|Operation Phantom Fury|
|Part of the War on Terrorism|
U.S. Army Rangers near the town of Kara-Shuluk, Uzbekistan on May 17, 2007.
|Date||May 12 - May 18, 2007|
|Location||Surxondaryo Province, Uzbekistan|
|Result|| Decisive U.S. victory
Operation Phantom Fury was a U.S. Special Operations mission authorized by U.S. President John McCain in 2007 in order to secure former Soviet nuclear weapons stockpiles in Uzbekistan that had the potential to be used by terrorists organisations, including al-Qaeda.
The operation was carried out between May 12 to May 18, 2007. The operation was successful after a combined force of U.S. Army Rangers, U.S. Special Forces and Delta Force secured an ex-Soviet nuclear warhead during an intense firefight outside the Uzbek town of Kara-Shuluk with terrorists of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) that claimed the lives of several U.S. Rangers.
In total the United States lost three U.S Army Rangers, five Delta Force and one UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, including eight U.S. Special Forces and eight Nightstalkers.
One of the U.S. government's greatest concerns following the declaration of the War on Terrorism was the possibility of terrorist organisation, such as al-Qaeda, obtaining loose nuclear weapons. The collapse of the Soviet Union led to the possibility that former Soviet nuclear weapons might become available on the black market (so-called 'loose nukes'), while no warheads were known to be have been mislaid, it has been alleged that suitcase-size bombs might be unaccounted for.
On November 10, 2006 U.S. Intelligence sources indicated that the terrorist organisation Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) had regrouped in southern Uzbekistan following their near destruction in 2001 under Tohir Yo‘ldosh. This was confirmed in another report on December 4, 2006 which indicated that the organisation had been in contact with al-Qaeda operatives. Noticing the increased contact between the two organisations, the CIA began a substantial surveillance effort to track them and detect what the reasons of the contacts were. On February 7, 2007 intelligence sources reported that the IMU might have acquired a former Soviet nuclear device, possibly from the black market. When reports on February 10 and 15 confirmed their suspicions, U.S. President John McCain was informed of the threat of the IMU.
President McCain decided to act quick and swiftly by authorizing a Special Operations mission the same day to secure the warhead and destroy the terrorist organisation. On February 20 the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (also known as the "Delta Force") and the 5th Special Forces Group was dispatched to the ISAF base PRT MEYMANA in northern Afghanistan (the base housed 420 Norwegian ISAF soldiers). While the PRT MAZAR-E-SHARIF was located closer to the Afghan-Uzbek border, it was decided to divert any Taliban/al-Qaeda informants in the area.
However, a problem soon presented itself - Uzbekistan. Previously close to Washington (which gave Uzbekistan half a billion dollars in aid in 2004, about a quarter of it military), the government of Uzbekistan has recently restricted American military use of the air base at Karshi-Khanabad for air operations in neighboring Afghanistan. Uzbekistan was an active supporter of U.S. efforts against worldwide terrorism and joined the coalitions that have dealt with both Afghanistan and Iraq. The relationship between Uzbekistan and the United States began to deteriorate after the so-called "color revolutions" in Georgia and Ukraine (and to a lesser extent Kyrgyzstan). When the U.S. joined in a call for an independent international investigation of the bloody events at Andijon, the relationship took an additional nosedive, and President Islom Karimov changed the political alignment of the country to bring it closer to Russia and China, countries which chose not to criticize Uzbekistan's leaders for their alleged human rights violations. In late July 2005, the government of Uzbekistan ordered the United States to vacate an air base in Karshi-Kanabad (near the Uzbekistan's border with Afghanistan) within 180 days. Karimov had offered use of the base to the U.S. shortly after 9/11. It is also believed by some Uzbeks that the protests in Andijan were brought about by the UK and US influences in the area of Andijan. This is another reason for the hostility between Uzbekistan and the West.
In March 2007, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell secretly met with the Uzbek government, including Foreign Minister Vladimir Norov, Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev and President Islom Karimov. The negotiations between the United States and Uzbekistan continued for several weeks, and on April 16 an agreement was reached. The government of Uzbekistan would allow the United States to use the air base in Karshi-Kanabad and operate inside Uzbekistan to secure the warhead. In return, the U.S. should give the Uzbek government further economic and military aid worth two billion dollars.
With the support of the Uzbek government, President McCain ordered Operation Phantom Fury, the Special Operations mission to secure the nuclear warhead, to be initiated on May 12, 2007.
At 02:10 A.M. UTC+5 on May 12, 2007, the 3rd Battalion, 75th Rangers Regiment, Delta Force and the 5th Special Forces Group conducted a successful infiltration operation in southern Uzbekistan from UH-60 Black Hawk and MH-47 Chinook helicopters. In order to prevent the IMU from escaping the area with the nuclear warhead, three objectives were set up to cut off the road to Tajikistan and to the rest of the country.
To the north, the Rangers were assigned to seize and hold "Objective Phoenix" along the highway M41 (outside of Tortuli and Sariasiya) and then begin searching the area to the north, west and south of Tortuli. To the west, Delta Force was assigned to seize and hold "Objective Rhino" south of Ambarasay and then begin searching the area around Ambarasay, Denau and Kairma and Schmurtschi. To the east, Special Forces were assigned to seize and hold "Objective Oscar" along to Tajikistan close to the town of Ulan-Kul', and then searching the area around Ulan-Kul', Pistmazar and Besh-Kopa.
While the infiltration operation of the Delta Force and the Special Forces went unnoticed, the Rangers were surrounded by IMU at "Objective Phoenix" and a firefight ensued. For three hours they were pinned down east of Tortuli, and with the support of MH-60L DAP Black Hawk gunships, the IMU insurgents were driven off, with around 30 militants killed.
During the following days, the U.S. forces searched the area for the nuclear package, eliminating all IMU strongholds and bases along the way. They were supported by soldiers of the Uzbek Army. However, there was no presence of the nuclear weapon in the area around Tortuli, Ambarasay, Denau, Kairma abd Ulan-Kul'. On May 15 the Special Forces captured an IMU holdout in Besh-Kopa. While killing around 20-30 terrorist, they obtained evidence that the nuclear weapon was located in the area. This was confirmed by evidence seized by the Delta Force at a farm outside of Schmurtschi, which indicated that it might be located in the village of Kara-Shuluk.
At 12:00 A.M. on May 18, the Rangers, Delta Force and elements of the Special Forces prepared for an assault on Kara-Shuluk the same night. At 1:20 A.M. they began the assault, and an intense firefight ensued. With the support of MH-60L DAP Black Hawk gunships and mortar fire, the U.S. has secured the nuclear warhead by 3 AM. While killing over 100 IMU terrorist, they suffered only three killed in action and nine wounded.
In response to the call of the successful seizure of the nuclear weapon, two MH-47 Chinook helicopters, four UH-60 Blackhawks and two AH-64D Longbows were dispatched from the air base at Karshi-Khanabad to provide extraction for the nuclear weapon. Around two km north of Denau one of the Black Hawk helicopters carrying eight U.S. Special Forces and eight Nightstalkers - members of the Army's elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment - was shot down at 03:37 A.M. by what is believed to have been a rocket propelled grenade shot through the open rear ramp killing all sixteen on board.
Delta Force rushed to the scene to rescue the downed pilot. When arriving at the scene, the came under heavy fire from around 100 IMU insurgents. After an intense firefight the Delta Force managed to kill around 60 terrorists, while the remaining 40 managed to escape into the mountains. Delta Force, supported by gunships and Uzbek soldiers pursued them into the mountains, At 4:00 they identified Tohir Yo‘ldosh, the leader of the IMU, as one of the terrorists killed by U.S. soldiers in the mountainous regions.
At 6:00 A.M. Operation Phantom Fury was concluded when the nuclear warhead was transported to the Karshi-Khanabad air base and then to Kabul in a C-130 Hercules transport aircraft.