Task Force K-Bar and Canada’s JTF2, the beginning of the Afghan ground war
The first six months of the Afghan War
By Ed Marek
May 21, 2013
No one in the US will forget the enemy air attack on the United States that occurred on September 11, 2001. But very few of us know or remember what happened very shortly thereafter on the ground, lasting from October 2001 through April 2002. This report covers the first six months of the war in Afghanistan, but with a special focus.
This report focuses mainly on the war in southern Afghanistan, led by an outfit known as Task Force K-Bar.
The aerial attack against the United States known as 9-11 occurred on September 11, 2001. By September 17, just six days later, a war plan was on President George W. Bush’s desk. It was called Operation Enduring Freedom-Afghanistan, OEF-A. It was a new kind of war plan for the US. This would be largely a special forces-led operation, at least that was the intent in the beginning. Of course, we know it did not turn out that way, and could not have. I understand it remains a classified document to this day.
He wrote that the “Northern Alliance, a united front of Tajiks, Hazarra, and Uzbeks, and anti-Taliban Pashtun forces (fought) a war of maneuver against the Taliban and foreign fighter supporters … The US contribution came in the form of airpower and advice from Special Operations Forces and Central Intelligence Agency paramilitary personnel.” He seems to say that the most significant aspect of this endeavor was that these ground forces could marry themselves with the massive and conventional US and Allied air power brought to bear against the enemy. As you will see, the special operations forces also worked with conventional ground forces from multiple nations as well. That is in part due to the fact that heavy-duty force was needed, more than a small special operations force could apply.
Whatever the case, the Taliban had an estimated 50,000 troops throughout Afghanistan, largely in Kabul and Jalalabad.
With that in mind, let’s proceed with the special operations theme of the initially fight.
President Bush tasked SOCOM to be the lead against terrorist networks.
Much of the special forces’ operations during these first six months was done fairly secretly. This means there is little on the public record. That in turn means I have had to rely on media reports and a few testimonials now available from those who participated.
I have decided to accept the notion that the US had no pre-existing plan for this kind of war, and, had to develop the plan based on precious little unique intelligence, and quickly. Some experts assert the US had a plan to attack Afghanistan prior to 9-11. I cannot get into that here. But I will say the Taliban government was in the US radar screen prior to 9-11. You might recall US forces attacked targets in the Taiban-led Afghanistan as early as 1998.
As it turns out, ODA 574 returned to the US, and then went into Afghanistan, which I will touch on in a moment.
OEF-A’s mission --- and this is very important --- was to take down the Taliban Government in Kabul and destroy al-Qaeda enemies harbored by the Taliban government, al-Qaeda being the organization thought to be behind the 9-11 attacks.
Steven Bowman and Catherine Dale for the Congressional Research Service, said:
“The United States launched Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in order to end the ability of the Taliban regime to provide safe haven to al-Qaeda and to put a stop to al-Qaeda’s use of the territory of Afghanistan as a base of operations for terrorist activities.”
I say this is important because spreading democracy, rebuilding Afghanistan, and conducting counterinsurgency operations (COIN) were not in the original mission. The mission plan was successfully completed within a matter of weeks if not months. But the mission kept changing and expanding and we are still fighting in 2013. Speaking editorially, this angers me. But let’s press on.
Dwight John Zimmerman, in his paper, “Task Force K-Bar - Special Operations Forces and Operation Enduring Freedom,” said that Calland, for operational purposes, “divided the country into two commands: Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-North (CJSOTF-N) and Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-South (CJSOTF-S).”
The northern command was mostly Army Special Forces joined with Afghan nationals who had formed what was known as the Northern Alliance. It was known as Task Force Dagger. Its objective was to take down the Taliban government. Its forces were often known as the “horse soldiers.”
The southern command was named Task Force K-Bar and was tasked to fight against al-Qaeda terrorism and, as described by Zimmerman, “To unilaterally destroy al-Qaeda’s ability to conduct operations in the country.” CJSOTF-S initially operated from Oman, but later move to forward locations in southern and eastern Afghanistan.
A note on geography. Task Force Dagger, working up north, faced some of the most difficult mountain terrain in the world. They might be air assaulted in by helicopter, or they might ride horses, in most cases then having to climb to locations suitable for their operation. Task Force K-Bar in the south faced mostly plateau, and could often use vehicles to move about, along with helicopters for air assaults. K-Bar, as you will see later, concentrated roughly on the area bound by Ghazni, Gardez, Khowst and Qandahar (Kandahar), while Dagger worked farther to the north with the Afghan Northern Alliance, from where they took Kabul. BUt these lines are not rigid, and they would, as you’ll see later, often converge.
US air attacks against the Taliban an al-Qaeda began on October 7, 2001. US and British air and sea launched Tomahawak cruise missiles started the air campaign on that date, targeting air defense installations, the defense ministry, airport-base command and control centers, airfields, electrical grids and other energy production facilities, for the most part, strategic targets. This is the traditional way air forces like to operate.
To underscore the point, Thomas E. Ricks, writing for The Washington Post published on December 9, 2001, said this:
“He (Rumsfeld) pushed subordinates hard in October to move Special Operations target spotters to the front lines of the Northern Alliance, a move that would prove decisive by making the U.S. bombing more effective.”
Ricks also said, “To a large degree, the Afghan war is Rumsfeld's war.”
But the air forces were forced by events on the ground to quickly switch to tactical support roles and provide cover for Northern Alliance movements on the ground, especially against Kabul. They would respond most frequently to reconnaissance and targeting by the special forces. Kabul was not the only target; facilities in Kandahar also bore a great brunt of the attacks as did Jalalabad in the east and Mazir-e-Sharif in the north (refer back to physical map above). Some, perhaps many, of these air attacks came from an air base in Uzbekistan.
As I read air forces analyses, experts saw this switch from strategic to tactical targeting so quickly to be a major event for the fliers, who were forced to demonstrate enormous flexibility --- many did not know what their target might be until shortly before launch, and that could change while on their way.
In effect, the Rumsfeld’s plan to keep conventional ground forces out of this war was out the window very early on.
Here you see a B-52 dropping bombs on Afghanistan, a photo said to have been taken on October 7, 2001.
Naval aircraft launched from the USS Carl Vinson for the initial naval attacks. As an aside, Capt. Bruce W. Clingan, USN, took command of the Vinson one day before the attacks, on October 6. Vinson left the area after 70 days of flying and fighting. This photo shows F/A-18 aircraft preparing for launch from the Vinson on October 7, 2001.
General Richard B. Myers, USAF, CJCS, announced on October 7, 2001, "About 15 land-based bombers, some 25 strike aircraft from carriers, and US and British ships and submarines launching approximately 50 Tomahawk missiles have struck terrorist targets in Afghanistan." The bombers staged from Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, a 2,500 mile one way trip. Navy fighters flew about 700 miles one way from their carriers. I believe USAF fighters launched from Uzbekistan, but have not pinned that down yet. So distance was a problem. By previous American standards, this was not a large commitment of aircraft or cruise missiles.
The USS Enterprise was on her way home from the Persian Gulf, but was sent back to the Arabian Sea and conducted air operations as well, mostly night operations, through late October 2001, after which she headed home. The USS Theodore Roosevelt arrived on station on October 15, 2001, and began air operations. And finally, the USS Stennis arrived on December 15. So that put four carrier strike groups in the region, each accompanied by many ships and each with at least one submarine and an Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) packed with Marine Expeditionary Units (MEU).
Many sources have argued that the air campaign caused enormous civilian casualties and was ineffective. I am not prepared to go into that subject here either. I will simply say the war was on. What is clear is that the air that was employed mostly against enemy forces on the ground pummeled them. One Air Force officer said this about the Taliban as a target: “They just got swacked,”
I’m going to leave the air campaign and concentrate more on what was happening on the ground.
ODA 574, mentioned earlier, trained in the US at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky and deployed to a base outside Afghanistan in October 2001, again with 12 men all together. While outside Afghanistan, they planned, trained, and planned. Capt. Amerine was still in command, and he said he also received a lot of guidance. Much of the intelligence he received came from the USAF.
ODA 574 then infiltrated Oruzgan province and linked up with an Afghan leader named Hamid Karzai who had assembled a group of Pashtun fighters. Pashtuns are the main ethnic group in Afghanistan and their presence extends into Pakistan.
Karzai (white arrow) believed the province’s capital, Tarin Kowt, was the heart of the Taliban movement, and urged it be the target. He felt taking it would be a tremendous psychologic victory. He felt also that he could prove to the people that he had the power to take on the Taliban, and that the people would rise up behind him.
The problem cited by ODA 574 was that they were unsure they could protect the area once taken. The Taliban presented a large threat with forces in nearby Kandahar. At the beginning, the ODA 574 and Karzai’s group amounted to only about 30 men. The first orders of business were to bring in more ammunition, arms and build a larger force. While they attracted several hundred men to fight, only about 30-60 were capable of maneuvering about.
This is a central point of the war in its early stages. Even the special forces understood they did not have enough numbers of weapons and supplies to conduct a major ground war. By reading the memoirs, you can tell from nearly everyone on the ground that they could not hold what they took. They almost always had to leave. That is because they lacked sufficient forces. I personally recall hearing this complaint from many, many British conventional forces --- even they were short-handed after they came.
On November 16, 2001, the people of Tarin Kowt rose up against the Taliban and chased them out. Everyone, even Karzai, was surprised. ODA 574 was skeptical about their ability to hold against a counterattack, but saw no alternative but to take Karzai’s advice and go in. They assembled a make-shift convoy of whatever vehicles they could get and went in. The town was quiet when they arrived. Karzai went in to meet with the governor and tribal leaders, while ODA 574 started pushed out to get the lay of the land.
The town’s elders informed all hands that a Taliban convoy was on its way to the town with perhaps as many as 300-500 men, expected to arrive within a couple days. Capt. Amerin saw the hand-writing on the wall --- he needed to get back to his men and get organized for a fight.
His troopers began analyzing the maps, and their USAF air controller prepared a warning order for the USAF and Navy that would lay out the kind of air support they would require. The plan that evolved placed the ground force in “overwatch” positions in high terrain, from where they would direct in the air against the enemy long before it arrived. This is a classic special forces mission.
Karzai had a good intelligence network, people spread all over, and had good satellite telephone communications. Karzai spoke with people around the world, including the UN, and around the region in which they were located, most especially with the group known as the Northern Alliance, a large and mixed back of ethnic groups formed in 1996 after the Taliban took over in Kabul. Its men had been fighting against the Taliban. The Alliance was ready to join up with the Americans and Karzai. For his part, Karzai had no second in command so he did most of the work himself.
Not only did Karzai have to do much of the work with his points of contact, but now ODA 574 realized it had to keep him alive --- there was no number two.
After a few days, US military aircraft were flying up and down the major routes between Kandahar and Tarin Kowt. Most of the flights were reconnaissance and surveillance in nature. Navy F/A-18 pilots then spotted a convoy of 8-10 vehicles. Capt. Amerin has stressed that up to this full speed ahead. At dawn, Amerin took his men and about 20-30 Afghans, loaded up into their vehicles, and headed to a mountain pass they had identified as most surely a route the Taliban would have to take.
Amerin said the terrain was perfect. They were not on a mountain as they had planned, but they were on the edge of a plateau overlooking where the mountain pass fed into a valley.
Then, the war began. Some friendlies took on the incoming convoys, the radio call went out, “troops in contact,” and the air circling above swopped in. Some of the Afghans with ODA 574 panicked and ran. The ODA had no choice but to leave with them. The air attacks continued, and forward air controllers arrived to direct them against their targets.
In the mean time, the ground force reached an outpost outside of town, a place where they would have to stop any Taliban advance into the town. People from the village poured out with their weapons in quite a disorganized fashion. Amerin’s lead NCOs had to push people back, and get the armed men organized into some kind of defense.
The air controllers targeted the lead convoy vehicles, wiped them out, then went after the new lead vehicles, and did the same. About 10 or 20 enemy made it into town and there was a brief firefight. The enemy was driven away. Several enemy attempts to get into town failed, and the convoy turned around. The air power decimated them while they retreated.
The next stop for this group was Kandahar and more fighting.
I spent time on this battle, even though it did not involve Task Force K-Bar, because it was the first major battle of the war. It also gives you some insights into the character of how this war started.
I now want to turn to the south, to Task Force K-Bar. Unlike ODA 574, K-Bar had no such Afghan allies on which they could depend, nothing like the Northern Alliance in any event. The battle in the south was almost exclusively a special operations endeavor, led by the US, but with allied participation.
Task Force K-Bar was led by the US Navy SEALS. It took its name from a military knife used by the SEALs.
You will recall I said earlier that Task Force K-Bar was commanded by Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-South (CJSOTF-S). CJSOTF-s’ first operation was to support a seaborne assault of elements of the 15th MEU, art of Task Force 58, into the area of operations.
This included an amphibious landing at Chur Beach just west of Pasni, Pakistan on November 20, 2001. Pasni is on the Arabian Sea in southern Pakistan. The 15th MEU, embarked on the USS Peleliu ARG, came all the way from East Timor, departing on or about 9-11, arriving off-shore Pakistan a few days before the Afghan War began.
On October 7, 2001, elements of the 15th MEU flew into Pakistan’s Pasni airfield and then moved north to protect Shahbaz Air Base in Jacobabad, shown here, a major Pakistani AF base for its F-16s. This air base is located about 300 miles southeast of Kandahar, Afghanistan. It was one of three Pakistani air bases used in the beginning by the US to support the war in Afghanistan.
It also included the insertion of 20 SEALs from Naval Special Warfare Group One into Objective Rhino in the southeast Afghanistan. We’ll address this in a few moments.
Let’s take a look at this Task Force K-Bar.
Senior Chief Journalist Austin Mansfield, USN Naval Special Warfare Command, wrote this, released on December 8, 2012:
“The Task Force was comprised of US Navy SEALs (Sea, Air, Land), Special Warfare Combatant-craft crewmen, US Army Special Forces, US Air Force Combat Controllers, and Coalition special operations forces from Canada, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and Turkey.”
Dwight Jon Zimmerman, reporting for defensemedianetwork, elaborated a bit more on the composition of the task force in a report published on September 19, 2011. He said:
“In addition to SEALs, Marines, Navy Seabees, Army Special Forces, Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) troops, Army helicopter support, and and Army 4th Psychological Operations Group personnel, Task Force K-Bar included special operations personnel from Joint Task Force 2 (Canada), the Australian Special Air Service Regiment, New Zealand Special Air Service, Kommando Spezialkräfte (Germany), Jægerkorpset og Frømandskorpset (Denmark), Jegerkommando og Marinejegerkommandoen (Norway), and Turkish Special Forces.”
I also have read that the Army’s 3rd Special Forces Group (SFG) was part of K-Bar.
Later on, I will focus your attention on the Canadian special forces known as JTF2. I mean no disrespect toward the others, but need to keep the report manageable.
Harward also had an Air Force component to his task force from the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), in the form of Pave Hawk helicopters, AC-130 gunships (example shown in photo), MC-130 Combat Talon penetrators. All these forces had access to air-to-air refuelers. The Air Force component came largely from the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) at Hurlburt Field, Florida. This was a fairly new command, small, only about 12,800 people and about 100 aircraft. About a quarter of the command came from the Reserves and National Guard.
The forces employed for operations in Afghanistan set up shop at Karshi-Khanabad Air Base, Uzbekistan, nicknamed “K2” for short and ease of pronunciation. It was fairly close to northern Afghanistan. Colonel Frank Kisner, USAF, became the air component commander and Colonel John Mulholland, USA, 5th Special Forces Group (SFG) joined with him at K2 to run the unconventional war operation for Admiral Cleland.
The AFSOC elements employed old aircraft. And, the Congress was reluctant to give them what they needed. The C-130 modified for special operations was the core, using AC-130 gunships, MC/HC-130 refuelers and troop carriers. The Army brought in MH-47 Chinooks, MH-60 Black Hawks, and Special Forces “A-Teams,” which are the basic elements of special forces units, usually small in numbers, and they are the ones who get out into the field to get the job done.
In addition, Navy F/A-18 Hornets and F-14 Tomcats were employed from a carrier strike group offshore Pakistan.
In retrospect, Harward said he could have used more capabilities for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. He was especially in favor of the P-3 Orion aircraft, on which he would have put a SEAL to help with targeting. He did have access to imaging from unmanned Predator drones, but preferred having a man in the loop mostly for positive identification purposes. He was a great fan of human intelligence gained on the ground, an area where special forces are very good. He thought the AC-130 gunship was a “tremendous asset.” Harwood also commented that he lacked interoperability among the allies, especially in the area of integrating weapons systems.
All together, Harward had about 2,800 troops, with about 1,300 in Afghanistan and another 1,500 scattered throughout a variety of bases in the region.
Chief Mansfield went on to write:
“During its six-month existence, Task Force K-BAR was the driving force behind myriad combat operations. These extremely high-risk missions set a powerful precedent, and included search and rescue; recovery dive operations; boardings of high-interest, non-compliant vessels; special reconnaissance; sensitive site exploitation; direct action; hydrographic reconnaissance; destruction of multiple cave and tunnel complexes; apprehension of military and political detainees; identification and destruction of al-Qaeda training camps; explosion of thousands of pounds of enemy ordnance; and successful coordination of unconventional warfare operations for Afghanistan.”
On December 7, 2004, President George W. Bush awarded the Presidential Unit Citation to members of CJSOTF-S/Task Force K-Bar in a private ceremony. This was the first time since the Indochina War that a Naval Special Warfare Unit would receive this award. The commendation read in part:
“The warriors of … Task Force K-Bar established an unprecedented 100 per cent mission success rate across a broad spectrum of special operations under extremely difficult and constantly dangerous conditions.”
K-Bar’s men were credited with killing more than 100 Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters in six months and they destroyed many of the enemy’s training camps. Zimmerman added to this as well:
“In the seven months of its existence, from October 2001 to April 2002, Task Force K-Bar carried out more than 75 missions, destroyed about 500,000 pounds of explosives and weapons, conducted sensitive site exploitation, and leadership interdiction missions that led to the killing of more than 115 Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders and the capture of an additional 107 senior Taliban leaders. It accomplished an unprecedented 100 percent mission success rate, a feat even more impressive given the wide variety of the missions.”
So let’s try to get into the operation in a bit more detail.
Harwood set up his headquarters in Oman in early October 2001. He went to work right away by sending some anti-smuggling and reconnaissance missions into Afghanistan. Unlike northern Afghanistan’s difficult mountainous terrain faced by Task Force Dagger, K-Bar forces were presented with mostly large desert areas and plateaus. The force could use off-road vehicles.
The next major event for Task Force K-Bar was to swing into southern Afghanistan and establish a second front. The US Naval Institute has said this about K-Bar’s task:
“The immediate need was to position forces to destabilize the enemy’s command and control apparatus, and then defeat the Taliban and al-Qaeda before they had an opportunity to regroup in Kandahar or escape into neighboring regions of Pakistan.”
J.R. Wilson, reporting for defensemedianetwork on October 1, 2011, said General Mattis expected a long campaign and decided to conduct a “marathon” rather than a “sprint” campaign. Wilson quoted Mattis saying:
“(The goal was to) create chaos, denying the enemy their sense of security.”
20th SOS Pave Low helicopter rehearsing special forces insertion in Florida
AFSOC MH-53 Pave Low helicopters flown by the 20th Special Operations Squadron (SOS) began inserting SEAL recon teams and their Chenowith Fast Attack Vehicles (FAV), also known as Desert Patrol Vehicles, into southern Afghanistan. Harwood urgently wanted to find a suitable place for a forward operating base (FOB) in Afghanistan. Harwood wanted to get a base of operations inside southern Afghanistan, which seemed doable given the terrain.
I’ve had some difficulty putting together the timing and inter-service interactions here. I do know that the first major event to establish some kind of base in the southern desert occurred on or about October 19, 2001. What I do not know for sure is whether this was an independent Army decision or whether it was a reaction to Harwood’s desire to have a forward operation base (FOB) deep inside southern Afghanistan.
Intelligence analysts had been examining satellite photography looking for areas suitable for a base from which to operate inside southern Afghanistan.
On or about October 21, 2001, about 200 Army paratroopers from the 3-75th Rangers jumped from four C-130 aircraft into a fortified compound area found in satellite imagery in the Registan Desert, about 80-100 miles southwest of Kandahar, in far southeastern Afghanistan. There were about 30 defenders, and the Rangers overwhelmed them. The Rangers stayed for a few hours, and the C-130s landed on the desert lakebed and picked up the Rangers and they left. This was the beginning of Operation Rhino.
What would become Camp Rhino
The operation was called Operation Rhino. Tom Sawyer, reporting for Engineering News-Record (ENR.com) on February 25, 2002, wrote this:
“One of the raid planners and participants, Maj. Robert Whalen, regimental intelligence officer with the 75th, describes the target as a ‘frontier outpost,’ surrounded by an 8-ft wall with 30-ft-high towers on each corner. And it was new construction. ‘It was a self-contained compound attached to a 6,000-ft runway right in the middle of Afghanistan; an oasis of civilization in the middle of nowhere,’ he says. ‘Once we received a tip about it we got new satellite pictures and saw construction tents outside in September and October, and then they disappeared.’ “
The Rangers secured the perimeter and searched the buildings, USAF specialists walked the runway at night, testing the soil. While the Rangers did not spend much time on the ground, the USAF specialists confirmed that the airstrip area could handle C-130 tactical and C-17 Globemaster strategic transports. The ground was very hard, difficult to dig. Two Rangers broke their legs and ankles when landing. In any event, they left and planning continued to ascertain whether to use this location as a FOB. The US would later learn that the transports had no trouble digging up this ground during landings!
I think, but am not 100 percent sure, that the next major step was not really in the original plan. But it evolved from Harwood’s need for a FOB out in an area like this. On the surface, this location looked good. It was next to an airstrip. The site appeared to be fairly new, probably intended to serve as a drug distribution hub for the Taliban. It was surrounded by a 10-ft. wall, had four hardened guard towers, new warehouses, offices, and sealed roads running through the camp.
As a result, on November 21, 2001, SEAL reconnaissance teams covertly landed near the outpost, collected the data they needed to take the outpost for their own, and transmitted the intelligence back to Harwood. The SEALs observed the site for about four days. The data collected here was the kind that could not be obtained from satellite imagery. It required men on the ground near the site.
I want to remind you that we are presently talking about November 21, 2001. Task Force Dagger and the Afghan Northern Alliance had taken Kabul on November 13, 2001 and then captured Kunduz on November 26. Most of the Taliban fled to Pakistan. So the Taliban government of Afghanistan had been overthrown. Nonetheless, K-Bar continued to execute its mission in the south.
On November 25, 2001, Task Force K-Bar began its assault on this same outpost. K-Bar forces launched from the USS Peleliu, shown here, located in the northern Arabian Sea. The Peleliu led an Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) in the region with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) embarked. The 15th MEU employed CH-53 Super Stallions to carry the Marines and AH-1W Super Cobra helicopters to provide air cover. The Super Stallions used KC-130 refueling aircraft while the Cobras used a Forward Arming and Refueling Area (FARP). These FARPs are incredible, often simply a paved road than can handle a helicopter, with fuel trucks parked ready to refuel the helos. Or it might be a more desolate area with fuel bladders placed there waiting for the helos to come in. Other aircraft joined with the group including an AC-130 Spectre gunship. They all flew through Pakistani airspace.
The 15th MEU had received special operations training. Their launching from sea and flying some 400 miles into Afghanistan surprised the Taliban and, frankly, was a very new operation for the MEU Marines as well.
The advanced SEAL reconnaissance team that was already nearby the outpost was ordered to seize the airstrip. They did so immediately, and within minutes the Sea Stallions arrived, after a 400 mile flight.
The Marines disembarked and took the outpost without a fight. The outpost soon became known as Camp Rhino, since it had been called “Objective Rhino” during the planning and execution stages. This photo shows one corner of the camp. It was the first US base in Afghanistan, and was regarded as the longest helicopter raid in history.
This was a major amphibious assault for the Marines, 400 miles inland from the sea, and then another 50 miles. This photo shows some 15th MEU Marines moving to a security position after seizing Rhino on November 25.
The net result of this courageous operation was to marry Marine maneuver warfare with Naval warfare, which would set the stage for Navy and Marine doctrine development over the years ahead. General Mattis would comment in December 2001 to the New York Times:
"A year ago, we would never have believed that the Marine Corps would do an amphibious assault 400 miles inland."
CH-53E Sea Stallion helicopters assigned to the Evil Eyes of Marine Medium Squadron (HMM) 163 start their rotors in preparation for takeoff from the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4) for a different operation. Shown for illustrative purposes.
“Once the initial insert of forces was complete via the CH-53Es, multiple waves of USMC KC-130 and USAF C-17 aircraft allowed for quick build-up of combat power. At its peak, approximately eight Navy CH-46E from HMM-163, four Navy CH-53E from HMH-465, three Navy UH-1N, and four Navy AH-1W aircraft from HMLA-169 were deployed there. These helicopters were organized into squadron HMM-163 (REIN) ‘Evil Eyes.’ More Marine UH-1N and AH-1W helicopters joined the mission from the 26th MEU (will address in a moment). Indeed, this was a major joint effort by the US, and remember, much of this was organized very rapidly, within two months of 9-11.”
My guess, and that’s all it is, is that this operation was planned and assembled in a hurry, damn near on the fly.
A second ARG was in the region as well, led by the USS Bataan, shown here, though it was positioned in the Mediterranean Sea. Nonetheless, she received emergency sortie orders on 9-11, recalled her crew, and was underway from Norfolk, Virginia 11 hours later. Interestingly, the Bataan had deployed to New York to support 9-11 recovery operations as it could act as a 600-bed hospital ship, but she returned to Norfolk once it was seen there was little more that she could do that was not already being done. And she and her power were needed for Afghanistan.
The presence of the Bataan ARG was important because it had the 26th MEU embarked. Each MEU had about 2,000 Marines. Between the two ARGs, Marines could be rotated and replenishment could be enhanced. The Marines needed this because their task was to set up a base that could sustain a brigade-size unit, which might vary from 3,000-5,000 troops. The two ARGs were able to get supplies inland through the port facility in Pasni, Pakistan.
Naval Seabee Mobile Construction Battalion 133 arrived promptly to set up a decent airstrip at Rhino, which then allowed the Marines to ferry supplies nearly continuously from offshore to the base. Two Navy forward surgical teams also deployed to Rhino.
With regard to the Seabees, the helicopters daily were beating up the ground. One Navy Seebee said they were “trashing Rhino’s dirt strip nightly.
Every morning scrapers had to square away the runway for the next day’s trashing. The heavy transport aircraft, especially the C-17s, would leave 18 in. deep ruts and blow dirt and dust all over the place. The helicopters had a hell of a time, with their rotors putting the pilots into a virtual brown-out. They were making frequent hard landings and damaging their landing gears. So the SeeBees had to work the runway sun-up to sun-down, between landings, to level the strip. Envirommental Products and Applications Co. of Riverside, California, made a product that when applied to the runway could work as a hardening agent on the dirt. The Marines had used it before in the US. A flash-override order was put in and a C-17 flew it over. It earned the nickname “Rhino Snot.” The company has retained that as its product name. It would also be used in Iraq.
Marines kept flowing into Rhino, mostly aboard CH-53E Super Stallions, which could be refueled from the air, usually by KC-130s. A few weeks later the Marines moved about 50 miles father north and seized the airport at Kandahar. This photo shows Marines guarding the Kandahar airport after taking it. I’ll note that Task Force Dagger was already engaged with the Taliban in and around Kandahar. You will recall Kandahar was Dagger’s next target after Tarin Kowt. The arrival of Marines from Camp Rhino convinced the Taliban to get out of there, moving to a place called Tora Bora up in the mountains to the north.
There would be a battle of Tora Bora, between December 12,-17, 2001 which I should highlight to keep the chronology in some semblance of order. Once again, I do not believe Task Force K-Bar was in this one. The red arrows show the paths taken by ground forces in. The graphic is tough to make out, but the red striped areas are where USAF aircraft including B-52 bombers did some heavy bombing. In the upper right quadrant, just below the B-52 graphic, you see some yellow-orange. That is where our forces thought Osama bin Laden was hiding. If you look closely at the bottom half of the graphics, you will see the dotted line marking the Afghan-Pakistan border. This area is located southeast of Kabul.
The ground attack was led by a group of 20 US CIA National Clandestine Service (NCS) and 5th SFG(A) ODA572 team members, code name Jawbreaker. Northern Alliance Forces took the low ground on December 5, 2001, the Jawbreaker Team brought in air on the targets, and the al-Qaeda fighters moved higher into the mountains. Then about 70 from the Army’s Delta Force A Squadron, Navy and Air Force controllers and special forces came in by vehicle to help. The US was sure Osama bin Laden was in there, but they couldn’t get him, some argue because higher command refused to provide the forces needed. In any event, many of the al-Qaeda fighters, and it is believed bin Laden, escaped into Pakistan, probably around December 16. US leaders on the ground at Tora Bora presented a plan to get bin Laden from his rear, but the plan was rejected. They thought they saw bin Laden and his men go into a cave, so they brought in air, al-Qaeda fighters were killed but it appeared that bin Laden was not among them, and had escaped. Following this, Afghan military forces declared a cease-fire with al-Qaeda. The US did not abide by that.
To my knowledge, K-Bar forces were not involved in this fight up in the north. So, back to K-Bar.
Camp Rhino became the US’s first strategic foothold in Afghanistan. The capture of Kandahar airport then became a main coalition base in Afghanistan, and then Bagram Air Base was established near Kabul shortly thereafter, in December 2001.
In retrospect, events here most certainly occurred rapidly.
During the period from capturing Objective Rhino through the end of 2001, the forces at Camp Rhino consolidated their positions, upgraded their defenses, and conducted numerous patrols outside the wire.
Following Tora Bora, both Task Forces Dagger and K-Bar were tasked to find and destroy more enemy. Their focus gradually moved to an area south and west of Tora Bora, in Paktia province and what is known as the Gardiz-Khowst-Orgun- triangle. Most of the people here were Taliban and al-Qaeda sympathizers.
Also during December, while Tora Bora was underway, US authorities approved a plan to move against a place called Zhawar Kili. It was close to the Pakistani border, just south of Khowst, The Zhawar Kili area is shown in the photo above.
In January 2002, Task Force K-Bar was given Zhawar Kili as its target. It is in a narrow canyon in Paktika province in eastern Afghanistan. The mujahideen had used it to fight the Soviets. The photo is from a military briefing that shows the area.
The area is littered with caves and tunnels, many from Soviet war. The photo shows Navy SEALs exploring the entrance to one of what had been described as a honeycomb complex of 70 caves they discovered in this area, which was near the Pakistani border. All in all, they found piles of ammunition, tanks, rockets and communication equipment along with al-Qaida recruiting posters. The enemy fled the area and the ground force called in Navy air which killed an unknown number of enemy.
Dwight Jon Zimmerman, writing for defensemedianetwork, described it this way:
“At its height during that war (with the Soviets), it (Zhawar Kili) contained at least 11 major tunnels, some extending as far as 500 meters into the mountain, and facilities included a hotel, a mosque, arms depots, repair shops, a garage, a small hospital, a communications center, and a kitchen. Following the rise of the Taliban, intelligence determined that the canyon had subsequently become an al-Qaeda base of operations.
“In 1998, US cruise missiles had been launched against the complex in response to al-Qaeda’s bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Though intelligence had determined that there were multiple targets of interest in Zhawar Kili, the extent of al-Qaeda’s use of the canyon was unknown.”
US forces bombed it again in November 2001.
It’s now January 2002, and Zhawar Kili was a K-Bar target, handled largely by air, SEALs and Marines. The ground forces ultimately would leave, but they marked it with GPS coordinates, and B-52s leveled it.
In early December 2001, Canada sent about 40 special forces from an organization known as JTF2 to Afghanistan to join up with Task Force K-Bar. I believe they remained in Afghanistan until about November 2002, though JTF forces have returned on a number of occasions later.
Let’s back up for a few moments and talk about JTF2, a most interesting subject.
The Canadian Defence Ministry decided in 1992 to disband the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s Special Emergency Response Team (SERT) and create an entirely new military counter-terrorism group. The unit was activated in 1993 with about 100 men, primarily drawn from the Canadian Airborne Regiment and Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry.
They headquartered at the old SERT facility near Ottawa, at Dwyer Hill Training Center on Ottawa’s west side, shown here.
JTF2 is a commando unit, a special forces outfit, held very close to the chest in Canada, and I mean very close. It consists of volunteers from the three branches of the Canadian Armed Forces. To qualify for this organization is like qualifying for the American Rangers or SEALs. Some in Canada argue that JTF2 training is even more rigorous. I won’t get into that for sure. This photo I suspect is a modern-day one, carried on the JTF2 website Image Gallery, but you get the idea. The Canadians are serious about this.
“We have no commandos. Commandos is not a Canadian term.”
I looked up the word in a dictionary. It is defined as a “a soldier specially trained to carry out raids.” JTF2 and our special forces are much more than that.
He was not arguing there was no JTF2, he was simply underscoring he did not like the term “commando” in the Canadian lexicon. It is worth mentioning that as a lieutenant colonel, he deployed with JTF2 for these initial operations in Afghanistan.
The Government of Canada has had to answer many questions about JTF2, and has been reluctant to do so. One reason is that the group is small in a military organization that is small, and the government says it worries its members will be easily identified if given publicity. The government has chosen to employ JTF2 under “strict security guidelines,” even though it acknowledges that larger militaries, such as that of the US, are more open about activities of their special forces. The government deploys JTF2 worldwide. It is assigned very specialized tasks as compared to more conventional forces. Furthermore, JTF2 has been continuously developing and employing new technologies, tactics and capabilities which must be held close to the vest.
The members of JTF2 refuse to be photographed, and will not talk to outsiders. It is very hard to learn what they are doing and have done. JTF officials are said to have described their role as one of “a scalpel, not a hammer.”
Contrary to popular belief, JTF2 is not a paramilitary outfit. It is part of the Canadian military forces reporting to the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command. It is but one element of this command, a command which includes the Canadian Special Operations Regiment, 427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron, the Canadian Joint Incident Response Unit, and Task Force Arrowhead which was added in 2011. At present, it is estimated to have about 600 members.
A few teams were inserted into Bosnia to hunt down Serbian snipers. The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC) reported, “Conservative MP David Price told the House of Commons that JTF2 was on the ground in the Kosovo campaign, (and) the government heatedly denied it … (a) requisite government response.”
As I indicated earlier, the Defence Ministry deployed the 40 men to Afghanistan early in December 2001 in total secrecy. It did not inform the public, and did not seek permission from the prime minister. Some reports say the ministry did not even inform him of the forces going to Afghanistan.
CBC News reported on JT2: “Canada’s super-secret commandos,” last updated on July 15, 2005. CBC said this:
“Much of what we know of the value of JTF2 comes from US sources. We learned just before Christmas 2001 that JTF2 was part of a seven-nation operation called Task Force K-Bar during the campaign in Afghanistan. Task Force K-Bar took part in 42 reconnaissance and surveillance missions, as well as what US military authorities call ‘direct action’ operations.”
Canada’s Toronto Star reported on JTF2’s initial involvement. According to The Star, JTF2’s first deployment to Afghanistan was to Kandahar, arriving there on December 5, 2001. American special forces had already arrived, getting there in October 2001. JTF2 forces came in by C-130 transport. When 750 regular force soldiers arrived in January 2002, they did not know the JTF2 forces were there already.
“They (JTF2) were there in the early days, right from the get-go, but I can say in all honesty that they would have nothing to do with me. I had very good relations with Delta Force, the Rangers, the (special operations forces) headquarters there, but JTF2, to the point of being silly, maintained complete secrecy of their activities from me.”
JTF2, along with the others in the task force, would conduct surveillance, ambush enemy forces, and snatch enemy leaders, later turning them over to the US for interrogation. They also reportedly worked with the US FBI and other elements of K-Bar to decide which prisoners would be held for further interrogation or sent to Guantanamo.
Allan Woods, reporting for the Toronto Star of Canada on April 24, 2010, wrote this:
“They were dispatched high into the rugged mountains of Afghanistan early in 2002 on a reconnaissance mission as part of Task Force K-Bar … Their job was to scope out an Afghan village near the Pakistan border to determine whether friend or foe lived beneath the pastoral façade, to see whether the villagers were sheltering the Taliban and al-Qaeda forces retreating from Kandahar, the southern Afghan city that gave rise to the Taliban and served as its power base.”
Woods went on to tell how a few Afghans, apparently out bird hunting, came across the JTF2 men --- so the JTF2 force was compromised. The Canadians decided to capture the Afghans, hold them in custody for several days while they completed their mission, and then return to their Kandahar base with them, no easy task. Incredibly, the Afghans could see the JTF2 men were having a hard go of it returning on a treacherous hike through difficult and unknown terrain. The Afghans offered to take the lead and led them out to a helicopter landing zone. The JTF2 men cut off the cuffs on the Afghans, boarded the helicopter and left, leaving the Afghans to return to their homes.
"We were fortunate to have the finest special operators from a coalition of seven nations. We challenged our operators to conduct missions in some of the most hostile environments ever operated in. For example, we had special reconnaissance teams operating in the mountains of Afghanistan above 10,000 feet for extended periods without resupply."
The intelligence they collected indicated that enemy forces were concentrating and growing in the Shahi Kowt Valley. So Operation Anaconda was developed to deal with this enemy force, which was believed to number in the range of 200-500 fighters.
The Shahi Kowt Valley is located south of the city of Gardiz, and runs north to south west of a major mountain range, about 100 miles south of Kabul and not far from the Pakistan border. There were two main avenues of approach, one from the northwest and the other from the southwest around a major ridegline west of a valley known as Tergul Ghar. The valley was about 5 kms (3 miles) wide and 10 kms (6 miles) long and hosted three villages. Much of the valley lies at 8,000 ft with surrounding peaks above 11,000 ft. The valley was surrounded by tough terrain.
A complex array of mixed kinds of forces were assembled for this attack, very hard to sort out in this kind of report. The force to be employed staged from a location outside Gardez.
At a top level, the plan was to encircle the valley and execute converging attacks to destroy al-Qaeda forces. Afghan forces were to make the lead charge. Multiple task forces were employed employing the forces available, including K-Bar and JTF2. I might note that different reports identify different units and strengths involved. For those wishing a higher level of detail than can be presented here, I commend the Army’s report, “Operation Enduring Freedom, October 2001-March 2002.” It is exhaustive and, I trust factual.
An organization known as Combined Joint Task Force Mountain was in command, under Major General Hagenbeck, USA, shown here.
Let’s start with the fact that ODA 594, teamed with CIA operatives and local Pashtun fighters, call sign “Texas 14,” conducted reconnaissance of the valley in January 2002. There was no question about it --- there was a sizable enemy force concentrated here, first estimates 150-200 enemy, rising to as high as 800-1,000. Texas 14 also found many caves thought to store large weapons caches.
Initially, the plan was for a special forces attack only, but as the estimates of enemy numbers rose, conventional forces from the 10th Mountain and 101st Airborne Divisions were called on to join in. By mid-February a total of 6 Special Forces "A" Teams of 12 men each, 3 SF command and control elements, 3 other Special Operations task forces, and a U.S. infantry brigade of 3 battalions were involved, along with nearly a thousand Afghan Military Forces (AMF) trained by the Special Forces. These AMF were to take the lead and make the major charge into the valley.
The plan was complicated and had to be choreographed with considerable coordination start to finish. The idea was to surround the Shahikot Valley with multiple concentric rings to block entry and exit. USA SOF, Afghan forces, and Australian special forces and others would handle the outside ring. Several SOF teams were to locate on high ground on the northern and southern ends of the valley from which they could observe the entire valley and arrival of air. If I am reading this attack graphic correctly, Task Force K-Bar was at the northern end of the valley.
Task Force Hammer, an Afghan force supported by US SOF, would enter the valley for an assault from the west and move to the western side of the valley. Hammer was to move forward, engage the enemy, and capture or destroy them.
Task Force Rakkasan, 10th Mountain and 101 Airborne Division forces, would fly in by CH-47 Chinoooks and enter from the east, landing along the slopes on the eastern ridges. Rakkasan was to set up blocking positions to support Hammer.
Both were to arrive at the same time and work like a team.The plan, in the main, was seen as a ground operation with minimal air power. The USAF wanted to conduct heavy saturation bombing starting on D-2, but the Army rejected that fearing the loss of surprise. Air was relegated to a minor role, providing supplies, attack a limited number of targets, and have close air support (CAS) aircraft on call if needed.
Dr. Richard Kugler, writing “Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan, A Case Study of Adaptation in Battle,” published by the Nation Defense University, Center for Technology and National Security Policy in 2007, wrote this in his introduction:
He highlighted the main problems this way:
“Enemy resistance proved fiercer than originally anticipated and friendly Afghan forces failed to carry out their march into the valley, thereby leaving deployed U.S. infantry forces to face the enemy alone. Success was achieved when U.S. forces switched tactical gears by calling on air strikes, in larger numbers than originally planned, to work with the ground forces to suppress and destroy the enemy.”
The plan called for a three day fight, but it lasted for 17 days. A victory was obtained because the Allies killed several hundred enemy and the rest fled. Kugler wrote:
“This battle was the last time that year that enemy forces chose to engage U.S. forces in major combat in Afghanistan.
The organizational structure consisted of multiple task forces including K-Bar, but it was fragmented, lacking unity of command. Hagenbeck did not command one of the major SOF units, the USAF, USN and USMC air power, nor the Afghan forces. Kugler said he did command “his own (10th Mountain) divisional units, the 3rd brigade of the 101st Air Assault Division (which had recently deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan), Task Force Dagger, and other SOF units, for example Task Force K-Bar and Task Force Bowie.”
A quick aside on Task Force Bowie. General Franks, shortly after 9-11, tasked Brigadier General Gary L. Harrell, USA, to create a joint interagency task force to support coalition operations in Afghanistan. Harrell was an experienced SOF officer. He recruited people from the FBI, the National Security Agency (NSA), and other agencies to serve on what became known as Task Force Bowie. It operated out of Bagram AB and concentrated on bringing together as much intelligence as was on hand, correlate and fuze it, and work to get a more complete picture of the enemy.
Back to Anaconda.
On the morning of March 2, a B-1 bomber, a B-2 bomber, and two F-15E fighters swooped in as planned to strike 13 enemy targets in the valley. But they received a message while underway telling them to stop because friendly forces were endangered. They hit about one half of their targets.
Hammer left Gardiz by convoy, the convoy became strung out, and as it entered the area came under heavy surprise attack. CAS aircraft were busy supporting Rakassan and only a few were available. Afghan forces began to flee. This exposed Rakassan forces to the enemy. Apache helicopters did the best they could to protect them, and most returned to base filled with holes.
The battle was now largely in American hands with their supporting SOF force allies. CAS missions grew in numbers, employing fixed winged aircraft. Chinoooks kept bringing in small numbers of SOF forces. All together, they had no artillery or heavy mortars. There was some thought to retreating and withdrawing, but that was rejected. Now fixed wing aircraft were called on to come in and work the enemy over, which they did. Kugler described the air this way:
Enemy target struck by air power, Shahi Kowt Valley, Operation Anaconda
“Task Force Mountain was able to draw upon air forces—provided by the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps—that totaled over 200 bombers, fighters, and combat support aircraft. Additional aircraft, including A-10s and AC-130s, were flown into the region in order to support the air bombardment campaign. Additional Army Apaches and Marine Corps helicopters also were sent. Over the following days, strike aircraft flew an average of about 65 combat sorties per day in support of U.S. ground forces.
The air campaign was extraordinarily effective, but it faced many problems, many of which had to do with coordinating with ground forces, working around the mountain terrain and ridges, a rather small valley creating mid-air collision risks, poor communications equipment, lousy maps and inter-service rivalries between the Army and Air Force. Lt. General Mike Mosely, USAF, then the air component commander for the US CENTCOM, did even know about Anaconda until after the battle began. Air mobility planners also did not know. The intelligence was sparse. From an air perspective, Task Force Mountain was planning for largely an unopposed operation.
There were also conflicts between the ground forces calling on air and the SOF air controllers calling for it, the latter having much better radios, and dispute over priorities for attack. There were also issues coordinating with ground-based artillery.
Much of this was ironed out over the days ahead. On Day 3, TF Mountain obtained authority to allocate air, more A-10s, AC-130s and Apaches came in to help, the high and fast fliers used their Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs) more effectively, and air-ground-air coordination improved markedly. Medium and heavy mortars were airlifted in, Afghan troops started drifting back, but they were ineffective. Northern Alliance forces had to take the ball.
The battle had been effectively won by March 12, but it took nearly a week to “mop up.” I’ve read a great many accounts from WWII in the Pacific where commanders declared victory, withdrew many of their forces to hit another island, leaving behind forces to “mop up.” Mop up operations then, and I suspect here, were incredibly dangerous.
I have seen some estimates that say there were from 1,000 to 5,000 enemy troops in he valley, and reinforcements were flowing in during the battle. But, what was left of them had to leave the valley and it is believed most of them went into Pakistan to regroup and prepare for new operations in the summer of 2002 and beyond.
Whlie this was an Allied victory, the planning and execution were greatly flawed. There were all kinds of intelligence coordination problems. Air power planners were not included. The coordination for tactical close air support was lacking. There was also poor tactical and strategic coordination. From my quick review of detailed analyses, the friction between ground and air force leaders stands out as the most damaging. I commend the report by Richard B. Abdrews and Jeffrey B. Hukill, “Anaconda: A flawed joint planning process” to your attention for more detail.
It is hard to pluck out Canadian JTF2 force actions from all this, probably intentionally so. But I have gained some insights from open source research. The risk here is it is very hard to verify the accuracy of these, mostly media reports.
We do know that JTF2 was among those to receive the Presidential Unit Citation as a result of its efforts.
We also know that JTF2 was fully integrated within the US force structure in these early days. Furthermore, we know it set up its home base in Kandahar.
Navy Lt. Kent Penney, a spokesman for the Canadian Forces Counter-Terrorism and Special Operations branch, said:
"In theater it was very obvious we did work extremely well with U.S. forces and the CANSOF (Canadian Special Operations Forces) community was extremely happy with the support they received in Afghanistan from their U.S. colleagues.”
We also know that General Franks announced at a press conference that Canadian special forces were involved in Anaconda, though Canadian officials refused to confirm that, though they had to admit to it later.
JTF2 relied on US for Humvees, and US air support and in-theater transportation. Because of the logistics issue for the Canadians, they also relied at least initially on US forces for food and other supplies.
At D-3, three days before the main attack, elements of Task Forces 64 (Australian special forces) and K-Bar were to infiltrate into surveillance positions from 5-7 kms (3-4 miles) from the objective area.
Much of what the Canadians did was to sneak into very high risk areas and through seemingly impossible terrain to collect intelligence on the enemy and get it to the other special operators waiting to pounce. David Rudd of the Canadian Institute for tragic Studies reported that JTF2 is not trained to take and hold ground, but rather is trained to “infiltrate into dangerous areas behind enemy lines, look for key targets and take them out.”
CBC reported back in 2005:
“JTF2 commandos led a mountain climb in Afghanistan to reach a high-altitude observation post. The Canadians also entered caves looking for enemy forces and intelligence. One of their missions, called Operation Anaconda, took place last March when JTF2 soldiers stationed themselves high in the Afghanistan mountains to feed information to army units on the ground.
“The Canadians worked with U.S. Navy commandos and elite forces from Australia. U.S. Navy Commander Kerry Metz, director of operations for Task Force K-Bar, praised the work of the ‘foreign’ commandos to members of Congress. ‘We were fortunate to have the finest special operators from a coalition of seven nations,’ Metz said. ‘We challenged our operators to conduct missions in some of the most hostile environments ever operated in. For example, we had special reconnaissance teams operating in the mountains of Afghanistan above 10,000 feet for extended periods without resupply.’
“Taylor of Esprit de Corps said, ‘This is exactly the role for them. These guys would go in. They would be a special covert operation. They would just simply be putting their lives on the line. Every one of these guys, they joined for that purpose.’ David Rudd, with the Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies, told CBC News the soldiers of JTF2 are not trained to take and hold ground. ‘What they do is infiltrate into dangerous areas behind enemy lines, look for key targets and take them out. They don't go out to arrest people. They don't go out there to hand out food parcels. They go out to kill targets.’”
I am not sure where to fit this in chronologically --- One of the first JTF2 missions was to join six Canadians with six US Army Special Forces Green Berets. The target was a Taliban compound. The Star reported the event this way:
“The chopper was landing in a brown-out, a cloud of dust and dirt that cut all visibility for the pilots. It came down hard and fast with the controls indicating they were still 15 metres above the ground. But they were actually inches off the ground and landed so hard that it almost disabled the helicopter.
“Six hundred metres from the landing site was a building protected by thick, high mud walls that intelligence had indicated was a Taliban compound.
“The commando team blasted through the wall with explosives and took control of the compound. The Americans went right and discovered a stockpile of weapons which they gathered together and destroyed. The Canadians, who were there in support of the Green Berets, searched the building and came up with a computer hard drive, which they later turned over to US intelligence agents.
“The Americans checked back with the Canadian soldiers not to tell them what was discovered – that remains unknown to this day – but to specifically thank them for an intelligence trove deemed more valuable than the weapons.”
Canada's participation in the mission came to light after a photograph was published of JTF2 members escorting detainees off a military aircraft. The caption under the photo said they were US forces, but those who studied the photo carefully recognized the uniforms to be Canadian. As a result, in late January 2002, Defence Minister Eggleton had to admit they were JTF2 troopers. Eggleton said:
"There was this picture. And underneath the picture it said: U.S. soldiers. But did you notice the fact they had forest green uniforms those three soldiers that were in that picture? Well, they were Canadian, JTF2."
The JTF2 troops much preferred being on the ground chasing enemy than riding in the helicopters. One Canadian soldier said:
“Every time I was in the chopper I was saying my prayers, because you cannot fight in the air.”
“They know that one-on-one they don’t have a chance to win … On the ground we’re better than them.”
Well, these guys had the right idea. On their way back to their base in Pakistan on the helicopter following their capture of the valuable enemy computer drive, their bird ran low on fuel. The pilot was forced to conduct a rare air-to-air plane-to-helicopter refueling about 30 seconds before the helicopter would run out of fuel. Thankfully they made it to home base.
Captain Bob Harward, USN, SEAL, Task Force K-Bar commander, commented:
“This is the first coalition direct action mission since the Second World War. You guys all pass into history right now.” Indeed he said JTF2 was his first choice for any direction action missions.
Lilith News reported in 2010:
“Since that rough beginning the team has been credited with destroying Taliban and Al Qaeda weapons and training grounds, searching caves, compounds and hideouts, performing search-and-rescue operations and calling in bomb strikes on the enemy from their mountain vantage points.”
JTF2 was involved in the planning for a January 28, 2002 raid at Kandahar’s Mirwais hospital. Six al-Qaeda fighters we’re killed. The enemy was barricaded in the hospital. An Afghan force led a raiding party supported by K-Bar forces engaged the enemy in a nine hour fight.
Task Force K-Bar was shut down in early April. As a result, JTF2 transferred to another U.S. command, this one headed by a U.S. army special forces officer.
JTF2 has said this entire deployment was the first time its people have deployed in a major combat role” outside Canada.
JTF2 took part in a controversial mission on May 24 at the village of Band Taimore, some 80 kilometres west of Kandahar. A 150-strong force made up of U.S. and JTF2 commandos descended on the village having been informed by U.S. intelligence officers it was a stronghold for senior Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders. Regrettably, they killed several innocent civilians, including children, and took a large group into custody. Most were released after being taken away by helicopters and interrogated. Most villagers were quite angry as a result of this raid. It was a night attack, and the attacking force said several people were running away, a village guard fired on them, and they were thought to be enemy. Indeed one Army Special Forces Soldier was shot and wounded.
"These are detestable murderers and scumbags, I'll tell you that right up front. They detest our freedoms, they detest our society, they detest our liberties … We're not going to let those radical murderers and killers rob from others and certainly we're not going to let them rob from Canada.”
This was the first time Hiller acknowledged JTF2 was involved in Afghanistan. I’ll conclude by presenting a few terrific Hiller quotes:
"We're not the public service of Canada, we're not just another department. We are the Canadian Forces, and our job is to be able to kill people."
"When a soldier steps on foreign soil in a high-risk environment, every single Canadian should be walking with him or her."
"Any commander who would stand up here and say that we didn't need more soldiers should be tarred and feathered and rode out of town on a rail."