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October 7th Marks Year of Strategic Change

Story by Gunnery Sgt. Charles Portman, CENTCOM Public Affairs Office

MACDILL AFB, TAMPA, Fla., Oct. 7, 2002 -- It didn't take long after the Sept. 11 sneak attacks last year for the staff at U.S. Central Command to devise a war plan. "I was in Souda, Crete on the 11th of September when this happened," said CENTCOM Commander-in-Chief Gen. Tommy R. Franks. The general and members of his staff were on a routine trip to CENTCOM's area of responsibility, enroute to visit Pakistan President, Gen. Pervez Musharraf. "We did not have a plan in place to go take the Taliban down and go after the terrorist networks on the ground inside Afghanistan," Franks said. He cancelled his trip and immediately flew back to his headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, Florida.

"It was kind of eerie," one staff member said, "there were no planes up in the sky," when the general's aircraft returned to the United States. Franks recalls arriving back at his Tampa headquarters Sept. 12, and about eight or nine days later providing President George W. Bush "the plan we're now executing. "By the 2nd of October, I reported to him that things were in place," Franks said.

Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) commenced Oct. 7, 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 president has turned to direct overt military force," said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, "to complement the economic, humanitarian, financial and diplomatic activities which are already well underway."

"A new kind of war"

he first U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan were Special Operation Forces (SOF) who were sent in to engage in one of their specialties: unconventional warfare tactics alongside opposition forces; in this case, anti-Taliban groups. Though details about these covert operations initially were not made public, it didn't take long for images of horse-mounted soldiers riding with Northern Alliance troops to hit the airwaves. And when they did, an odd twist was added to the term "a new kind of war."

"Our goal is to make (the opposition forces) more successful," Rumsfeld said.

That goal clearly was accomplished in a matter of weeks. On Nov. 9 Mazar-e-sharif became the first Afghan city to be released from the Taliban's grip. In succeeding days, Taloqan, Herat and Shindand were liberated, followed by Kabul--Afghanistan's capital city on Nov. 13--and Jalalabad on Nov 14.

These victories were credited to coordination among Northern Alliance commanders and Special Forces liaison teams, Coalition air attacks, the rejection by Afghan citizens of Taliban control, and, in some areas, Taliban forces defecting to the opposition to prevent their own destruction.

Similar to previous wars, OEF became center stage for various new military technologies.

In Afghanistan, for example, SOF were lightly armed, but very well connected to networks, according to Vice Admiral Arthur Cebrowski, head of the Office of Force Transformation. "Our fighting forces are themselves sensors," Cebrowski said in an interview with IEEE Spectrum, "and they are connected to weapons systems and platforms that are capable of delivering enormous firepower."

Satellite imagery, unmanned aerial vehicles, and a host of reliable communications capabilities provided instantaneous communications, intelligence, and real-time visibility throughout the theater of war. These technological innovations enabled the CENTCOM leadership to effectively prosecute OEF while maintaining its headquarters 7,000 miles away. In conjunction with Coalition air-strikes, humanitarian air drops of food were part of OEF's first phase. By the end of week one, four C-17 transport aircraft were dropping more than 68,000 rations per day into Afghanistan.

It wasn't long after the Northern Alliance's compounded victories in the north that war planners called on the first conventional forces, U.S. Marines of Task Force 58, to join the fight. On Nov. 25 they seized Objective Rhino, a desert airstrip south of Qandahar, and established a forward operating base (FOB). In addition to establishing the base, a U.S. Marine Corps presence would help "pressure the Taliban forces in Afghanistan," and "prevent Taliban and Al Qaeda terrorists from moving freely about the country," Rumsfeld said.

During the remaining days of November, Konduz, the last Taliban stronghold in northern Afghanistan fell to opposition forces, and Bagram Airfield near Kabul became a forward operating base.

December was just as active: On Dec. 4 the first U.S. Army units deployed to Mazar-e-sharif, and on Dec. 7, Qandahar, the last major Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan surrendered to forces under the command of Hamid Karzai. Marines of Task Force 58 secured Qandahar Airport on Dec. 13.

By mid-month, many of the enemy had been reduced to "pockets" and "pools" of resistance; some hiding in caves, others on the run. Areas of strong enemy resistance in eastern Afghanistan, most notably Tora Bora and Zawar Kili, kept Coalition and opposition forces busy for the remainder of the month.

"The business around Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan is very dangerous business," Gen. Franks said.

Armed with Kalashnikov rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and some tanks, opposition troops fighting at Tora Bora were joined by U.S. Special Forces who also had small arms and "the ability to leverage an awful lot of air power," Franks said.

In the battle at Tora Bora, "we are dropping earth-penetrating bombs," Franks said. "We call them JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munition). We're dropping laser-guided bombs, and we have dropped what we call BLU-82, the daisy cutter-a 15,000-pound munition," he said.

In one bombing raid at Tora Bora, a plume of smoke was reported to have covered an area of two kilometers after a cave complex filled with enemy munitions was struck.

Security, stability, enemy dance

Hamid Karzai was sworn in as the prime minister of the Afghan interim government on Dec. 22, and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was established to assist with security in Kabul. By Jan. 3, the ISAF consisted of 4,500 international troops under the command of British Major Gen. John McColl.

In January 2002, as Coalition aircraft bombed an Al Qaeda complex at Zawar Kili, the number of Taliban and Al Qaeda detainees under U.S. control continued to increase. On Jan. 10, the first group of these detainees was flown from Qandahar Airport to Guantanamo, Cuba, where a facility known as Camp X-ray had been prepared to house the detainees. Minutes prior to the first plane's departure, the airfield received small arms fire. The Marines returned fire and launched a quick reaction force to investigate the shot.

"They wanted to dance, so we provided the music," a Marine gunnery sergeant reportedly said. "They were expecting Lawrence Welk, but we gave them some AC/DC."

The Marines of Task Force 58 at Qandahar were relieved Jan. 29 in place by elements of the Army's 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), which became known as Task Force Rakkasan (Japanese for "parachute"). Four weeks later at the airport, on Feb. 28, a United Nations' C-130 transloaded 16 metric tons of humanitarian assistance material to UN vehicles, marking the first UN humanitarian assistance cargo flights into Afghanistan.

The next day, Coalition forces from Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany and Norway joined U.S. troops in Operation Anaconda, one of the most visible and deadliest operations of the war up to that point. The operation was designed to assault enemy forces in southeastern Afghanistan. When Anaconda concluded, a total of eight American servicemen had been killed and 82 wounded in action.

In mid-May, Gen. Franks established Combined Joint Task Force-180 to provide an on-scene command-and-control structure in Afghanistan. The 18th Airborne Corps commander, Lt. Gen. Dan K. McNeill, was appointed as CJTF-180's first commander. He assumed responsibilities for the majority of the forces operating in Afghanistan.

At about the same time McNeill moved in to the area of operations, U.S. Special Forces were standing up a new Afghan National Army. On May 15, Gen. Franks traveled to Kabul to visit recruits of the newly formed army's first battalion. "To be with you as you step forward to represent and protect your country, my respect -- and the respect of the nation which supports you -- remains very, very strong," Franks told the recruits.

Before the first battalion graduated, an important Afghan political body known as the Loya Jirga convened and democratically elected Hamid Karzai as the president of the Afghan Transitional Authority. Karzai, who previously had been chairman of the Afghan Interim Authority, received 80 percent of the Loya Jirga votes.

Un-chartered depths of commitment and resolve

Despite the existence of an evolving national army and a transitional government, U.S. and Coalition military operations in Afghanistan continue, and areas in the country remain dangerous. Haji Abdul Qadir, the new Afghan vice president, was assassinated July 6, his first day in office. Coalition Forces continue to find large weapons caches, and attacks on friendly forces by small pockets of resistance are still a threat.

Regardless of the current situation in Afghanistan, a great deal of military and humanitarian progress has been made since last October.

Gen. Franks, a Vietnam combat veteran, recently told a Tampa Tribune editorial board that, according to military strategist Karl von Clausewitz (1780-1831), there are three critical elements a nation must maintain to win a war, and the U.S. has them all. "I've been in this line of work for more than 35 years, and this is the first time I've seen this," Franks said.

"Military capacity; we certainly have that. A decision by the state; I think you have not seen it waiver. And the will of the American people; it's in place now in a way that I think we've not experienced," Franks said.

"We should never, ever doubt the depth of commitment and resolve of this country."

USCENTCOM Historian Jay E. Hines contributed to this article



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