address to a Joint Session of Congress and his 7 October 2001 address to country, included the destruction of terrorist training camps and infrastructure within Afghanistan, the capture of al Qaeda leaders, and the cessation of terrorist activities in Afghanistan.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld stated in an 7 October 2001 DoD News Briefing, that US objectives were to make clear to Taliban leaders that the harboring of terrorists was unacceptable, to acquire intelligence on al Qaeda and Taliban resources, to develop relations with groups opposed to the Taliban, to prevent the use of Afghanistan as a safe haven for terrorists, and to destroy the Taliban military allowing opposition forces to succeed in their struggle. Finally, military forces would help facilitate the delivering of humanitarian supplies to the Afghan people.

The British had also defined the goals of their involvement (termed Operation Veritas) in "Her Majesty's Government's Campaign Objectives," dated 16 October 2001. The short term goals of the military action included the capture of Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders, the prevention of further attacks by al Qaeda, the end of Afghanistan's harboring of terrorists, their training camps and infrastructure, and the removal of Mullah Omar and the Taliban Regime. Long term goals included the end of terrorism, the deterrence of state sponsorship of terrorism, and the reintigration of Afghanistan into the international community.

Lessons Learned

By mid-March 2002, CENTCOM was in the preliminary stages of capturing the lessons of the campaign. It was too early to draw final conclusions because the fight continues, but CENTCOM did have some emerging insights. These included:

  • Combining the resources and capabilities of the Defense Department, Central Intelligence Agency, and other agencies of the Federal government produced results no single entity could have achieved. Similarly, adopting flexible coalition arrangements enabled the US to leverage the strengths of individual nations. "The mission has determined the coalition; the coalition has not determined the mission."
  • The operation continued to be commanded and controlled from Tampa, Florida with fielded technology providing real-time connectivity to air, ground, naval, and Special Operations Forces operating 7000 miles away. CENTCOM forces were deployed from 267 bases; were operating from 30 locations in 15 nations; and at the time over-flew 46 nations in the course of operations. Yet, the ability to "see" the battlefield literally and figuratively at each location provided unprecedented situational awareness.
  • Security cooperation, diplomacy, and military-to-military contacts built relationships that had proven invaluable during the campaign. Humanitarian airdrops; economic and security assistance to coalition partners and regional allies; visits to the region by senior Administration, Congressional, and military officials; and a US commitment to post-conflict reconstruction of Afghanistan permitted the US to build upon these essential relationships. The investment in security cooperation had been repaid tenfold in access to basing, staging, and over-flight rights with regional partners.
  • Precision guided munitions were more than a force multiplier. They had reduced the numbers of air sorties required to destroy targets and had resulted in unprecedented low levels of collateral damage. From this perspective, use of precision guided munitions had produced a positive strategic effect.
  • As had been said in the past, the availability of strategic airlift was critical to the success of operations that required force projection. The existing airlift fleet required strict management and innovative scheduling and the experience in Operation Enduring Freedom seemed to validate the testimony the committee received in 2001 that the US had to expand its strategic lift capabilities.
  • The importance of combined and joint operations training and readiness was revalidated. The power of a well-trained air-ground team permitted the combination of 19th Century Cavalry and 21st Century precision guided munitions into an effective fighting force.
  • A continuous, unimpeded flow of intelligence remained key to success on the battlefield. Human intelligence was essential when mission objectives included locating, identifying, and capturing or killing mobile targets. This required people on the ground. Similarly, unmanned aerial vehicles had proven their worth in the skies over Afghanistan.
  • Information Operations had also been vital to the success of Operation Enduring Freedom. Psychological operations, electronic warfare, and a number of special capabilities had proven their value and potential. Continued development of these capabilities was essential.




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