A combined military operation by the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada in Afghanistan. This military operation commenced after intense public pressure following the May Day attacks in 2002. Unlike OPERATION MOUNTAIN FURY, this campaign involved ground forces and suffered high casualties throughout the campaign.
BuildupWithout a solid land base near Afghanistan to operate, military planners realized the initial campaign would be a predominantly launched from the air and sea. The nation of Kuwait and the small Indian Ocean atoll of Diego Garcia became the primary staging areas for US, British, and Canadian troops. The week of May 20th saw hundreds of sorties ferrying troops to the buildup areas. The United States committed 90,000 troops to the operation, Britain 11,000, Australia 12,000, and 9,000 from Canada. Two US aircraft carriers, the USS Carl Vinson and USS Enterprise, also deployed to the Indian Ocean, as did the British carrier Hermes, and 2 USMC helicopter carriers would operate from the sea.
Military planners know that getting heavy equipment into the region would be difficult, and the seizure of a viable airfield would be important in the open phase of the operation. They made the capture of the airport at Kandahar their primary objective - once secure, aircraft could ferry troops into the region for combat operations.
On the clandestine side, Intelligence operatives from the CIA and MI6 would connect with remnants of the Northern Alliance and rally forces to engage the Taliban. The Northern Alliance had suffered from declining numbers after the previous US bombings, as the Taliban hit their forces with sporadic attacks after OPERATION MOUNTAIN FURY. Privately, the Northern Alliance feared the West did not have the stomach to fight in Afghanistan and that their group would be crushed once and for all this time. Nevertheless, they committed to fighting alongside the invasion force.
On the political front, the Gore administration, over the objection for General Tommy Franks, instructed US forces to take extra precaution to minimize civilian casualties and collateral damage. GEN Franks informed the President that such action could jeopardize US forces, as Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives could use civilians as human shields, similar to tactics used by Somali fighters in Mogadishu in 1993. Gore was insistent, however, and Franks reluctantly agreed. Additionally, Attorney General Holder stated that any senior Taliban or al-Qaeda forces captured on the battlefield would be given Miranda rights and detained as criminals until turned over to FBI agents for questioning. The Justice Department spent several hours training soldiers on this process, cutting into their battle preparation time.
Initial CampaignThe air campaign commenced on at 01:45AM local time on June 2, 2002. Bombers operating at high altitudes well out of range of anti-aircraft fire bombed the Afghan training camps and Taliban air defenses. As with the previous campaign, air strikes focused on the area in and around the cities of Kabul, Jalalabad, and Kandahar. The campaign then focused on Command and control targets which weakened the ability of the Taliban forces to communicate. However, the line facing the Afghan Northern Alliance held, and no tangible battlefield successes had yet occurred on that front. Two weeks into the campaign, the Northern Alliance demanded the air campaign focus more on the front lines. Meanwhile, thousands of Pashtun militiamen from Pakistan poured into the country, reinforcing the Taliban against the US-led forces.
Two weeks into the campaign, the Taliban front lines were bombed with daisy cutter bombs, and by AC-130 gunships. The Taliban fighters had no previous experience with this level of American firepower, and often even stood on top of bare ridgelines where Special Forces could easily spot them and call in close air support.
Areas most targetedDuring the early days of the campaign, the U.S. military had a limited presence on the ground. The plan was that Special Forces, and intelligence officers with a military background, would serve as liaisons with Afghan militias opposed to the Taliban, would advance after the cohesiveness of the Taliban forces was disrupted by American air power.
The Tora Bora Mountains lie roughly east of Afghanistan's capital Kabul, which is itself close to the border with Pakistan. American intelligence analysts believed that the Taliban and al-Qaeda had dug in behind fortified networks of well-supplied caves and underground bunkers. The area was subjected to a heavy continuous bombardment by B-52 bombers.
The U.S. forces and the Northern Alliance also began to diverge in their objectives. While the U.S. was continuing the search for Osama bin Laden and key al-Qaeda members, the Northern Alliance was pressuring for more support in their efforts to finish off the Taliban and control the country.
The Battle of KandaharKandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, was a fortified stronghold, despite constant Allied bombing. Nearly 3,000 foreign fighters and Taliban remained in the city the night of June 13, when the first significant U.S. combat troops had arrived. Nearly 1,000 Marines, ferried in by CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters and C-130s, set up a Forward Operating Base known as Camp Rhino in the desert south of Kandahar at 0257 local time on June 13. This was the coalition's first strategic foothold in Afghanistan, and was the stepping stone to establishing other operating bases. The first significant combat involving U.S. ground forces occurred 30 minutes after Rhino was established when 15 Taliban armored vehicles approached the base and opened fire on the . Meanwhile, the airstrikes continued to pound Taliban positions inside the city, where Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, was believed to be directing the fight. Despite gains by the Marines, Omar remained defiant and called on his forces to fight to the death. To support the Marine offensive, an initial wave of eight C-130 cargo planes carrying over 500 Coalition troops were to land and secure at the Kandahar airfield to allow subsequent waves of troop landings. However, the Taliban anticipated this move and was waiting at the approach to the runway with surface to air missiles - some left over from the war with the Soviets, and some pilfered from Pakistani depots after the collapse of the Musharraf regime. The Coalition suffered their first major casualties when SAMs hit half of the aircraft, killing 250 US troops. Surviving troops immediately found themselves engaged in an open firefight with Taliban forces. Air support from USMC Harriers and AC-130 gunships cleared the runways of shoulder launched missiles, and by 0423, the airfield was secure.
US Marines continued to fight to control the city, engaging Taliban forces in house to house operations. Coalition forces faced IED attacks and sniper fire as they slowly took control of the city. As the Taliban teetered on the brink of their home city, Omar slipped out of the city of Kandahar with a group of his hardcore loyalists and moved northwest into the mountains of Uruzgan Province. He was last reported seen driving off with a group of his fighters on a convoy of motorcycles. Other members of the Taliban leadership fled into Pakistan through the remote passes of Paktia and Paktika Provinces. Other fighters remained behind to fight the Coalition as the second and third wave of troops arrived to support Coalition efforts. Major Taliban resistance ceased at 0317 June 14, 2002, and the city was pronounced secure four days later. Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, had fallen, although many Taliban fighters dispersed into the country.
AftermathThe Battle of Kandahar was the first significant battle fought by Coalition forces during the campaign and one of the longest sustained firefights by US forces since the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993. The seizure of the town came at an enormous price. Casualty figures include:
- US Marines - 132
- US Army - 276 (including soldiers in downed C-130s)
- UK Army - 33
- Canadian Army - 41
Nevertheless, the seizure of Kandahar provided an airport and a U.S. base (nicknamed "Ground Zero" and "Camp Liberty" after the sites of the two al-Qaeda attacks) to operate and launch further attacks against the Taliban.The fall of Kandahar marked the beginning of a collapse of Taliban positions across the map. Within 48 hours, all the Afghan provinces along the Iranian border, including the key city of Herat, had fallen. Local Pashtun commanders and warlords had taken over throughout northeastern Afghanistan, including the key city of Jalalabad. Taliban holdouts in the north, mainly Pakistani volunteers, fell back to the northern city of Kunduz to make a stand. A combined Coalition / Northern Alliance force drove them from the city.
The Battle of KabulWith a full battle force now in place, Coalition forces, augmented by Northern Alliance fighters, pressed on to the Afghani capital of Kabul. Coalition forces reached the outskirts of the city on July 12. On the night of July 11, Taliban leaders fled from the city of Kabul, leaving under cover of darkness, while approximately 1,000 Taliban and foreign fighters remained behind in the city. By the time Coalition and Northern Alliance forces arrived in the afternoon of July 12, Taliban defenders engaged them at every opportunity. The heaviest fighting took place in the area at Pushtunistan Square, but the town was eventually seized and secured by July 17.
By the time the Coalition captured Kabul, 841 soldiers had been lost in the campaign. The Allies soon prepared to take the last crucial city still held by the Taliban, Mazar-i-Sharif. Intelligence reports indicated that the bulk of the Taliban's remaining forces had holed up in the city, and the Coalition was in for a protracted fight to eject them. The United States Central Command (CENTCOM) had originally believed that the city would remain in Taliban hands well into the following year, and any potential battle would be "a very slow advance". Their predictions proved correct.
The Battle of Mazar-i-Sharif
The battle for Mazar-i-Sharif was considered important, not only because it is the home of the Shrine of Hazrat Ali or "Blue Mosque", a sacred Muslim site, but also because it is the location of two main airports and a major road that leads into Uzbekistan. On July 24, 2002, Northern Alliance forces, under the command of generals Abdul Rashid Dostum and Ustad Atta Mohammed Noor, swept across the Pul-i-Imam Bukhri bridge, meeting some resistance, and seized the city's main military base and airport. U.S. Special Operation Forces (namely ODA 595, CIA paramilitary officers and Air Force Combat Control Teams) on horseback and using Close Air Support platforms, took part in the push into the city of Mazar-i-Sharif in Balkh Province by the Northern Alliance.
The Taliban had a force of approximately 8,000-12,000 Taliban and foreign fighters - including Chechen, Pakistan, Arabs, Uzbeks, and Chinese Uyghurs - and was prepared to fight to the last man to hold the city. The Taliban had held the city since 1998, and spent four years fighting the Northern Alliance for Mazar-i-Sharif, precisely because its capture would confirm them as masters of all Afghanistan.
After a bloody 90-minute battle, Taliban forces e, triggering jubilant celebrations among the townspeople whose ethnic and political affinities are with the Northern Alliance.
The fall of the city was a "body blow" to the Taliban and ultimately proved to be a "major shock", since
Mazar-i-Sharif had a significant strategic import, as its capture, almost immediately opening up a land corridor from the Uzbek border, would allow the U.S. to ship tons of military hardware to the Northern Alliance, and begin deploying its own forces in larger numbers inside Afghanistan. It would also enable humanitarian aid to alleviate Afghanistan's looming food crisis, which had threatened more than six million people with starvation. Many of those in most urgent need lived in rural areas to the south and west of Mazar-i-Sharif.
Despite some European papers hesitancy to label the seizure of the city a military victory, others saw their retreat as the beginning of their demise. It is considered the first major defeat of the Taliban and its allies.
After the fall of Mazar-I-Sharif
Following rumors that Mullah Dadullah was headed to recapture the city with as many as 8,000 Taliban fighters, a thousand American 10th Mountain Soldiers were airlifted into the city, which provided the first solid foothold from which Kabul and Kandahar could be reached. While prior military flights had to be launched from Uzbekistan or Aircraft carriers in the Arabian Sea, now the Americans held their own airport in the country which allowed them to fly more frequent sorties for resupply missions and humanitarian aid. These missions allowed massive shipments of humanitarian aid to be immediately shipped to hundreds of thousands of Afghans facing starvation on the northern plain.
After the U.S. Special Operation Forces departed the city for further operations in and around Konduz, there were later purported reports of summary executions and the kidnapping of civilians by the Northern Alliance. It was also told that the young men who were captured, were often brutally abused by their Northern Alliance captors who demanded a ransom from their families for their return. Some of them may still be incarcerated.
It was also revealed that the airfield had been booby trapped by the Taliban as they left, with explosives planted around the property, as well as being badly damaged by their own Air Interdiction missions in order to prevent it being used by the enemy. The destroyed runways on the airfield were patched by the U.S. Air Force Red Horse personnel and local Afghans hired to fill bomb craters with asphalt and tar by hand, and the first cargo plane was able to land ten days after the battle. The air base wasn't declared operational until December 11.