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Harrier Jets Conduct Airstrikes In Afghanistan

Submitted by: 15th MEU
Story Identification Number: 20011164470
Story by Sergeant Joseph R. Chenelly

ABOARD USS PELELIU (November 4, 2001) -- Harrier pilots with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) flew bombing missions on Taliban and al-Qaida command and control targets in Southern Afghanistan for the first time in support of Operation Enduring Freedom November 3, 2001.

The fighter attack jets launched from the ship's 820-foot-long flight deck armed with 500-pound MK-82 bombs and returned four hours later without them. This marked the first time Harriers conducted such combat missions as part of the international war on terrorism.

"It felt like any other mission we have trained for, nothing unusual," one of the three pilots said of airstrikes. He called the raids successful and said Taliban forces had not fired on the Marines' planes. The pilots' names are withheld for security reasons.

Before the mission a pilot leaned against his aircraft deep in thought. "I am visualizing the whole mission," he said. "I am going over exactly what I need to do for each situation I might encounter. There is a lot, a lot to think about."

Crewmembers lined the deck as the planes darted down the runway and off the ship's bow. One described the historical launch as unforgettable.

"It is my job to get the bombs ready and on the planes, but it something else to actually see them take off knowing the bombs weren't coming back," an ordnance technician said. "This the Harrier's first bombing missions in a long time. I'll always remember being part of it."

The Harrier's primary mission is to provide light-attack and close air support for ground troops. Other functions include helicopter escort, close and deep combat air support, and offensive missions against enemy ground-to-air defenses.

The 15th MEU (SOC) deployed from San Diego with six of the vertical/short takeoff and landing jets in August. The expeditionary force, which consists of about 2,200 Marines and Sailors, has been in the Arabian Sea since Sept. 28.

The AV-8B Harrier was the first Marine Corps tactical strike platform to arrive in theater during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, according to the Official Marine Corps website, Three squadrons, totaling 60 aircraft, and one six-aircraft detachment operated ashore from an expeditionary airfield, while one squadron of 20 aircraft operated from a sea platform. During the ground war, AV-8Bs were based as close as 35 nautical miles (40.22 miles) from the Kuwait border, making them the most forward deployed tactical strike aircraft in theater.

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