Operation Enduring Freedom - Operations
Operation Enduring Freedom began on 7 October 2001, four weeks after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on America. 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 first US troops on the ground in Afghanistan were Special Operation Forces 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 did not take long for images of horse-mounted soldiers riding with Northern Alliance troops to hit the airwaves.
On 9 November 2001 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 13 November 2001, and Jalalabad on 14 November 2001.
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.
It was not long after the Northern Alliance's compounded victories in the north that war planners called on the first conventional forces, US Marines of Task Force 58, to join the fight. On 25 November 2001, they seized Objective Rhino, a desert airstrip south of Qandahar, and established a forward operating base (FOB). In addition to establishing the base, a US Marine Corps presence was to help "pressure the Taliban forces in Afghanistan," and "prevent Taliban and Al Qaeda terrorists from moving freely about the country," US Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said.
During the remaining days of November 2001, Konduz, the last Taliban stronghold in northern Afghanistan fell to opposition forces, and Bagram Airfield near Kabul became a forward operating base.
December 2001 was just as active. On 4 December 2001 the first US Army units deployed to Mazar-e-sharif, and on 7 December 2001, 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 13 December 2001.
By mid-month, many of the enemy had been reduced to "pockets" and "pools" of resistance, with some hiding in caves, others on the run. Areas of strong enemy resistance in eastern Afghanistan, most notably in the areas of Tora Bora and Zawar Kili, kept Coalition and opposition forces busy for the remainder of the month.
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.
Through the course of the operation, more than 100 "Sensitive Site" exploitations had been conducted, seeking evidence of Al Qaida/Taliban or weapons of mass destruction. As forces had attacked "Caves and Tunnels" to deny the enemy safe harbor, "Radio Broadcast and Leaflet Programs" had effectively informed the population of US goals and encouraged enemy forces to surrender.
Hamid Karzai was sworn in as the prime minister of the Afghan interim government on 22 December 2001, and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was established to assist with security in Kabul. By 3 January 2002, ISAF consisted of 4,500 international troops under the command of British Major General 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 US control continued to increase. On 10 January 2002, 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 them. 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.
The Marines of Task Force 58 at Qandahar were relieved 29 January 2002 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 28 February 2002, 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 US 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 2002, General Tommy Franks established Combined Joint Task Force-180 (CJTF-180) to provide an on-scene command-and-control structure in Afghanistan. The 18th Airborne Corps commander, Lt. General Dan K. McNeill, was appointed as CJTF-180's first commander. He assumed responsibilities for the majority of the forces operating in Afghanistan at that time.
At about the same time McNeill moved in to the area of operations, US Special Forces were standing up a new Afghan National Army (ANA). Eventually this task was passed to Combined Joint Task Force Phoenix, initially headed by elements of the 10th Mountain Division (Light), who initiated various training programs for the fledgling ANA). CJTF Phoenix was still in operation as of 2008, some 6 years and 7 command rotations later.