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Operation Enduring Freedom - Operations

The Air War

The United States prepared target lists and controled the movement of all warplanes in Afghan airspace from the sophisticated operations center 1,000 miles away at Prince Sultan Air Base, near Riyadh in Saudia Arabia. Navy jets were flying 500 miles each way from carriers in the Arabian Sea. Air Force bombers also were flying six-hour round-trip missions from Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean and Air Force fighter bombers were flying from bases in the Persian Gulf, missions that take eight to nine hours.

During Operation Desert Storm, the military flew about 3,000 sorties a day. In Operation Enduring Freedom, the number was down to 200 sorties a day. The head of US Central Command, Army General Tommy Franks, said the 200 sorties a day hit roughly the same number of targets hit with 3,000 sorties in Operation Desert Storm. According to Franks, the US needed about 10 aircraft to take out a single target in Desert Storm, while in Enduring Freedom, a single aircraft was used to take out two targets on average.

Military planners at US Central Command initially calculated that it might take as long as five months before conditions would be ripe for an offensive against Kabul. After only 20 days of airstrikes, Northern Alliance forces began their march on the capital, and captured it 24 hours later.

A total of 211 US Air Force planes used Ukraine's air corridors between 9 October and 7 November 2001, according to the Ukrainian Defence Ministry. During this period, 78 C-17 transport planes, five C-130 and 128 KC-135 tanker aircraft used the Ukrainian corridors, mainly over the neutral waters of the Black Sea where aircraft were refueled. In November and December 2001, US tanker aircraft based in Bulgaria flew about six missions a day to refuel warplanes in the Afghan theater. A Bulgarian military airport in the Black Sea became a de facto US base, with about 200 Americans stationed there. Twenty US military flights to or from Afghanistan crossed Romania each day.

As of 23 October 2001 Air Force B-2, B-1 and B-52 bombers from the 28th Air Expeditionary Wing, Diego Garcia had expended more than 80 percent of the tonnage dropped on combat missions over Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. The Air Force had flown more than 600 sorties including strike missions against al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Afghanistan. These targets included early warning radars, ground forces, command and control facilities, al Qaeda infrastructure, airfields and aircraft.

On 20 November 2001 senior officials said that more than 10,000 bombs or missiles had been dropped or fired into Afghanistan during the war, of which over 60 percent were precision-guided munitions. By the end of November 2001, the eight B-1s and ten B-52s operating from Diego Garcia had reportedly dropped most of the 4,700 tons of munitions delivered by the Air Force, comprising 72 percent of the war's total by that time. The B-1 force was generating four sorties per day, while five B-52s were flying daily. Bomber crews who flew strike missions over Afghanistan from Diego Garcia atoll had quite a drive to get to and from their targets. Each round trip sortie, flown mostly over the vast Indian Ocean, could last from 12 to 15 hours, could involve extended stays over the country, and could be more than 5,500 miles. Including mission planning, each strike was at least a 24-hour affair. Planning was done mostly at night and would often take hours. Before a strike, aircrews studied flight plans. Most people memorized the bomb run. At Diego Garcia, the support team that kept the bombers flying worked nonstop. As the air campaign entered its fifth week, the members of the 332nd Air Expeditionary Group Munitions Maintenance Squadron were working at a breakneck pace building bombs.

By the end of November 2001, the US Air Force had flown more than 15 percent of the combat missions in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Aircraft employed included the B-1, B-2, B-52, F-15E, F-16 and AC-130H/U. These aircraft had dropped about 10,000 tons of munitions, amounting to more than 75 percent of the Operation Enduring Freedom total. More than 75 percent of the munitions expended were precision guided. By the end of November 2001, a total of 600 cluster bombs had been dropped, consisting of 450 BLU-103 and 150 BLU-87 munitions. By the end of November 2001 Air Force support aircraft, UAVs, RC-135, U-2, E-3, and EC-130E/H, had flown more than 325 missions.

By early December 2001 C-130 and C-17 cargo aircraft were maintaining a nightly air bridge to FOB Rhino south of Kandahar. The C-130's were averaging 10 flights in and out each night. Ultimately, C-17s flew 43 missions into Camp Rhino, delivering 1,450 tons of heavy equipment, such as graders, earth movers and bulldozers, and 419 passengers.

Through the end of air drops in December 2001, Central Command flew some 162 C-17 humanitarian sorties and dropped a total of 2.5 million individual rations.

In the first 76 days of operations, from 7 October to 23 December 2001, when sustained air operations slowed, the US flew about 6,500 strike missions over Afghanistan. About 17,500 munitions were expended on over 120 fixed target complexes and over 400 vehicles and artillery guns. A total of 57 percent of the weapons delivered were precision guided. Navy carrier-based planes flew 4,900 of the 6,500 strike sorties or 75 percent of the total. The Air Force, flying 25 percent of the sorties, delivered 12,900 weapons, over 70 percent of the total delivered. The B-1 and B-52 bombers flew 10 percent of the strike sorties, and delivered 11,500 of the 17,500 total munitions expended. The B-1 bombers reportedly dropped more bombs on Afghanistan than any other aircraft, and received recognition as a critical workhorse of the conflict.

As of 10 December 2001 approximately 12,000 bombs and missiles had been used. Of these munitions, about 60 percent were precision-guided bombs or missiles, while the remainder were unguided gravity bombs. As of mid-January 2002 about 4,600 of the 12,000 munitions expended were reportedly the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM). However, as of mid-January 2002 Vice Admiral John Nathman was reported as stating that more than 90 percent of all bombs dropped were laser-, TV- or satellite-guided munitions. This statement may have reflected only those munitions expended by the Navy.

As of 31 December 2001 the US AWACS fleet had logged 19,711 flight hours for the year, an increase of 4,457 hours over 2000. Almost 3,400 hours were spent flying Noble Eagle missions and another 2,500 on Enduring Freedom operations.

On 7 February 2002 US Central Command commander General Tommy R. Franks testified that 10,000 of the 18,000 bombs, missiles and other ordnance used to date were precision-guided munitions. Of the 10,000 precision munitions, about half were laser-guided bombs and ther other half were GPS satellite guided bombs. US aviation assets had flown over 20,000 sorties to date, with aircraft from US Navy aircraft carriers accounting for half the sorties, and US Air Force assets accounting for the other half. The Tomahawk targeting cycle had been reduced from 101 minutes during Allied Force to 19 minutes during Enduring Freedom, with half of the Tomahawks having been fired from submarines.

Tankers flew nearly 5,000 refueling sorties over Afghanistan between the time operations began on 7 October 2001 and late February 2002. Another 5,000 tanker sorties were flown from 11 September 2001 through late February 2002 to refuel US fighters over the continental US as part of Operation Noble Eagle.

From the start of operations in October through the battle of Shah-i-Kot in March 2002, the US dropped around 20,000 bombs on Afghanistan. By the end of March 2002 a total of 21,000 bombs and missiles had been dropped, the bulk of them precision-guided, since the American campaign in Afghanistan began in October 2001. As of mid-September 2002 it was reported that about 12,000 of the 24,000 bombs dropped in Afghanistan were guided munitions. Of that, about 9,000 were equipped with JDAM kits.

Shortly after Army & Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES)-Europe officials got the word from the senior military leadership in Europe that its contingency expertise was needed to support troops headed for Southwest Asia. AAFES moved quickly to establish seven tactical field exchanges (TFEs), all within a two-week period. The TFEs were located in six countries spread across the western region of southwest Asia. As of December 2001 AAFES has sites in Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan.

Operation Anaconda, the largest reported American ground action to date in the Afghan war, was launched on Friday, 1 March 2002. The aircraft flying daily missions over the battlefield, 10 long-range bombers, 30 to 40 fighters and two to four AC-130 gunships, were more than half the size of the force used in strikes across Afghanistan in the fall of 2001. More than 350 bombs and missiles had been dropped on targets during the first four days of fighting. US aircraft dropped 190 bombs on Sunday, 3 March 2002, more than twice as many as on Saturday, 2 March 2002. From 6:30 AM Afghan time Saturday through Sunday, more than 270 bombs had been dropped in support of Afghan, US and coalition forces. As of 5 March 2002 over 450 bombs had been dropped. Army AH-64 Apache attack helicopters were hit by enemy fire. By the end of continuous operations in late March, nearly 3,500 bombs had been dropped.

US troops suffered at least eight dead and 40 wounded during the first four days of action in Operation Anaconda in early March. Friendly fire deaths were three killed in one incident by a bomb dropped from a US warplane. A total of 26 had been killed in accidents, including 21 killed in airplane or helicopter crashes. By mid-August 2002, a total of 38 Americans had been killed in combat and noncombat incidents in Afghanistan, and more than 340 had been wounded.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:23:38 ZULU