Operations in Afghanistan
27 October 2001 to 26 February 2002
Table of Contents
Forming (27 October to 5 November 2001)…………………….………6
Planning (6 November to 24 November 2001)………………...……....15
Execution (25 November to 25 December 2001)……………..……….28
Continuing Ops (13 December 2001 to 26 February 2002)…………...51
Sustainment (25 November to 26 February 2002)…..…………..……..72
In late November 2001, with enemy resistance stiffening against Anti-Taliban Forces
approaching from the North, The Commander in Chief of U.S. Central Command directed Naval
forces to land behind the enemy in Southern Afghanistan. The initial insertion was over 300
nautical miles from the sea. This deep strategic penetration along unexpected lines sealed the
enemy’s fate. As Special Forces led teams brought U.S. firepower to bear on the enemy from the
north and east of their spiritual birthplace and last stronghold, Marines struck Kandahar from the
south and west.
There are lessons to be learned from this unusual Naval campaign, not the least of which is
that no enemy is safe from the reach of our Naval forces. Some of these lessons are applicable to
future fights against terrorists or conventional enemies while others will not stand the test of
time. As best they can be exposed, all are shown here for the critical review by our comrades
who must remain ready to fight in any clime or place.
To the Sailors and Marines of Task Force 58, this fight was personal: America had been
attacked and we were out to balance the ledger by killing those who both supported and harbored
our enemies. Though projecting and sustaining combat power 300 nautical miles inland required
a necessarily complex plan, pragmatic preparation and cool execution were consistent with the
tactics, techniques and procedures familiar to all Marines. Dispassionately, Colonels Tom
Waldhauser and Andy Frick of 15 and 26 MEU (SOC) and Commodores William Jezierski and
Kenneth Rome of PHIBRON 1 and 8 put their teams through their paces, taking the fight to the
Taliban’s heart, using the inherent versatility of Naval Forces to do so. Stripped of the
conventions characterizing past amphibious operations, emphasizing initiative and
aggressiveness of all hands, TF 58, with PHIBRONS, MEUs, and SeaBees led by Lieutenant
Commander Len Cooke, planned and carried out operations that might have elicited disbelief if
proposed only a few months before at Command and Staff College. But the Navy and Marine
forces, working in concert with aviation, Special Forces, Pakistani, Coalition and Afghan allies,
demonstrated once again the values of surprise, will, and competence in a contest with our
The operation itself was characterized by the following factors:
Naval forces operating at extremely long distances from their ships to the objectives;
Critical role of the CH-53Es and aging KC-130s to insert and sustain the forces ashore;
Extensive integration with Special Operations Forces, both U.S. and Coalition, in
amiable, mutually supporting roles;
The total reliance on air (Marine, Navy, Air Force, SOF, and Coalition) for sustainment, with
equal dependence on our SeaBee’s abilities to keep FOB Rhino and Kandahar airstrips open;
The ease with which Marine forces operated alongside the committed and aggressive
Unstinting support by the Pakistani military, from the provision of Intermediate Support
Bases to logistics support; from the Frontier Corps sealing off their border even as they faced
a crisis with India on their eastern border, to wise military counsel to CTF-58.
While the war in Afghanistan was led, fought and won along professional lines by U.S.
forces, the political and humanitarian results of the currently rocky peace are still being worked
out. However, whether one highlights the destruction of the terrorists’ safehaven in Afghanistan,
UNICEF’s inoculation of almost one million children previously left vulnerable due to Taliban
edicts, educational opportunities for young girls previously denied by Taliban, or the abundant
sounds of music in Kandahar—it is clear: The Marines who died in support of Operation
Enduring Freedom did so in pursuit of a better world.
James N. Mattis
Brigadier General, United States Marine Corps
Commander, Task Force 58
Naval Support Activity, Bahrain
21 February 2002
Marines and Sailors of 15thMarine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) Special Operations
Capable (SOC) closed Forward Operating Base (FOB) Rhino in southern Afghanistan during the
first week of January 2002 and reconstituted aboard the PELELIU Amphibious Ready Group
(PELARG) in the Northern Arabian Sea. At the same time, several members of the Task Force
58 (TF 58) staff disembarked the USS PELELIU and left FOB Rhino for “temper tents” at
Naval Support Activity (NSA) Bahrain. Brigadier General Mattis, a small TF 58 staff, and
Marines from the 26th MEU (SOC) continued to conduct airfield security operations, detainee
security operations and Sensitive Site Exploitation (SSE) missions from Kandahar Airport while
planning and preparing for on-order combat missions.
The Commanding General tasked those staff members returning to Bahrain with
collecting operational data, writing a command chronology, a classified narrative summary, and
documenting the lessons learned during TF 58’s operations in support of Operation Enduring
Freedom. Pertinent documents were collected, cataloged by date, and then archived in binders
and electronically. The TF 58 staff, liaison officers from the 15th and 26th MEUs, and a Marine
Corps historian met daily to review the documents, discuss the events, and outline a plan for
historical documentation. Minutes of the discussions were forwarded to the Commanding
General and his staff at Kandahar, Afghanistan for comment.
This account is told from a TF 58 perspective. Its intent is to capture relevant operational
data and present the information in a readable format that will contribute to future operations.
Others will write the comprehensive histories of operations in southern Afghanistan, and higher,
adjacent, and subordinate commands will certainly have their own stories to tell.
(27 October to 5 November 2001)
Following terrorist attacks on both the Pentagon and the World Trade Center on 11
September 2001, President Bush and his National Security Council (NSC) developed a global
military campaign against terrorism. They quickly identified Usama bin-Laden, reported to
maintain close ties to the Taliban organization and Al Qaida organization, as having played a key
role in the terrorist attacks. These organizations were principally situated in Afghanistan, which
lies within the Central Command’s (CENTCOM) area of military responsibility. After receiving
additional confirmation of Al Qaida’s involvement in the terrorist incidents and fostering
favorable diplomatic, political, and military conditions for a prolonged campaign, America’s
military response became clear.
During the months of September and October, CENTCOM developed plans for
sustained overt and covert military operations against the Taliban and Al Qaida terrorist
organizations in Afghanistan. Offensive military operations commenced on 7 October, with
intense air and missile strikes that would continue throughout the succeeding months. US
Special Forces were committed early in the campaign, to assist various Opposition Groups
(OG’s) and to provide target designation for Coalition air strikes. Members of TF-Sword
conducted the first America ground offensive action of the war on October 19th, raiding Mullah
Omar’s Kandahar residence and a remote desert airstrip that would become known to the world
as Forward Operating Base (FOB) Rhino.
Although the combined air and Special Forces operations were successful in helping to
shape the battlefield, Taliban forces continued to control a majority of Afghanistan and key
leaders within the Al-Qaida organization remained untouched. By late October it became
apparent that a sustained ground presence would be necessary to destroy the Al Qaida network
and overthrow the Taliban. Despite the potential for employing Marine forces within the
CENTCOM Area of Responsibility (AOR), no official guidance was issued at this time.
During this same period, from September to October 2001, Marines from the 1st Marine
Expeditionary Brigade (1st MEB) were participating in Bright Star O1/O2, a multi-national
military exercise in Egypt. While there, Brigadier General James N. Mattis, Commanding
General (CG) of 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB), was designated as the CG for both
Combined Joint Task Force Consequence Management (CJTF-CM) and Marine Forces Central
Command Forward (MARCENT-Forward). Shortly thereafter, members of his staff formed a
CJTF-CM quartering party and departed Egypt to lay the groundwork for follow-on forces
arrival at Camp Doha, Kuwait. At the conclusion of Bright Star, General Mattis, his aide 1st
Lieutenant Warren Cook, and two MEB planners LtCol Clarke Lethin and Major Michael
Mahaney, “side-stepped” from Egypt to NSA Bahrain on 27 October.
Upon arriving, General Mattis and the planners conducted the appropriate in-calls with
personnel at the MARCENT Coordination Element (MCE) detachment in Bahrain and with the
Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command and certain staff sections at the NAVCENT
headquarters. In anticipation of the possibility of engaging in future amphibious operations,
General Mattis offered to augment the NAVCENT staff with his Marine planners. A liaison
officer from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF), already assigned to the NAVCENT N-
5 staff, greatly facilitated the establishment of relations between Navy and Marine officers who
would eventually form the nucleus of the TF 58 staff.
A small Operational Planning Team (OPT) was formed on 30 October, to collect
information and to conduct initial mission analysis on potential amphibious missions. Two
Bright Star planners, a MARCENT Marine, LtCol John Carl, and LtCol J.D. Howell, the I MEF
liaison officer formed the core of this team. LtCol Howell had been working with three Navy
officers while in the N-5 shop. Within 48 hours these three Navy officers would be assisting the
Marines in the planning effort. The officers, Captain Richard Hascup, Commander Thomas
Lafferty, and Lieutenant Michael Prall, came from the NAVCENT N-5 staff and were uniquely
qualified with East and West Coast amphibious experience. Commander Lafferty had previously
attended the Marine Corps Command and Staff College with LtCol Lethin. Intelligence
assistance was provided to the OPT by Captain Damien Spooner, a Marine Intelligence Officer
assigned to the NAVCENT amphibious operations intelligence staff. Major Brian “Mags”
Magnuson, 15th MEU’s KC-130 detachment Officer in Charge (OIC), drove up from Shaik Isa
Air Base (SIAB) to participate in the OPT.
Although the 15th MEU (SOC) was the only amphibious force in the AOR at this time, it
was speculated that the 26th MEU (SOC) might become available in the near future. After
joining Fifth Fleet on September 28, the 15th MEU (SOC) had deployed forces ashore to provide
security for Combat Search and Rescue Aircraft (CSAR) at the airfield in Jacobabad, Pakistan
commencing 7 October. 26th MEU (SOC) had recently participated in Bright Star and was
operating within the European Command (EUCOM) AOR conducting a port visit in Souda Bay,
Crete and preparing for a training exercise in Albania.
General Mattis next traveled to Camp Doha, Kuwait to assess conditions at Camp Doha
and to meet with members of the CJTF-CM advance party on 30 October. This was intended as
the first of many visits, as he planned to travel between Kuwait and Bahrain on a recurring basis,
fulfilling his roles as CG of CJTF-CM and MARCENT-Forward. While at Camp Doha, General
Mattis received a phone call from Colonel John Kiser at the MCE that Vice Admiral Charles W.
Moore, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command and Commander, Fifth Fleet, was
requesting his presence in Bahrain. This recall was precipitated by a CENTCOM planning order,
directing the commencement of planning for amphibious raids into Afghanistan.
At Camp Doha at 2145 local on 30 October, General Mattis conducted an initial
commander’s estimate of the potential amphibious operation. In attendance were Colonel Peter
T. Miller (on a mission from CG MARCENT, Tampa) future Chief of Staff for TF-58, and
Brigadier General Emerson Gardner, USMC, Commanding General of Combined Joint Task
Force Kuwait (CJTF-KU) and Major Tim Oliver, a Marine Intelligence Officer serving a six-
month deployment to CJTF-KU. General Mattis also contacted Lieutenant General Michael
Hagee, Commanding General of I MEF, and Lieutenant General Earl Hailston, Commanding
General of Marine Forces Pacific (MARFORPAC). Major Oliver prepared a short notice
intelligence brief for the commander’s estimate.
After returning to Bahrain, General Mattis met with Vice Admiral Moore. Admiral
Moore played a critical role in defining command relationships that would continue throughout
the duration of the operation, by designating General Mattis as the sole commander for TF 58.
By doing so, Admiral Moore entrusted over 8,000 Sailors and Marines from the PELELIU and
BATAAN (arrival anticipated) Amphibious Ready Groups to a Marine Corps Brigadier General.
Following their meeting, Admiral Moore directed his staff to request the 26th MEU’s presence
and relief of the 15th MEU security element in Jacobabad, Pakistan.
General Mattis issued his initial planning guidance later that day, based on USCINCENT
Warning Order (WARNO). His initial concerns included: pulling the 15th MEU out of
Jacobabad, shifting the BATARG to the CENTCOM AOR, establishing Intermediate Support
Bases (ISB’s) in Pakistan, establishing rehearsal sites, incorporating the British 40 Marine
Commando, identifying potential targets in the tentative Area of Operations (AO), and the
limited availability of CH-53E helicopter and KC-130 transport aircraft assets.
One of the initial tasks faced by TF 58 was establishing its battle rhythm. Anticipating a
fairly long campaign, General Mattis stated that the upcoming operation would be more like a
“marathon” than a “sprint.” Despite repeated attempts to establish a traditional schedule, the
workday remained 14-16 hours long. This was largely due to the need to interface with multiple
staffs in different time zones, which required after hours coordination. In addition, a
CENTCOM sponsored Video Tele-Conference (VTC) also required TF 58 participation each
night at 1900C.
As of 31 October, the core TF 58 staff was composed of three Marines from Camp
Pendleton, two from MARCENT in Tampa Florida, and a communicator from CJTF-CM in
Kuwait. It quickly became clear that, despite the assistance received from the Marine liaison
officers and Navy amphibious planners working at NAVCENT, additional staff membership
would be required. The CG’s guidance on “growing” the staff was simple; he wanted a small
staff comprised of aggressive officers who were able to act with initiative, make rapid decisions
and recommendations, and exercise good judgment. He emphasized that there would be few
enlisted Marines to support the staff, so each member would be required to “fill sandbags.”
During an impromptu discussion that night, the staff identified personnel requirements
and recommended candidates to the General for his immediate decision. Eight additional staff
members were identified that evening and ordered to depart for Bahrain within 96 hours of
notification. These billets included: intelligence, fixed-wing aviation plans, logistics, and
communications. Most of the requested individuals had worked together during Bright Star and
all came from I MEF. The Navy planners working in the NAVCENT N-5 section were a ready-
made addition to the team. Recognizing the need for an integrated Navy and Marine Corps staff,
the CG chose to employ “N” section nomenclature, vice the traditional Marine “G” or “S” shop
Conversations between Brigadier General Mattis and Lieutenant Generals Hailston and
Hagee conveyed one message from Marine Forces Pacific (MARFORPAC) and I MEF: anything
TF 58 needed, the Marine Corps would provide, no questions asked. Armed with these
assurances, TF 58 was free to focus on developing the mission.
In the initial meetings with Vice Admiral Moore, the Admiral made clear his intent not to
have a Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) staff in place. Without a command ship, working
spaces and communications would not be available to support a robust staff built along
traditional lines. If the staff were to fall in on the ARG ships, space would be restricted.
Although never formally stated, it was understood that the size of the staff would remain small.
The limited infrastructure available at NAS Bahrain impacted the space available for working,
billeting, and establishing a command post. The size of the staff also reflected General Mattis’
desire for a small planning-focused staff with staff officers making rapid decisions on their own
authority, not working on route sheets. The initial concept was for the staff to operate as an N-5
planning staff, however as the operation progressed the need for an N-3 operations section was
As the staff expanded to its appropriate size, current members needed to remain
cognizant of the personnel changes, while newly joined members had to be “in briefed.” This
seemingly easy task was complicated by the fact that the small staff was already consumed by
daily meetings/VTCs, monitoring incoming information, and urgent planning for future
operations. The solution was to establish a “brain book,” which included pertinent references,
briefs, orders, and intelligence information. As new personnel joined the staff, they were
required to read the book, ask necessary questions quickly, then roll up their sleeves and join in
the planning effort. The staff was experienced and conversant on doctrine. That the staff
meshed quickly was due, in part, to the selective process described above and the willingness
and professionalism of the Marines involved.
On 1 November, NAVCENT issued its WARNO for raids in Afghanistan. “Conduct a
minimum of three to five raids into Afghanistan over a 30-day period,” Vice admiral Moore told
CTF 58. General Mattis continued to refine his staff guidance. In order to bring staff and units
together as a team, he intended small-scale raids against targets near the southern border using
the limited number of CH-53E’s available. His intent was to start by focusing on the “low
hanging fruit” first, using “easier” targets to develop the fighting skills of the MEU’s conducting
very long range operations. These “easier” targets would be the first because we would have
surprise on our side on the first raid(s). These targets would be tactical raids with strategic-
political implications. The CG’s initial intent was to establish tactical positions, defend quickly,
and leverage the power of Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) aviation and theater Close
Air Support (CAS) assets to defeat enemy forces attempting to attack Marine forces. The
General wanted to “create chaos, denying the enemy their sense of security.” This theme would
continue throughout the operation. Intelligence support was critical to the operation, and would
be the driving force behind what tactics and operations would be developed and employed.
Following the stand up of TF 58 on 2 November and less than three days after their
arrival in Bahrain, General Mattis and his staff began to actively plan for combat missions in
southern Afghanistan. As they continued to develop a concept of operations brief for Vice
Admiral Moore, the decision was made not to composite the MEU’s. A supported, supporting
relationship would be established between the MEUs. While one MEU executed a mission, the
second MEU would conduct detailed planning for the follow on mission. It was decided that the
TF 58 staff would conduct the operational planning for the MEUs. In essence, the TF 58 staff
would develop plans, validate targets, give mission type orders to the executing MEU, while
focusing on the next mission.
On 3 November, General Mattis briefed Vice Admiral Moore on TF 58’s initial concept
of operations in southern Afghanistan. The brief was well received, and Admiral Moore
provided additional guidance: he emphasized the importance of bold action; Marines were not to
conduct a “show of force,” they were to conduct raids that would quickly and decisively defeat
Taliban and Al Qaida forces. The Admiral stated, “Marines don’t give themselves enough
credit. A squad of Marines running through Kandahar would turn the tide.” The Admiral was
also interested in TF 58’s ability to establish and sustain operations from a FOB in southern
Afghanistan for a 30-day period.
From the beginning, General Mattis was interested in developing solid working
relationships with sister services and Coalition forces. To this end, he was adamant about
sending and receiving liaison officers to adjacent and supporting units. This included visits to
Major General Dailey, Commanding General of TF SWORD, TF 57 the P-3 squadron
conducting Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) flights over Afghanistan and
Joint Special Operations Task Force South (JSOTF-South would eventually become TF K-
Early on, Colonel Kiser, OIC of the MCE, committed what equipment and assets he had
at his disposal to the TF 58 staff. As the staff continued to expand, space provided at the MCE
building quickly became over-taxed. Despite aggressive efforts by the Chief of Staff (CoS) and
N-4, LtCol John Broadmeadow (who joined the staff from Bright Star), the only additional space
they could find was a sandy, dusty, vacant lot. Fortunately, SeaBees from Naval Mobile
Construction Battalion 133 were able to construct three concrete pads, set up two tents, and
surround the compound with concertina wire within five days. The professionalism displayed by
the SeaBees at NSA Bahrain during this period highlighted the construction battalion’s
capabilities and contributed significantly to their employment by TF 58 during future operations
in Afghanistan. NAVCENT facilitated the planning effort by authorizing use of the Mobile
Integrated Command Facility (MICFAC) upon its return from the Bright Star exercise in Egypt.
As the TF 58 staff prepared to move into their new spaces, detailed planning began in earnest
(6 November to 24 November 2001)
The first week in November was a busy one for the TF 58 staff. In addition to planning,
Brigadier General Mattis and several members of his staff conducted liaison visits to units,
commands and countries throughout the AOR. The focus of these visits was to build rapport and
establish solid working relationships. Special Operations Forces (SOF) had already been
operating in southern Afghanistan. Interfacing with them helped to deconflict future operations
in time and space and provided valuable information on the enemy and the environment.
On 7 November, Brigadier General Mattis met with Major General Dailey, CG of TF
SWORD. This marked the beginning of a relationship that at times proved to be both essential
and symbiotic throughout the operation. Although the two had never met, General Dailey had
been operating in the southern Afghanistan for over a month. At the U.S. Embassy in Muscat,
Oman, he openly shared his thoughts on operations in Afghanistan. He made it very clear that
both aircraft and Marines would be operating at the very edge of their performance envelope.
The dust in southern Afghanistan was so bad that his pilots had to maintain forward movement
while taking off and landing to stay ahead of the dust cloud. He also mentioned that, “…if you
establish a FOB at Rhino the enemy may not even come, because you are Marines.” This
prediction would eventually prove true. Though both of their headquarters were physically
separated by the Arabian Gulf, occasional phone calls between the two commanders were
invaluable. General Dailey, a highly respected officer, provided his input regarding the TF on a
VTC, or in a one-on-one conversation with CENTCOM, and was persuasive and influential on
General Dailey also stated that the presence of Marines ashore would contribute to the
loss of strategic power in the Taliban spiritual center of Kandahar and facilitate the enemy’s
defeat. While acknowledging that the identification and development of targets would be
difficult, he believed that seizing a FOB in southern Afghanistan would benefit both
conventional and SOF forces. With close coordination, both agreed that such a move would be
mutually beneficial: SOF units would conduct the “surgical” missions, while TF 58 would bring
a “ball peen hammer” to the fight. General Dailey also offered two additional observations: that
certain elements of the Taliban were not afraid to fight, that they would “move to the sound of
the guns;” and that Taliban employment of anti-air weapons systems was ingenious. He
expected the Taliban to employ Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG’s) to take down Marine
helicopters as they were entering Landing Zones (LZs).
Incorporating this information into his developing plan, General Mattis decided that TF 58
would maintain the flight routes, boundaries, and other control measures used by TF
SWORD in the Area of Operations (AO). Hindering initial planning efforts was the fact that
TF SWORD’s operations were classified as Special Category (SPECAT), all information and
details about their activities was closely held. In order to maintain maximum Operations
Security (OPSEC), only a few of the TF 58 planners would be “read in” to the program and
allowed full access to the data. This initially challenged the staff’s ability to maintain the
coordination and control measures used by TF SWORD, although new methods and
terminology for internal and external planning purposes were rapidly developed.
Additionally, the assignment of TF 58 liaison officers to TF SWORD greatly improved
TF 57, the Maritime Patrol Force for Commander, U.S. FIFTH FLEET was providing
surveillance support to General Dailey and TF SWORD using P-3 Aircraft Improvement
Program (AIP) aircraft, was highly recommended for inclusion into TF 58 operations due to
its unique capabilities. The CG, his aide and the TF 58 Communications Officer, Major
Scott Stebbins, subsequently accompanied and flew on a mission over Afghanistan, to
conduct a leaders’ reconnaissance and to further assess the aircraft’s capabilities. The
impressive capabilities of TF 57 led to its inclusion in all TF 58 missions over the next three
months. This flight cemented the relationship between TF 57 and TF 58. The CG was also
briefed on the capabilities of the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) at Prince Sultan
Air Base, in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Joint Special Operations Task Force-South
(JSOTF-South; eventually TF K-BAR) at Bahrain, and the KC-130 Detachment at Shaik Isa
Air Base (SIAB), Bahrain, under Major “Mags” Magnuson (XO of VMGR-352).
General Mattis also continued to coordinate with Coalition personnel throughout this period.
Traveling to Islamabad he called upon Ambassador Chamberlin and Major General Farooq,
Chief of Plans of the Pakistani Joint Headquarters Staff commencing development of a close
relationship with these two critical leaders. This visit laid the foundation for establishing a
mutual respect between Major General Farooq and General Mattis that would continue
throughout the operation. During his return from Islamabad, the CG stopped in Oman to
visit with General Dailey and the Commanding Officer of British 22 SAS. This led to the
integration of a British SAS liaison team joining the TF 58 staff on 18 November. The
General and members of the TF 58 staff also paid a visit to 15th MEU staff aboard the USS
PELELIU off the coast of Qatar.
Shortly after TF 58 was established the staff realized that a call sign was needed to
communicate with other units. Rather than pull a name from a list of unused call signs, the CG
decided to choose a specific call sign and request to use it. Coincidentally, General Mattis and
the staff were developing his mission statement for operations in Afghanistan. Because the CG
intended to develop a sense of “chaos” within the Taliban and Al Qaida forces in Southern
Afghanistan, he decided this would be an appropriate designation for the Task Force. The
request to use “CHAOS” was submitted through NAVCENT to CENTCOM and approved on 19
During this period in the planning process, General Mattis was able to renew an old
friendship with Commodore Bob Harward. Commodore Harward commanded the Navy SEALS
of the Naval Special Warfare Detachment. These SEALS, Joint forces and Coalition forces
eventually made up TF K-BAR. The two had met previously only months before in July, at the
Naval Amphibious Base in Coronado California. They were reunited again at NSA Bahrain.
Commodore Harward immediately assigned a SEAL liaison officer to the TF 58 planning team
and personally committed all possible support for the Marine operations in Afghanistan. As with
many aspects of command relationships during these operations, this relationship was worked
out without any formal guidance or direction.
Commodore Harward grew up in Iran and at he age of sixteen hitchhiked from Tehran to
New Delhi; on the way he spent five days in a Kandahar hospital with dysentery. In a similar
vein, General Mattis had hitchhiked across the United States in his youth. Both General Mattis
and Commodore Harward spent time at the Naval Academy Prep School, General Mattis as the
Battalion Officer and Harward as a student. During daily visits with the General, Commodore
Harward, sometimes sleepy eyed but always smiling, would mooch food as his first order of
business. Reminiscing about a pretty, old Swedish chemistry professor and an Irish poetry
spouting English professor, they would laugh and laugh. Commodore Harward was always
cheerful and the two men would enjoy fighting together in the coming months. TF 58 provided
75% of the assault support for all of TF K-BARs Sensitive Site Exploitation (SSE) missions as
those missions unfolded in Afghanistan.
Legitimate “hard” targets were difficult to identify as General Dailey had forecast from
his own experience. Targets and objectives were difficult to identify because they largely did not
exist, and information concerning specific sites was often outdated. Consequently, TF 58
intelligence planners spent considerable time and effort developing target folders and conducting
reach back for updated information through CONUS based intelligence organizations.
Three concepts of employment were briefed to Admiral Moore on 3 November. These
outlined employment options reflecting different objectives, force packages, and durations of
operation. The first option presented a short duration raid, 6-12 hours long, employing a
company-sized element approximately 40 miles into Afghanistan, and 350 miles from the sea.
The second option utilized a near simultaneous raid concept, 24-36 hours long, with 2 companies
operating on two different objectives. The final option presented a long duration raid, 48-72
hours long, employing a Battalion Landing Team (BLT) ashore.
These employment options reflected the guidance provided by Vice Admiral Moore to
conduct raids, General Dailey to consider establishing a longer term presence ashore, and
General Mattis to start with less complicated concepts and conduct raids intended to draw the
enemy out for attack by aviation assets. General Dailey also speculated again that even if the
Marines seized a FOB inside Taliban controlled territory, the enemy might not even then take
the offensive against them. Although no preference or guidance was given regarding which
concept would be selected, the staff expected to employ all of three options at some point
during the operation. The plan was continually refined as additional information and
intelligence became available and guidance was modified. Eventually the mission was to
change from conducting three to five raids, to a mission of seizing a FOB in order to attack
Lines of Communications (LOC’s) leading into Kandahar.
Vice Admiral “Willy” Moore’s personality contributed considerably to the success of TF
58’s operation in southern Afghanistan. It was the Vice Admirals’ vision and his confidence
in the ability of the Marines to cause chaos in southern Afghanistan. A bold thinker,
unrestrained by doctrine or process, it was his enthusiasm that created the TF, and enabled
the Navy/Marine team to conduct operations 350 miles inland. Whether smoking on his
office patio or holding school on his staff after a VTC, Admiral Moore believed in and knew
how to bring a concept to fruition. Had he been born a century and half ago, Vice Admiral
Moore undoubtedly would have been in command of a ship, with a Jolly Roger at the
masthead, brandishing a cutlass and causing chaos across the seas. He believed in the
aggressiveness and abilities of his Sailors and Marines, and did everything to unleash them
for their upcoming mission.
The establishment of Intermediate Support Bases (ISBs) in Pakistan was imperative to
the success of operations in Afghanistan. Numerous sites were initially assessed for their
suitability to support TF 58 operations and three sites: Pasni, Shamsi, and Jacobabad, were
ultimately selected. Pakistani military support for TF 58 operations was outstanding. In terms of
commitment and professionalism, Major General Farooq and his associates never let the Marines
down. Coordination for the use of these sites was an ongoing process, requiring close ties with
the CENTCOM liaison cell at the American Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan. LtCol Asad
“Genghis” Khan, a Marine liaison officer assigned to Brigadier General Ron Sams, USAF, with
his CENTCOM liaison cell provided a critical interface between TF 58 and the Pakistani military
for the use of the ISBs in Pakistan. The Pakistani Joint Headquarters Staff trusted Genghis;
years of disengagement and distrust were replaced by a warm, supportive professional and
personal relationship. Pakistan’s commitment to this effort consisted of over 35,000 Army
troops committed to base security, activation of two Navy bases, 7,000 Air Force troops and
squadrons and the deployment of frontier battalions along the Afghan-Pakistan border. The
Pakistani Government’s contribution to combating terrorism was visibly demonstrated
In addition to TF 58 and TF SWORD, Coalition SOF forces also intended to operate in
southern Afghanistan during the same time period. This meant that up to three operational
elements would be competing for targets in the same geographical area. For example, the TF 58
staff believed that their first mission would be a short duration raid against a drug processing
facility located 40 miles north of the Pakistani border in Afghanistan. However, due to the
competition for lucrative, identifiable targets, the Coalition SOF staff had focused on the same
target. Ultimately, the Coalition forces would be approved to conduct this mission, forcing the
TF 58 staff to focus on other objectives in the AO.
On 10 November, General Mattis delivered the TF 58 concept of operations brief to the
Deputy Commander in Chief (DCINC) of CENTCOM and staff via VTC from Bahrain. He was
told to continue developing plans for operations in southern Afghanistan, and TF 58 was
instructed to prepare for seizing and holding a FOB. The TF 58 staff had already anticipated that
requirement and continued to assess a desert airstrip known as Rhino, the airstrip General Dailey
noted as most supportable for such an operating base. Rhino, a United Arab Emirates (UAE)
hunting camp with a 6,400 foot-long dirt airstrip and associated buildings, had been a previous
objective of theater SOF. Although the concept for the establishment of a FOB in southern
Afghanistan was approved shortly following this brief, the initial plan would be refined until the
TF 58 staff boarded the USS PELELIU ten days later. During this period the objective would
change many times. Initially the objective was Rhino, but it was subsequently changed to
Kandahar Airport, then Herat followed by Shindand, and back to Rhino, necessitating late nights
and diffused planning.
The challenge of becoming a single TF lay in integrating the strengths (personality,
equipment and procedures) of each MEU into a common entity. This required the development
of internal command relationships within TF 58, established early by General Mattis with the
releasing of a “personal for” (P-4) message to both of the MEU/ PHIBRON commanders. After
developing a harmonious relationship with his MEU commanders, the General’s priority became
developing a mutually supportive relationship between the two MEU commanders themselves.
Although Marines follow common doctrine and procedures, MEUs were by design
intended to be self-contained operational organizations. Their highly trained and exceptionally
qualified commanders establish Standing Operating Procedures (SOPs) for their organizations
based on the expected operations and their experience. TF 58 planners dealt with the issue of
MEU individuality by designing operations that would preserve the unit integrity and capitalize
on their well-honed procedures as much as possible, in each of the commands. For example, the
15th MEU was tasked with seizing and securing FOB Rhino, while the 26th MEU would flow
through to conduct raid, interdiction, and seizure missions from the FOB. The 26th MEU
facilitated the coordination process by stationing a two-man liaison team with the staff.
Following the release of the P-4 message, the staff began early integration and
information sharing with the MEUs. VTCs were conducted, allowing the staff to interact real-
time with the MEUs throughout the planning process. Certain assets were identified and
considered critical to the success of the operation. These included: KC-130 aircraft, CH-53E
aircraft, refueling equipment and SeaBees. The aviation resources of both MEUs (KC-130’s and
CH-53E’s) were required during the initial seizure of FOB Rhino, as well as for follow on
operations. Requirements for four additional CH-53’s and two additional KC-130’s were
identified and Requests For Forces (RFFs) sent out. These RFFs would be approved and aircraft
from I MEF would deploy to support TF 58. MARCENT and 3d Marine Air Wing (MAW)
provided superb support in deploying the aircraft quickly to support TF 58. While exercising
great flexibility in combining assets from both MEUs to accomplish a single TF 58 objective,
responsibilities and requirements would have to be clearly established for each MEU. The MEU
and TF 58 staffs constantly defined and re-defined roles and responsibilities. This constant
exchange of ideas between staffs helped strengthen personal and unit relationships.
TF 58 moved into the MICFAC facilities in Bahrain on 8 November. These consisted of
two “temper tents”, a conference room, and a spare office for General Mattis, located in a
building that supported CTF 57. The move to tents was not insignificant and required the
creation of new e-mail accounts on a new MICFACCENT domain (old accounts in the MCE
were on the NAVCENT domain). In addition, chairs, desks, paper, pens, printers, phones, and
everything else required to support a staff had to be procured and moved into the tents. The Task
Force Headquarters staff itself was a non-Table of Organization (T/O), non-Table of Equipment
(T/E) unit. The move validated the General’s concept that every member of the staff would be
required to “fill sandbags,” as everyone was required to support the move. While the move was
occurring, the staff continued to plan and refine a brief due to CINCCENT on 10 November.
The tents remained in place for members of the Bahrain TF 58 staff providing logistical and
The tension associated with the planning process was intense. Plans had to be developed
and briefed at all levels. Some of the plans would make it through the process easily, others
were changed based on new guidance, usually verbal, out of Tampa, Florida. Team and trust
building, so important for the upcoming mission, had to be continually developed and nurtured.
Requests For Forces (RFFs) and Deployment Orders (DEPORDS) critical to plan development
had to be initiated, monitored and factored into the overall process, as expected arrival dates
fluctuated. Communications to higher, adjacent, and subordinate units made the process
difficult, both ashore and at sea. Initially the 15th and later the 26th MEU would experience
frustrations, but both would swallow their frustrations, maintaining focus on the ultimate mission
endstate. The 15th MEU was uncertain as to when the Army would relieve their security forces
at Jacobabad, and the 26th MEU was uncertain when they would arrive in the North Arabian Sea.
The planning timeline was compressed so every action occurred with a sense of urgency.
As planning continued, the TF 58 staff began to identify personnel requirements for the
operation. Several issues concerned the requirement for staff personnel on ship, as well as
procuring billeting and working space for them aboard the USS PELELIU. Although the bulk of
the staff, 19 personnel, would transition afloat, it became clear that members of the
administrative, intelligence and logistics sections would stay behind providing reach back
support. Coordination began during the second week of November to affect this transition. The
TF 58 staff interfaced with the 15th MEU S-4, and the PHIBRON N-4 via e-mail, to coordinate
billeting and space availability. The JIC-B space and ample billeting were set aside for the TF
58 staff as the MEU, PHIBRON and ships’ Commanders did everything possible to welcome TF
58 on board.
The TF 58 staff moved aboard the USS PELELIU on 20 November. The staff and
members of the press pool traveled by Marine KC-130 from Bahrain to Pasni and from Pasni to
the ship by helicopter. Once aboard, they received a formal Confirmation Brief from the 15th
MEU staff in the wardroom that evening. The brief lasted approximately three and a half hours,
and provided a comprehensive overview of the plan to seize FOB Rhino, showcasing superb
detailed planning of the most complex landing plan in anyone’s memory. D-day was established
as 1700Z on 23 November 2001. Additional planning was needed concerning the movement of
forces from ship-to-shore and detailed coordination with LtCol Kahn was required for the
staging of Marine forces in Pakistan. The Thanksgiving meal was served on board the ships on
this day in anticipation of the upcoming operation.
On 21 November, as the USS BATAAN closed on the PELELIU ARG, key PHIBRON 8
and 26 MEU staff members were crossed decked from the USS BATAAN to the USS PELELIU.
The purpose of this movement was to reinforce the integrated nature of TF 58 and to continue
coordination planning between the three staffs. After General Mattis issued his guidance to the
assembled staffs, they broke into operating groups and continued to conduct close coordination
and plan refinement. General Mattis conducted a separate visit to the BATAAN to address the
Navy and Marine officers on board.
During planning, General Mattis found the Rules of Engagement (ROE) for the assault
force overly restrictive. They required hostile intent or hostile act before we could engage. TF
58 requested modification to the ROE allowing the ground force commander to treat as hostile
and attack all personnel in the landing zone when making an assault into enemy territory and
during extract. Initially there was some resistance in Tampa to allow TF 58 forces this ROE
change. With NAVCENT’s full support, and with the persistence and the conviction that our
Marines required the freedom to proactively engage the enemy using their initiative and trusting
the Marine’s good judgment, CENTCOM authorized this ROE modification.
The Pakistani government placed certain constraints on TF 58 throughout the operation,
adding a level of complexity to the impending mission. These constraints reflected the Pakistani
desire to conceal its support of U.S. military operations and to control the information released to
the public due to the volatile nature of its internal politics. One restriction required TF 58 to
conduct all ship-to-shore and air movement into and out of Pakistan during hours of darkness.
Others involved the movement and staging of equipment and personnel required to support the
FOB seizure, at sites in Pasni, Shamsi, and Jacobabad.
Pasni, located on the coast of Pakistan, provided both access from the sea and the air.
Movement occurred from the Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) to a Beach Landing Site (BLS)
under the cover of darkness for subsequent ground movement to Pasni airfield, approximately an
hour drive away. Upon arrival at the airfield, the Pakistani’s placed restrictions on the amount of
equipment allowed at Pasni at any given time and required that personnel ashore maintain a low
profile during the day (initially many of them remaining confined inside hangers). A minimum
altitude of 3,500 feet Above Ground Level (AGL) was also established by the host nation to keep
helicopters above the range of small arms fire from disgruntled or hostile elements inside
Pakistan. Despite the restrictions, without the cooperation and willingness of the Pakistani
government to open Pasni in support of TF 58 operations, the assault into Afghanistan would not
have been possible.
Shamsi, approximately 90 nautical miles north of Pasni, would provide a critical forward
refueling point and staging area for Marine helicopters and personnel enroute from the ships to
southern Afghanistan. Jacobabad served as the KC-130 staging and refueling site and would be
used to pre-stage assault troops for the mission. Although D-day would slide to 25 November,
the conditions were set for the commencement of the operation on 23 November 2001.
(25 November to 25 December)
On 25 November 2001, Marines from TF 58 commenced operations to seize FOB Rhino.
General Franks, the CINC, stated “The purpose of the Forward Operating Base is to give us a
capability to be an awful lot closer to the core objectives we seek.” Although the operation was
originally named Swift Freedom by CENTCOM, within a week General Franks directed that the
Marine operation ashore would not be referred to as a separate operation, but as part of
Operation Enduring Freedom; the general term for the overall war against terrorism.
Six CH-53E’s (three each from the 15th and 26th MEUs) launched from the USS
PELELIU at 1300Z and 1345Z. The first three helicopters conducted night aerial refueling with
Marine KC-130’s en route to the objective, 350 nautical miles away. The three helicopters in the
second wave would have difficulty conducting aerial refueling. The CH-53E’s and AH-1W
Cobras flown by HMM 163, “Evil Eyes”, were the first aircraft in the LZ. The helicopters
carried Company C (-) reinforced, as well as the Commanding Officer Battalion Landing Team
1/1, LtCol Christopher Bourne and his jump Command Post (CP). SEALS had inserted into
Rhino on 21 November and, with the change in D-day, had been conducting Surveillance and
Reconnaissance (S&R) on the objective for four cold days. In keeping with the previously
coordinated deconfliction with TF SWORD in time and space, the timing of the operation
coincided with a scheduled operational pause for TF SWORD. TF 58 conducted a Battlefield
Handover (BHO) with TF SWORD while SEALS maintained continual communications with
the PELARG. The SEALS would send back real time photographs of Rhino to the staffs
personnel computers on board the PELELIU. P-3 AIP aircraft from TF 57 provided continuous
Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) on Rhino throughout the night and on all
subsequent nights with TF 58 riders on board. Intelligence support for the assault had been
superb. The trend for intelligence excellence would continue throughout the operation.
The assault force linked-up with the SEALS at Landing Zone (LZ) Rhino and then
proceeded to secure the area and clear the runway for the introduction of follow-on forces. Once
the runway was lit by USAF Special Tactics Squadron (STS) personnel and declared KC-130
capable, additional rifle companies from BLT 1/1 flew in on USMC KC-130’s from Jacobabad,
Pakistan where they had been pre-positioned. The first KC-130 to land on the dirt airstrip was
flown by a VMGR-352 detachment aircrew, landing an hour and a half after the insert of the
assault force. Marine KC-130’s and their courageous crews established and maintained the air
bridge into Rhino. During the following weeks their efforts provided the bulk of the flights into
and out of the FOB. A total of 403 Marines and four Interim Fast Attack Vehicles (IFAV’s)
were inserted on the night of D-Day.
Company A embarked on KC-130’s soon joined company C in the defense of Rhino.
They split the objective, with Company C securing the west half and Company A securing the
east half. Continuous fire support was provided by a section of the BLT’s 81mm Mortar platoon.
Close Air Support (CAS) was provided by four AH-1W and three UH-1N helicopters, four AV-
8B Harriers from each MEU, and additional abundant CFACC fixed wing aircraft. In
accordance with the concept of operations, an engineer platoon cleared the buildings at the
compound while the reconnaissance platoon and scout snipers established Observation Posts
(OP’s) extending the defensive perimeter around Rhino. The TF 58 and the 15th MEU staffs
monitored the events on D-Day from the Landing Force Operations Center (LFOC) aboard the
The TF 58 staff deployed a forward Observation Post (OP) into Rhino on D+1.
Consisting of General Mattis, a communications team lead by Major Stebbins the TF 58
Communications Officer, and Lieutenant Cliff Smith, the SeaBee liaison officer, the forward OP
established communications connectivity to the TF 58 staff aboard the PELELIU. The TF 58
jump Command Post CP remained aboard the PELELIU, maintaining connectivity with TF 58
main staff located in Bahrain. The jump CP remained poised aboard the PELELIU to go ashore
as needed. Eventually the TF 58 staff would operate from four sites during the operation:
Kandahar, Rhino, the USS PELELIU and Bahrain.
Shortly after the American flag was raised at Rhino it was ordered down. The order to
take the flag down came from Tampa, the rationale behind it the source of widespread
speculation among the Marines. As General Mattis conducted his daily walks around the
perimeter, this was the most frequently asked question, and the most difficult to answer.
During the initial 48 hours of the operation, Marine combat power increased rapidly.
While aboard the USS PELELIU, Capt Mike Flatten USAF STS had established a reputation as a
solid advisor, aggressively carrying out his duties in support of TF 58. Somewhat rugged in his
appearance, Capt Flatten endured numerous ribbings by CTF 58 to get a haircut, finally
complying with a slight trim above his ears. His actions during the initial assault into Rhino
were commendable, ensuring that the runway was lit within minutes for follow-on waves of KC-
130’s. During the next weeks, Captain Flatten orchestrated operations at the “Rhino
International Airport,” coordinating hundreds of fixed and rotary wing flights under terrible
flying conditions at night, in and out of the FOB. Displaying tremendous maturity and
leadership, he supervised the buildup of combat power and sustainment facilitating the success of
TF 58 in southern Afghanistan. The Marine Aviation Command and Control System Mobile
Team (MMT) assisted Capt Flatten in his duties. Functioning as Air Traffic Control (ATC)
these nine Marines would perform the same duties as the 134-man USAF Tanker Airlift Control
Element (TALCE) at Kandahar. For Marines who served at Rhino, sunset will be remembered
by the roar of KC-130’s and C-17’s, at a constant tempo, until dawn brought peace and quiet
Also during this period, Captain Flatten, using a penetrometer, assessed the runway at
Rhino and determined that is was C-17 capable. This was critical, as the TF 58 staff had
identified the need for the aircraft’s lift capability early in the planning process in order to
maximize the build-up of combat power on the objective. C-17s are designed to operate on
relatively short (minimum length of 3000 feet), unimproved or dirt surface airfields. In addition,
they can carry three Light Armored Vehicles (LAV’s) or up to ten High Mobility Multi-Wheeled
Vehicles (HMMWV’s), compared to the KC-130 aircraft’s ability to carry one LAV or three
TF 58 Air Officers maintained close contact with the Marine Liaison Officers (MARLOs)
at the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC). The MARLOs became essential partners in
procuring aviation assets to support TF 58 operations ashore. A continual dialog by radio, secure
telephone, e-mail and chat between the MARLOs and the TF 58 Air Officers ensured the
required aviation support was received when the Task Force needed it. This vital relationship
remained throughout operations in Afghanistan.
Because intra-theater lift was critical to the rapid buildup of combat power and logistic
sustainment during the operation, TF 58 requested C-17 support through NAVCENT on the 17th
of November. At that time, Transportation Command (CINCTRANS) had reservations about
committing C-17’s into southern Afghanistan. This early assessment was in part based on the
perceived Surface to Air Missile (SAM) threat in southern Afghanistan. NAVCENT requested
that CENTCOM intervene on their behalf. After the conduct of a threat assessment, the
establishment of patrols and OPs in the landing and take-off cones, and a phone call to General
Wooley (the CG of C-17’s in theater), C-17s were approved for nighttime operations at Rhino.
On D+1, JSTARS aircraft detected several enemy BMP’s 28 miles to the northwest of
FOB Rhino. After an airborne Forward Air Controller (FAC) confirmed their identification,
Navy F-14s flying overhead and Marine AH-1Ws from FOB Rhino attacked the vehicles.
Rather than slow the high tempo of air operations into FOB Rhino, this engagement emphasized
the requirement for C-17 aircraft and their ability to support the rapid buildup of LAV combat
The first wave of C-17 aircraft arrived in FOB Rhino on 28 November, transporting
Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 133. The aircraft were part of a
squadron that specialized in operating on dirt LZ’s. As part of the air detachment at Guam, the
SeaBees had flown by C-5 to Diego Garcia, then Thumrait, Oman where they transloaded aboard
C-17’s. Immediately after landing, the Seabees began grading the airstrip. The decision to insert
Seabees vice additional combat power had been debated amongst the staff, but Lieutenant Smith,
the TF 58 Seabee liaison officer, provided his expertise and influence during the discussion. His
input was critical to the decision to flow SeaBees in early, ensuring continued build up of combat
power and sustainment. During the following days and weeks, the SeaBees’ rapid runway repair
capability significantly enhanced TF 58’s ability to not only maintain the airfield, but also
improve the overall condition of the FOB.
SeaBees also provided contingency construction capability and assisted in numerous
projects in and around Rhino, proving their resourcefulness through their construction of a
multitude of projects. Scrounging for materials, they built map tables, surgical tables, and gun
racks for the Australian SAS when they arrived. They also provided heavy equipment support
with their bulldozer “Natasha II”, which was gainfully employed to excavate berms, trash pits,
and vehicle obstacles for the Marines. One project, the construction of an expeditionary
outhouse, affectionately known as a “4-hole burnout,” was particularly well received by the
Marines. The burnout precluded the need to dig or use slit trenches and significantly improved
the sanitary conditions at Rhino.
Environmental conditions at Rhino were austere, and Marines manning fighting holes
were subjected to difficult living conditions. The sand was similar in consistency to Talcum
powder and when disturbed it created billowing clouds of dust that lingered for a quarter of an
hour before settling down. The fine dust created by the previous evening’s sustainment flights
was pervasive, and Marines had to continually sweep the dust from their weapons, equipment,
and workspaces. There was little in the way of vegetation and, intermingled with the rocks and
debris, small patches of dried sticks poked up through the sand. For all of the dust that
endangered flight operations, grunts digging in on the perimeter had to dig through limestone in
most cases. Daytime temperatures rose to 80 degrees, only to drop to 30 degrees at night.
“There is ice in our canteens in the morning, and the parkas we have practically save our lives,”
stated a squad leader with Alpha, Co., Battalion Landing Team 1/1, 15th MEU (SOC). Rations
had to be flown in each day and during the six weeks that FOB Rhino was operational the
Marines dined on Meals Ready to Eat (MRE’s) and two liters of bottled water per day.
The need for proper hygiene was imperative. During the Soviet occupation of
Afghanistan, 75% of their soldiers were hospitalized due to poor hygiene habits and had to spend
time in field hospitals. Within days of arriving, the SeaBees constructed temporary head
facilities, and wash stations for the occupants of Rhino. In addition to enhancing morale, the
“four hole burn-outs” reinforced the need for strict adherence to proper field hygiene habits.
Specific locations at Rhino were designated as hygiene areas and were monitored by medical
technicians daily. Most Marines strove to maintain healthy standards and settled into a morning
routine that involved brushing their teeth, shaving, and washing with bottled water. Non-
Commissioned Officer and Petty Officer leadership was critical.
The Marines quickly adapted to Afghanistan and settled into a way of life captured by a
reporter from Newsweek Magazine: “At night the grunts did virtually anything to keep
themselves awake and entertained. Shivering in the 30-degree cold, they sang lewd songs, talked
about how ready they were to kill and pondered the discos and clubs they would head out to
when they returned home as heroes.”
On 29 November, as the buildup of personnel and equipment continued at Rhino,
CINCCENT and NAVCENT notified the TF 58 staff that a force cap was being placed on the
number of Marines and Sailors allowed at FOB Rhino. Initially set at 1,000, then 1078, the cap
was later increased to 1,100 and then 1,400. This contrasted sharply with TF 58’s original
concept for operations at Rhino, which called for the 26th MEU to arrive shortly after the 15th
MEU secured the FOB and move quickly against Kandahar’s LOCs. It also created additional
force protection issues by hindering the Marines’ ability to quickly reinforce forces currently
ashore in southern Afghanistan. With the ships 350 miles away, a shipborne reserve was not
capable of intervening in a timely manner. The emplacement of the force cap denied the
commander the ability to maintain an operational shock absorber.
When the force cap was imposed, the 15th MEU was completing its insertion of combat
power into Rhino and the 26th MEU was staging equipment and personnel at Pasni, Pakistan in
preparation for the follow-on flow. The force cap caused a pause in operations, stopping the
buildup of combat power in southern Afghanistan. The 15th MEU had to prioritize personnel
and equipment, sending 102 of its members back to the USS PELELIU. Although the cap did
not apply directly to SOF and Coalition forces that intended to operate from Rhino, it influenced
their flow into the FOB indirectly. Because the Coalition forces required Marine logistic
support, a decrease in the assets available to TF 58 subsequently reduced the number of Coalition
forces that we could sustain. The force cap did not apply to Naval forces in Pakistan. The cap
did, however, force TF 58 to develop an impromptu retrograde plan for returning staged
personnel and equipment to the ARG. The majority the 26th MEU’s personnel and equipment
were retained aboard the USS BATAAN. Many subordinate commanders spent inordinate
amounts of time focused on swapping out men who were needed at Rhino, flying them out of
dusty, dangerous Rhino to replace them with other Marines whose skills were more urgently
On 30 November, TF 58 units ashore in the Joint Operations Area (JOA) shifted Tactical
Control (TACON) to the Combined Force Land Component Commander (CFLCC). TF 58
remained OPCON to CFMCC (Vice Admiral Moore was dual hatted as NAVCENT and
CFMCC). CFLCC’s headquarters was based in Kuwait and staffed primarily by elements from
the U.S. Third Army. CFLCC had been designated previously by CENTCOM as the sole
commander for land forces in Afghanistan. The TACON relationship required the small TF 58
staff to provide information to two higher headquarters, CFMCC and CFLCC. The CFLCC staff
was quite large and levied increased reporting requirements on the TF 58 staff, eventually
requiring CONOPS briefs in advance of small-scale operations. Working with the CFLCC staff
through two Marine liaison officers, the TF 58 staff was able to adapt to the new information
requirements while continuing to develop a solid working relationship with the CFLCC staff.
The positive relationship would last throughout the operation as CFLCC buttressed and
represented CTF 58’s interests.
After seizing the FOB, TF 58’s mission planning included Lines Of Communication
(LOC) interdiction operations along Route 1, a key road situated to the north of Rhino
connecting Lashkar Gah with Kandahar. TF 58 directed the interdiction of Route 1 and included
mobile assets from the 26th MEU. Requests were sent to CENTCOM through NAVCENT for
relief from the force cap. TF 58 required additional forces to be able to continue FOB security
and to send a significant combat force north to conduct the LOC interdiction. The request for
relief from the force cap was eventually approved and a new ceiling was established at 1400
Marines and Sailors ashore in southern Afghanistan. This happened only after Major General
Edwards, Deputy CFLCC, a constant voice and fighter for the Marines, intervened forcefully.
CENTCOM then issued confusing guidance contrary to the OpOrder, stating that TF 58’s only
role was to seize a FOB (not interdict LOCs) complicated the situation. The same day CTF-58
was told by CENTCOM that the Marines sole job was to seize Rhino, he received a FRAGO to
interdict Route 1 in order to isolate Kandahar.
Supplies, equipment, and personnel continued to be airlifted into Rhino each night. The
high volume of air traffic caused extraordinary degradation to the dirt airstrip and the Seabees
were required to conduct intensive 24-hour runway maintenance to keep the airfield operational.
As conditions worsened, the Seabees had to fly in additional equipment, road graders and
compactors, and personnel, further complicating the force cap issue.
To facilitate the operational control and tactical direction of the afloat units of TF 58,
General Mattis designated Commodore William Jezierski, Commander, Amphibious Squadron
One, as the Deputy Commander TF 58. The Commodore was a superb leader with the force of
personality and experience to relieve General Mattis of all concerns for the combined ARG’s
operations. The Commodore was instrumental in organizing what many believed to be the “most
difficult amphibious landing in 20 years.” His actions orchestrating sensitive nighttime beach
and airfield operations at Pasni were executed flawlessly. Where many would have found
obstacles, the Commodore found opportunities. Never caught flat-footed, Commodore Jezierski
would prove invaluable throughout the operation.
CTF 50 provided escorts to the ARG throughout the operation. The escorts were under
the Tactical Control of the Deputy, CTF 58 and normally consisted of three ships to include one
AEGIS CG or DDG. While the ships were primarily US, Canada and Italy provided escorts in
December and January.
TF 58 received the order to execute the LOC interdiction operation along Route 1 on
December 3rd. Although the intent was to block Taliban and Al Qaida forces traveling along
Route 1, the CFLCC refined his guidance during the upcoming days to “prevent/deny the
escape” of Taliban and Al Qaida forces from Afghanistan. This priority mission would
consume 15th MEU operations for the next ten days. Additionally, the first elements of TF 64,
the Australian Special Air Service (SAS) forces arrived at FOB Rhino on 3 December. LtCol
Gus Gilmore commanded the Australians, and his men were well prepared for the fight. He had
met with General Mattis during planning in Bahrain, and the men had agreed that the Australians
would be incorporated as quickly as possible in operations ashore. The Australians were used to
operating independently over large tracts of open space with mission type orders. Their
confidence, maturity, and proficiency quickly resulted in a mutual respect that engendered a
close bond between TF 58 and TF 64. These forces, assigned TACON to TF 58, would integrate
and develop a close working relationship with the Marines over the next several weeks. Their
arrival was timely, allowing the Marines to bolster their fighting power in southern Afghanistan
while remaining within the constraints of the force cap.
Reconnaissance elements led the way to Route 1, followed by 15th MEU LAV’s on 4
December. The 120-kilometer 19-hour motor march across the uncharted desert proved to be
difficult and time consuming. Some vehicles had 80,000 tactical miles on them before beginning
the journey and had to be “coaxed” throughout the trip. Four vehicles simply broke down,
requiring towing. Additional fuel beyond the original estimates was also required. The
interdiction force overcame these obstacles and moved toward the site chosen for establishing a
tactical patrol base west of Kandahar (3139N 06451E).
TF 58 forces at FOB Rhino received additional mission tasking on 5 December. An
Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) team and SOF, operating with OG Karzai to the northeast
of Rhino, requested TF 58 helicopter support in evacuating combat casualties. Although the
casualties were initially reported as having been received during an ongoing enemy mortar
attack, it eventually became clear that they occurred during a fratricide incident involving CAS.
Because the incident occurred during daylight hours, TF 58 had reservations about sending
helicopters into what it was initially told was an ongoing firefight. As details became clear,
several CH-53E’s and AH-1W helicopters were launched in support of the ODA team. The
Shock Trauma Platoon (STP), which had arrived at Rhino the evening before and had conducted
a mass casualty drill, readied themselves for the receipt of casualties. When the helicopters
arrived, Marines helped transport the wounded to the aid station. Numerous media
representatives were kept away from the airstrip and route to the aid station, engendering their
Thirty-nine casualties were brought to FOB Rhino for triage. 19 U.S. personnel were
transferred to an Air Force C-130 Joint Medevac Aviation Unit (JMAU) and flown to medical
facilities in Seeb, Oman. Twenty Afghan casualties (one KIA) were taken by CH-53E helicopter
to PELELIU AND BATAAN. One of the helicopters had to return to FOB Rhino due to a
fodded engine. As the aircraft hovered over the airstrip losing power, it jettisoned it drop tanks
full of fuel adding to the confusion and requiring cleanup to reopen the runway that night. The
patients were transferred to another CH-53 that departed immediately for the ships. Over one
hundred hours were logged in the USS PELELIU’s four operating rooms, where thirty-six life
and limb saving procedures were performed. Aboard the USS BATAAN, two surgeons
conducted twenty-nine surgical procedures over a twenty nine-hour period and all surgeries were
completed within 60 hours of arrival. Commodore Jezierski, aboard the USS PELELIU,
remarked that this was the “the best medical evolution I have ever seen.”
Linguists recently attached to TF 58 aboard the USS PELELIU assisted the medical staffs
with translation. Not knowing that he was on board a ship, one of the Afghani patients asked if
he was in the United States and why the building kept moving. The medical staff showed the
patient a picture of the USS PELELIU and explained that he was aboard a U.S. Naval vessel.
The patient was awestruck. Another patient, conducted prayers on a prayer rug provided by one
of the U.S. Navy personnel. Religious services were offered to the Afghanis and all exhibited
their appreciation. As the patients recovered, they expressed their desire to return to Afghanistan
to continue to fight for the Southern Alliance, and all were eventually repatriated at Kandahar
airport once it was in Marine hands. The deceased Afghani was returned to FOB Rhino and
buried with military honors. His grave was marked with a headstone and SOF personnel passed
the location onto the OG forces. Eventually, the body would be exhumed and returned to his
family in Kandahar.
The extreme operating conditions at Rhino created challenges for aviators and their
machines. During the morning of 4 December an AH-1W Cobra aircraft had experienced a hard
landing while conducting a dawn patrol. The aircraft remained in the field with a security force
approximately ten kilometers from Rhino for several days until repair parts could be flown. On
the evening of the 5th an Air Force C-130 crew became disoriented while departing the apron at
Rhino and the wing of their aircraft impacted the rotor blade of a parked CH-53E. The C-130
was inspected and continued on its mission. The CH-53E sustained damage that required repair,
downing the aircraft for several days.
6 December was a busy night for the Marines of TF 58. At approximately 1645Z,
security forces at Rhino observed light flashes to the north and northwest of FOB Rhino. After
P-3 aircraft orbiting overhead confirmed individuals loading vehicles, suspected enemy positions
were engaged by the 81mm mortar platoon. An LAV patrol was sent out to investigate, but no
equipment or personnel were found. The Marines in Rhino remained at a heightened state of
alert throughout the evening and remaining flights into Rhino were cancelled.
Shortly after the enemy sighting, a UH-1N helicopter burst into flames near the airfield.
The pilots became disoriented in the dense dust (brown out conditions) while launching in
support of LAV’s interdiction mission along Route 1, and crashed. All crewmembers survived,
due to the quick thinking and rescue efforts of fellow Marines. As flames engulfed the aircraft
and ammunition began to cook off, ordnance personnel from the Aviation Combat Element
(ACE) and Marines from MEU Service Support Group (MSSG) 15 struggled and succeeded in
moving a fuel truck that had been parked only 15-feet away. Throughout this incident, mortars
and MK-19’s were employed by the BLT in defense of the perimeter.
Later that evening, at 2350Z, Marines along Route 1 engaged in a firefight. P-3 aircraft
reported the movement of up to six vehicles towards the interdiction site where the ambush was
set. After the column stopped momentarily, one vehicle sped towards the Marines’ concertina
wire roadblock. The truck stopped when it became tangled in the wire and the Marines
immediately opened fire, causing the vehicle to burst into flames. Marines confirmed seven
enemy dead. One of the individuals, on fire, had attempted to flee and was quickly dispatched
by a Marine sniper. After the explosion, the other enemy vehicles attempted to move into a
position north of the road, perhaps trying to move past the ambush site. Major Oliver, the TF 58
P-3 observer saw up to thirty individuals dismount from the vehicles and begin to form a
skirmish line. CAS aircraft, quickly directed onto the target by the P-3 and a Marine Forward
Air Controller (FAC) call sign “Neck”, destroyed all of the vehicles, one of them immediately
after the skirmish line remounted. The following day villagers reported that it was an enemy
convoy and they estimated 120 casualties. The P-3 detected no movement along Route 1,
between Lashkar Gah with Kandahar on succeeding nights.
While the interdiction of Route 1 mission continued, the TF 58 staff received additional
missions directing the occupation of Kandahar Airport and the requirement to provide security to
Department of State (DOS) personnel preparing to open the American Embassy in Kabul,
During the proceeding weeks, CFLCC and CFMCC had told the Marines to be prepared
to receive detainees and provide temporary holding facilities, until arrangements could be made
to transfer them elsewhere. TF 58 staff afloat was tasked with preparing a CONOP for the
handling of detainees afloat and the prioritization of C5F assets (LHA, LHD and CVN) to
receive high value detainees. The first detainee arrived at Rhino on 7 December. He was an
American citizen named Johnny Walker, who had been captured while fighting for the Taliban.
The decision was made to secure Johnny Walker at FOB Rhino until he could be transferred to
the PELELIU ARG. Upon arriving at Rhino, Walker immediately received medical attention.
Under a 24-hour guard, his sanitation needs were met and medical personnel evaluated his
condition twice a day. He was given two MRE’s per day, later raised to three, and all the water
he wanted. While at Rhino, Walker was not interviewed by Marines. Walker was photographed
by the FBI and then interviewed and fingerprinted by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service
(NCIS). He was transferred to the USS PELELIU on 14 December.
As OG forces continued to make progress against Taliban and Al Qaida forces
throughout Afghanistan, US government officials began preparing to reopen the US Embassy in
Kabul, which had been closed in 1997. On 7 December, CFLCC directed TF 58 to provide a
security force to assist the Department of State (DOS) in this endeavor. CTF 58 assigned the
mission to the 26th MEU who rapidly planned a superb operation. Two days later, Captain J.P.
McDonough and elements of Kilo Battery 3/l0 departed the ARG for Bagram Airfield, located
approximately 25 miles north of Kabul. British forces and a small contingent of soldiers from
the U.S. 10th Mountain Division were also operating in the area. The airfield was heavily mined
and just days prior to the arrival of the security force a British soldier had been injured by a
Marines from the 26th MEU flew into Bagram Airfield on 9 December for subsequent
link-up with DOS personnel and elements of TF Bagram, 10th Mountain Division, for further
transport to the embassy in Kabul. The Marines arrived at night and after coordinating with TF
Bagram, moved via buses to the embassy compound in Kabul. The Marines quickly established
security at the embassy compound, and over the following days, continued to increase security
and prepare the embassy for the introduction of DOS personnel. Captain McDonough captured
the significance of the occasion, “As soon as we raise the flag, this will become the most
valuable piece of property here. We’re on U.S. sovereign territory, and we’ll protect it as such.”
The Marines of TF 58 continued to provide security at the embassy until relieved by members of
4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (4th MEB) led by Captain Sullivan on 27 December.
At this time, the OG’s enjoyed continued success throughout much of Afghanistan and
the overall situation began to shift rapidly. As the enemy’s hold over the Kandahar region began
to deteriorate, TF 58 was tasked to occupy the city’s airport in conjunction with OG forces
operating in the area. TF 58 had been considering such an operation since November, and had
assessed the feasibility of both seizure and secure missions. Although the original concept was
to employ the 26th MEU as the main effort, it was now evident that assets from both MEUs
would be required. 15th MEU would lead the operation by using its LAV force then conducting
the interdiction mission along Route 1 west of Kandahar, while the 26th MEU contributed a
heliborne infantry company, additional LAV’s, and helicopter support. In addition to the
military operation, the TF 58 staff had to consider coordination with the OG forces in the area.
OG forces maintained positions around Kandahar, and their assistance in moving to and
occupying Kandahar were essential.
To establish coordination between TF 58 and the OG forces, a meeting was arranged
between the two military commanders operating in the vicinity of Kandahar. Shirzai who would
become Governor of Kandahar Province, maintained forces to the south of Kandahar and Karzai,
who would later become interim president of Afghanistan, (Afghan Interim Authority or AIA)
controlled forces to the north of Kandahar. At 1830Z on 12 December, a meeting was planned
with both of the OG leaders. General Mattis and select commanders and planners from the 15th
MEU and from the adjacent and supporting SOF forces attended the meeting. The meeting
between members of TF 58 and the OG leaders took place in the outskirts of Kandahar in
Taliban leader Mullah Omar’s old compound.
Three Air Force Special Operations MH-53J’s, transported the planners and security
personnel from Rhino to an LZ near the compound, where they were boarded waiting vehicles
for the three-kilometer trip to the compound. Unfortunately, as one of the helicopters was
landing in the LZ, it landed on a Land Rover injuring a young British soldier. The Soldier was
immediately lifted out of the zone to receive emergency care. TF 58 personnel met with SOF
personnel who had worked with Karzai and Shirzai, for an hour before the meeting began. When
the two OG leaders arrived, a discussion was conducted by lantern light with General Mattis and
key SOF personnel.
The central topic was the Marines’ safe passage through Kandahar to the airport. The
leaders discussed routes, time lines, link-up points, recognition signals, and convoy procedures.
Karzai felt confident that the Marine forces could go through the city during daylight hours.
Coordination with SOF elements during the road march and while securing the airport was
deemed critical. Initially there was some concern over whether or not the OG forces would
restrict the number of Marines operating at the airport, but the local leaders were unconcerned
about overall numbers and, in fact, encouraged a large presence at the airport.
Even with an OG escort the mission would encounter unknown threats. Not only was
Kandahar the “spiritual” capital of the Taliban forces, the plan called for the LAV force to
conduct a motor march east along Route 1, where Mujahadeen fighters had frequently
ambushed convoys during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Kandahar Airport had been
the scene of recent fighting, and was reported to be heavily mined. OG leaders informed the
Marines about identification, locations of minefields, what buildings were known to be
booby-trapped, and the infrastructure available at the airport. It was agreed that OG forces
would team with the Marines. Following the meeting, the Marines departed the site on MH-
53J aircraft for their return trip to Rhino.
Until this time, 15th MEU had been conducting the LOC interdiction mission north of
Rhino along Route 1, while the 26th MEU had been conducting screening operations west of the
FOB. Now, LAVs from the 15th MEU held in place, waiting for those from the 26th MEU (TF
Sledgehammer) to join them. TF Sledgehammer consisted of LAVs, and Combined Anti-Armor
Team (CAAT) HMMWVs from 26th MEU. The plan called for TF Sledgehammer to proceed
north along the Helmand River through the town of Lashkar Gah, then east to Route 1 to their
linkup with the LAV Company under Major Tom Impellateri. This movement involved a
lengthy journey across desert and potential hostile territory. Those moving forward were
refueled and resupplied in the field, while 15th MEU personnel and equipment not involved in
the Kandahar movement returned to Rhino.
CTF 58 forward OP joined the combined LAV force on 13 December, shortly after the
link-up 800 meters south of Route 1, 40 miles west of Kandahar. As evening drew close, the
LAV led convoy linked up with Army Special Forces/OG fighters and then proceeded east to the
city completing a cold, four-hour passage through the battle-scarred city of Kandahar. The trip
to the airport occurred without incident and after the assault force secured the east end of the
runway, Company I, BLT 3/6, 26th MEU flew in on CH-53E helicopters to bolster security. AH-
1Ws, Harriers from the USS BATAAN and other Coalition CAS aircraft provided on call CAS
throughout the mission. CFLCC Commander and his staff observed the movement via a real
time feed from Predator.
By morning of 14 December, TF 58 had established their second FOB in Afghanistan.
Marines from the 26th MEU then began the onerous task of cleaning and repairing the runway for
Marine KC-130 aircraft. On 15 December, following a short pause due to what appeared to be
ground fire in the vicinity of Kandahar (which turned out to be the small arms fire in celebration
of the end of Ramadan), the first of many Marine KC-130’s landed at Kandahar Airport. After
multiple airfield opening and assessment teams declared the runway safe, the first C-17 arrived
on 18 December (a total of five USAF airfield assessment teams would eventually pass through
As some Marines were in the process of retrograding across the desert from Route 1 to
Rhino and others were moving into the airport at Kandahar, TF 58 began to plan for Sensitive
Site Exploitation (SSE) missions west of Rhino in the Dewaluk region. Intelligence sources
believed that eight village compounds in the area might yield valuable intelligence information if
inspected and CFLCC had directed the Marines to prepare to conduct and support the collection
effort. Because some of the sites were reportedly linked to chemical and biological warfare
research, a Chemical Biological Inspection Site Team (CBIST) was flown in to Rhino to assist
during the inspections. On the night they arrived, however, they learned of potential SSE sites at
Tarnak Farms four kilometers southeast of Kandahar Airport. Elements of their team
immediately left for Kandahar and spent the next several days exploring the Tarnak Farms site,
uncovering valuable intelligence information at Bin-Laden’s former training camp.
As planning for a SSE mission in Dewaluk neared completion, TF 58 was tasked with
planning a mission to attack enemy forces in the Tora Bora region. The location of Tora Bora
was over two hundred miles north and to the east of Kandahar in the mountainous border region
adjoining Pakistan. The region had been the site of numerous engagements between the Soviet
and Afghani forces. The area had extremely mountainous terrain (14,000 foot mountains) and
numerous caves that required inspection. As TF 58 planners began to develop and assess the
requirements for the mission they realized that Marines in desert utilities and boots at Rhino
would require cold weather equipment for the Tora Bora mission.
Although Tampa tentatively assigned another force cap limiting the number of Marines
that could be sent north, a steady flow of 26th MEU forces from the BATAAN ARG to Kandahar
began in earnest. Most traveled from Pasni, Pakistan to FOB Rhino to the Kandahar airport.
Although the number of Marines in Afghanistan swelled significantly, it was clear that TF 58
required all of its combat power to accomplish the myriad missions it had been assigned and
higher headquarters refrained from mentioning the force cap again. While never formally
rescinded, it ceased to be addressed as a higher headquarters consideration.
It was during this time on14 December that Marines from the 15th MEU conducted the
SSE mission to the west of Rhino in the village of Dewaluk. Meanwhile, the Tora Bora mission
was anticipated to be a major undertaking and preparations continued in anticipation of an
execute order from higher.
TF 58 and 15th MEU planners were kept quite busy by the pace of operations set in
southern Afghanistan. They had just recovered Marines from an interdiction mission along
Route 1, sent Marines forward to secure the airport at Kandahar, and were now planning for near
simultaneous SSE operations in Dewaluk and Tora Bora. 26th MEU was gainfully employed
securing and opening Kandahar Airport. As the CBIST team concluded operations at Tarnak
Farms, plans for the Dewaluk mission were finalized and the focus switched to execution. The
Australian SAS, TF 64, collaborated closely with the 15th MEU along with the freed-up CBIST
personnel. TF 58 inserted TF 64 vehicles and equipment by helicopters, and the SAS conducted
strategic reconnaissance enabling the scheme to be modified up to the point of departure.
In concert with the CBIST, TF 58 was to search Dewaluk’s eight villages for intelligence
information and any evidence of radiological or chemical weapons. 15th MEU planners had
planned for the daylight helicopter insertion of a small Platoon sized element of Marines in the
vicinity of one of the eight villages. LtCol Khan, an Urdu speaker from the CENTCOM Pakistan
Liaison Cell in Islamabad accompanied the CBIST. The 15th MEU plan relied upon LtCol
Khan’s ability to communicate with the local villagers.
Under the cover of ground security forces, which included IFAV’s, and helicopter
gunships, Marines and OG forces approached the village compound in a non-threatening manner
and requested to speak to the village elder. While conversing with the elder and handing out
cigarettes and candy, the Marines requested permission to conduct an escorted walk-through of
the village compound. Following the first search, the Marines moved out on foot and repeated
the process at the other seven compounds. Throughout the mission, crowds of curious on lookers
primarily composed of children met the Marines. The Marines had prepared for this and were
able to hand out candy, fruit, pens, pencils, and paper. The children were keenly interested in the
writing instruments and paper. Nothing unusual was discovered during the searches and the
mission was completed without incident. After being extracted by helicopter the Marines
returned to Rhino and continued to prepare for Tora Bora. Although well planned, TF 58 would
never execute the Tora Bora mission, which was officially cancelled on 9 January 2002. The use
of Marines had been proposed by the CINC to “encourage” the OG forces to re-energize their
operations and clean out Tora Bora completely. His plan worked, but the Marines were
disappointed to miss the chance for a fight.
Considering the austere conditions, morale for the Marines and Sailors at Rhino and
Kandahar was exceptionally high, reinforcing their cocky, macho attitude. Numerous
personalities visited both FOBs during the Christmas holiday. The Commandant of the Marine
Corps and General Hagee, CG I MEF, arrived at Rhino and Kandahar on 19 December, followed
two days later by General Tommy Franks, CINCCENT. General Jones and General Hagee
toured the perimeter positions and spoke to assembled Marines throughout the night.
Following a visit with KC-130 detachment Marines and Airmen at Jacobabad, General
Tommy Franks, CINCCENT, flew into Rhino on a C-17 and brought members of a USO show
with him. Marines gathered in a huge warehouse that served as the billeting area, leaving space
for the CINC and his guests. Wayne Newton, Drew Carey, Neil McCoy and two Dallas Cowboy
Cheerleaders spent approximately an hour at Rhino. The Marines and Sailors were thrilled to see
all the celebrities, although the cheerleaders were most popular. One Seabee gave his
camouflage blouse with the nametape “McCoy” on it to Neil McCoy. Mr. McCoy put the blouse
on and wore it throughout the evening. The CINC and the celebrities then traveled to Kandahar
Airport, Pasni and the ARG, repeating their performance and raising spirits before leaving the
Although on high alert, Christmas proved relatively uneventful for TF 58. Special food
boxes were prepared by Navy Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) in Bahrain thanks to Vice
Admiral Moore’s initiative and were very well received by the Marines, Sailors and Coalition
forces all over southern Afghanistan (hot holiday meals could not be provided due to the
distances from the ships). The ARG ships also prepared non-perishable food and treats, which
they sent to the forces ashore. Major Bob “Brutus” Charette, the TF 58 Air Officer, coordinated
a Christmas day air show for the Marines. Two F/A-18 Hornets and two F-14 Tomcats from the
USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT spent 20 minutes in the sky over Rhino performing complex
and impressive maneuvers. When the show was over, the aircraft proceeded to their refueling
rendezvous point and then continued on to their assigned target in northern Afghanistan.
Additionally, the President of the United States called Marines and Sailors serving in
Afghanistan, and Sergeant Arturo Blanco Romero, from the 15th MEU, was one of the lucky
Marines to receive a call from President Bush.
TF 58 Sailors and Marines patriotically participated in two ceremonial flag raisings in
Kandahar. Marines from both 15th and 26th MEU’s raised a flag that New York City firefighters
had previously flown over the ruins of the World Trade Center, to honor the country and pay
tribute to those who perished in the tragic events of September 11th. Then on 1 January 2002,
Marines again ceremoniously raised the American flag in Kandahar, but this time alongside the
Afghanistan national flag. General Mattis stated, “This symbolic gesture solidifies the close,
working relationship we have established with the Afghans here,” and Governor Shirzai
proclaimed, “Peace, unity and friendship” while referring to the colors flying high. This joint
effort was indicative of the Task Force’s efforts to disassociate ourselves from the Soviet Army’s
recent occupation. We were not doing things to Afghanistan, but with Afghanistan. The TF 58
staff started planning for the reembarkation and reconstitution of 15th MEU forces aboard the
ARG well prior to Christmas. As the New Year arrived the 15th MEU had nearly completed
their reembarkation aboard the ARG and the focus would become Kandahar Airport and the 26th
(13 December 2001 to 26 February 2002)
Prior to the receipt of the warning order for the Tora Bora mission, TF 58 was preparing
to re-embark 15th MEU aboard the ARG in order to meet a FIFTH FLEET OUTCHOP date of 18
January 2002. TF 58 intended to meet the OUTCHOP date if operations permitted. The TF 58
staff issued a FRAGO (FRAGO 004) concerning the re-embarkation and reconstitution of the
15th MEU on 18 December, but execution of FRAGO 004 was placed on hold while planning for
the Tora Bora mission. As the operational situation developed, it became increasingly unlikely
that the Marines would take part in the Tora Bora mission and the FRAGO to reconstitute the
15th MEU was executed. In Kandahar, with the situation and facilities improving daily, CTF 58
pressed hard to close dusty, dangerous Rhino. Eventually permission was given to close FOB
Rhino and transfer all Marine operations to the Kandahar Airfield.
FOB Rhino played an important role in the Marines initial success in southern
Afghanistan; however, by the end of December the FOB became a maintenance and sustainment
burden. The dirt airstrip at Rhino was not designed to receive the amount and type of aircraft
landing on it over long duration and it was rapidly approaching the end of its useful life. An Air
Force assessment team had been monitoring the airstrip on a daily basis, and they were
concerned that the degradation would soon be irreparable regardless of the extraordinary efforts
of the SeaBees. Thus, the TF 58 staff directed that a reconnaissance be made for a nearby
alternate airstrip should Rhino’s become unusable prior to the completion of reconstitution
operations and the withdrawal of all forces there. A large dry lakebed existed approximately ten
kilometers away, and the 15th MEU sent out a small security element to conduct a site
assessment of the lakebed. Initial indications regarding the site’s suitability were favorable, and
if necessary, the Marines could move equipment and personnel through the desert to the alternate
strip for re-embarkation.
The re-embarkation and reconstitution plan had been refined while operations were
ongoing in early December. 15th MEU had a requirement to wash down vehicles in preparation
for the transit back to CONUS. A site was found at Camp Doha, Kuwait, and follow-on
negotiations provided the MEU access to the site with the full support of the U.S. Army at Camp
Doha. The plan allowed the MEU to move vehicles through Pasni, Pakistan and direct from
Rhino to Kuwait for wash down to commence no earlier than 29 December 2001.
While the 15th MEU focused on reembarkation, 26th MEU continued to build forces and
improve security in Kandahar. 26th MEU repositioned the bulk of its forces in Kandahar for
anticipated operations in the vicinity of Kandahar and to the north. In mid-December, CFLCC
notified TF 58 to be prepared to receive detainees at Rhino and eventually at Kandahar. The
detainees initially arrived from various locations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. High Value
Detainees (HVD) were quickly transferred to the brig on board the PELELIU for segregation and
interrogation. These HVDs consisted of Taliban members and selected international detainees.
Rhino was an austere environment and not a suitable site to hold detainees. Basic materials to
construct a holding facility had to be flown into Rhino and Marines were pulled from security
and other missions, to provide detainee security. A detainee facility was established at Rhino
although it was never used. Once the Marines occupied Kandahar, detainee security became the
responsibility of 26th MEU. While the runway was being repaired and sufficient security was in
place at the airport, the Marines and SeaBees began construction of a temporary holding facility
for detainees converting a rubbish and ordnance strewn compound into an austere detainee camp.
This task was complicated by the fact that Kandahar airport had severe limitations on the space
available for use due to extensive unmapped minefields, emplaced around the airport during the
On 19 December the first enemy detainee had been delivered to Kandahar. By 21
December, a Short Term Holding Facility (STHF) at Kandahar had been constructed to support
200 detainees; this would eventually be increased to a maximum capacity of 500 by the
indefatigable, hard working SeaBees. As soon as the facility opened, the International
Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was welcomed to ensure complete compliance with the
Geneva Conventions. They conducted intensive daily visits with prisoners and met routinely
with CTF 58.
General Mattis initially received little guidance on detainee handling procedures. Elsewhere,
two jail breaks had already occurred: At Mazar-E-Sharif, Close Air Support was required to
quell the uprising and both American and Coalition forces incurred casualties regaining
control. In Pakistan, detainees had overpowered their guards and fled in a bus, killing
Pakistani soldiers. Gen Mattis’ guidance was that there would be no successful breakout from
Kandahar: any prisoner who tried to escape was to be shot. There was also to be no repeat of
the U.S. experience during the Korean War when POWs took control of their prison camp
away from the Army. Accordingly, prison stockades within the STHF were constructed to
hold no more than 20 POWs/Detainees, reducing the enemy’s opportunity for a mass
breakout attempt or efforts at organizing resistance.
While there was a debate at higher levels regarding the Detainees’ legal status, General
Mattis dictated that they would be treated in accordance with Geneva Convention’s rules for
treatment of prisoners of war.
Marine Interrogator-Translators, 202d Military Intelligence Battalion, CIA, Drug
Enforcement Agency (DEA), Criminal Investigative Division (CID), MI-5 (British Intelligence),
and others conducted prisoner interrogations. Gen Mattis granted full access to all U.S.
Government agencies desiring to interrogate prisoners as well any Coalition representatives. All
were to share results of their interrogations with each other and “alarm” type information (e.g.
pending attack, actionable intelligence, etc.) was to be reported to TF-58 Forward OP
immediately. Anyone not playing by these rules was to be put on the next plane out of
Kandahar. No one violated these rules.
The bulk of the detainees arriving from facilities in Pakistan and northern Afghanistan
occurred in late December and early January. TF 58 struggled with balancing security
requirements for the airfield, mission tasking for Sensitive Site Exploitation, and the security and
medical requirements for the detainees. Eventually, an Army Military Police (MP) unit would
assist the Marines with detention security and running the STHF. These badly needed MP’s
would arrive late, being bumped by a large screen TV and other less critical items for the
incoming TALCE, due to faulty stratlift prioritization. During the first week in January, TF 58
received guidance from CFLCC to prepare to move detainees to a holding facility in
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Conditions continued to improve in and around the Kandahar Airport. The SeaBees had
been working continually since their arrival in Kandahar to repair the runway, improve the basic
facilities at the airfield, and to assist in the construction of the STHF. They used whatever
materials were available to construct a facility that would hold the required 500 detainees as
directed by CENTCOM. Initially materials for construction were limited and the SeaBees used
material readily available to them at the airport. Several of the guard towers around the STHF
were constructed using logs from trees cut down in the area.
The runway at Kandahar had been cratered extensively during OEF and the SeaBees
methodically worked to expand the useable runway. By the 10th of January the runway had been
expanded to 6000 feet, capable of supporting Air Force C-141 aircraft. It would have been ready
sooner but for an effort to contract local Afghan’s to repair it. Unfortunately the local economy
did not provide for heavy equipment, etc, so we turned to the SeaBees again.
TF 58 received some non-standard help in the continuing effort to make the airport more
secure. In addition to the Anti-Taliban Forces, (ATF, CENTCOM had directed that the term OG
be replaced with this term during December) and ODA forces assisting in the security mission,
TF 58 also had the help of a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer, named “Charlie.”
Charlie had arrived aboard the USS PELELIU on D-3 to assist the TF 58 staff in their planning
efforts for operations in southern Afghanistan. Charlie was a former Marine, and upon his
arrival on the ship, he exchanged his civilian clothes for desert cammies, quickly placing his old
jump wings on the newly issued uniform. Charlie spent time with the Marines at Rhino, working
out of his own room providing daily updates on the progress of Shirzai and Karzai. Usually all
he had to report in his Arkansas accent was, “they’re not ready to move today, but maybe
Quickly tiring of this routine Charlie participated in the LOC interdiction missions,
ultimately participating in the LAV road march to Kandahar. Charlie thoroughly enjoyed his
renewed association with his beloved Marines and was actually saddened when some of those
Marines from the 15th MEU retrograded back to Kuwait and their ships in early January. To
Charlie, the Marines were family. Upon his arrival in Kandahar, Charlie began to interface with
the local population, providing the Marines at Kandahar with fresh bread from local bakeries. In
addition, he was the architect of the Stinger buy back program. For an operational Stinger
missile, he was prepared to pay $150,000 and he would spend over a million dollars during his
stay with the Marines. Charlie had an enemy, Gaylord Industries. Gaylord Industries provide
the coffee, cocoa and beverage packages in MRE’s. He would often have to open numerous
MRE’s to find the coffee he was looking for and he never did understand why every MRE didn’t
have coffee in it. After all, who would want “yuppie tea and hot cider” he said.
During this time, TF 58 began to plan for and conduct more Sensitive Site Exploitation
(SSE) missions. CENTCOM established a list of sites that required assessment by forces in
Afghanistan. TF 58 in coordination with TF K-BAR was tasked to conduct or assist with the
conduct of SSE missions in and around Kandahar. TF 58 and TF K-BAR established an
aggressive schedule to exploit TF 58 SSE sites on the CENTCOM list, and during the first week
of January would exploit sites at Maiwand, and Islam Darah. The supporting and supported
relationship for these missions would change based on the location of the site, assets available
and the sensitivity of the information assessed to be at the site. In many of the operations, TF 58
provided helicopter assault support to TF K-BAR elements or acted as a Quick Reaction Force
(QRF) while the site exploitation was conducted. In fact, TF 58 was prepared to provide the
bulk of the helicopter assault support to Army SOF, Navy SEALS, Germans, Dutch, New
Zealanders, and Canadians. TF K-BAR relied heavily on the flexibility and responsiveness that
the helicopters of TF 58 provided. This was mentioned numerous times in the TF K-BAR
Commanders Situation Report (SITREP) comments. These forces did not possess organic
aviation support, thus a symbiotic relationship with TF 58 and our assault support assets
occurred. Clearly, interoperability between USMC and SOF was fully validated.
An aggressive effort to gain actionable intelligence through radio Direction Finding (DF)
culminated in a raid in the vicinity of Lashkar Gah. TF 64, Squadron A in Kandahar, and 26th
MEU radio reconnaissance elements, conducted radio DF. Working in concert with TF 64, 26th
MEU inserted a heliborne force to isolate the objective area. During this operation a CH-46
experienced a hard landing, damaging the underside of the aircraft and highlighting the
dangerous and unforgiving flying conditions in the area. The aircraft was eventually recovered
to Kandahar, deconstructed, and put on a C-17 back to CONUS. Despite the fact that the
mission was conducted in the TF 58 AO, and that TF 58 had declared that they were developing
the mission in their intentions messages for over a week, CENTCOM was surprised that the
mission had occurred with the speed that it had.
Other SSE missions required that TF 58 forces conduct security and searches of the sites.
The positive working relationship that TF 58 had established at the beginning with of the
operation with adjacent units was continually refined and improved throughout this time period.
TF 58, Commodore Harward, and TF K-BAR developed a unique and positive working
relationship that expedited mission accomplishment.
One mission conducted at the end of December demonstrated the close coordination and
integration conducted by TF 58 and other forces. The SSE was located to the west of Kandahar
near the town of Garmabak-Ghar. The mission was planned in conjunction with ATF, inter-
agency and SOF assets. TF 64, inserted by TF 58 helicopters, conducted S&R on the site.
During the insert of the assault force, one of the TF 58 helicopters had a hard landing. The night
operations, rugged terrain, and landing zone brown-outs combined to produce challenging flying
conditions resulting in no routine flights. 26th MEU dispatched an LAV unit to provide security
at the crash site in support of the Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel (TRAP). The
aircraft damaged its nose wheel, which was quickly replaced by the ingenuity and
resourcefulness of the maintenance crew. The aircraft was then flown back to the airport at
Kandahar where it was disassembled for return to CONUS. While TF 64 and TF 58 forces
provided security for the site, other forces including the CBIST conducted a thorough search of
the area. Simultaneously, TF K-BAR assets were planning and conducting additional SSE
missions in the TF 58 AO. The ability of the many organizations resident at Kandahar to
cooperate and integrate on the SSE missions was a tribute to the individuals and organizations
involved. Smooth working relationships and harmonious execution characterized the myriad of
planning and execution missions.
Additional coordination unique to the operation was the incorporation of ATF units into
the perimeter security around the airport in Kandahar. The inclusion of ATF personnel into the
security mission required close coordination between TF 58, co-located Special Operations
Command Command Element (SOCCE) ODA (Operational Detachment Alpha) units, and the
local ATF commander. The ATF leader responsible for the security around the airport was
Commander Galaluy. Galaluy had fought alongside Shirzai in the fight for Kandahar. Shirzai
became the governor of the Kandahar province in December 2001. Commander Galaluy and
General Mattis established a close relationship when TF 58 initially occupied the airport.
Galaluy fought the Soviets when he was 14 years old, and Taliban/Al Qaida during OEF. His
actions established a fierce reputation in action against Al Qaida forces. He had fifteen kills
when he remote detonated an explosive device at the “Arab house” in Kandahar. Dressed as a
Shepard, he had walked across the desert with a transponder to mark the UAE hunting camp with
dirt airstrip, allowing TF SWORD to come in and attack and kill the enemy at what would
eventually be known as FOB Rhino.
Asad, a man rumored to be former Taliban, did all of the translations done between
Galaluy and General Mattis. During one ride visiting the ATF outposts around the airfield, Asad
reached into the pocket of his leather jacket and pulled out a handful of dried and questionable
looking dates. While cleaning the dirt and lint off the dates, he offered them to General Mattis,
who politely declined. Asad continued to press the offer; General Mattis accepted the dirty fruit.
Asad then reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of stringy, meat. The strings of meat
appeared to have been stored in Asad’s pocket for some time, and he went through the same
procedure of cleaning as much dirt and lint off the meat as possible. The CG ate some of the
meat as well and in the following 24 hours required a dose of antibiotics. Despite this
inconvenience, and contracting head lice by carrying Commander Galaluy’s son on his shoulder,
the actions by General Mattis would serve to bolster the relationship and eventual friendship
between himself and Galaluy.
Galaluy had a keen eye for tactics, positioning his outposts in areas with outstanding
fields of fire enabling him to secure the approach and takeoff cones in the area around the
airport. Brigadier General Rusty Findley, Director Mobility Forces (DIRMOBFOR) visited
Kandahar and said that the only reason that he was flying airplanes in to the airport during the
day was because of the confidence he had in the security provided by the ATF, the Marine
patrols, snipers, and ambushes etc. Galaluy significantly contributed to the defense of the
airfield and assisted with the acceptance of the Marines in the villages surrounding it.
With ODA assistance, and an all hands effort to ensure ATF forces felt at home and
trusted, the TF 58 effectively coordinated and integrated the ATF into the perimeter security.
ATF forces were given money for tents and blankets, motorcycles, and radios; joint patrols were
conducted. Medical and Dental visits were provided to the local population in the surrounding
area. The addition of ATF forces to base security assisted the Marines with the clearing of local
laborers to help with the numerous construction and habitability projects in and around the
airport. Inclusion of the ATF into the outposts and road blocks and procedures at the airfield
significantly decreased the enemy’s ability to infiltrate the base.
Re-embarkation of the 15th MEU continued relatively uneventfully with the biggest
challenge being the coordination and scheduling of available intra-theater airlift. The Marine
Liaison Officers (MARLOs) at the CAOC contributed significantly in the effort to procure lift
for 15th MEU. Once authorized to use the wash down site, equipment flowed quickly from
Afghanistan to Kuwait. Competition for intra-theater lift assets and aircraft maintenance caused
DIRMOBFOR to flex, providing continuous support to TF 58. In addition to re-embarking
assets from Rhino, TF 58 had to maintain its support and sustainment of Kandahar and the
forward sites in Pakistan (Pasni, Shamsi, and Jacobabad). Aggressive daily patrols, both ground
and air, were instituted which allowed the first daylight C-17 to land at Rhino on 30 December at
0615Z. 15th MEU made every attempt to leave Rhino in “pre-war” condition upon their
departure. Fighting holes were filled in, concertina wire was collected and buildings were
policed and markings painted over. At sea, Commodore Kenneth Rome, PHIBRON 8 took over
responsibilities as the Deputy TF 58 commander from Commodore Jezierski. Elements of TF 58
had occupied Rhino for 40 days, and with the departure of 15th MEU, the Task Force focus
shifted to operations in the vicinity of Kandahar.
The media, in particular the Cable News Network (CNN), provided the viewing public
with insight into the conditions and morale of the TF 58 forces at the airport. Reporter Bill
Hemmer provided continuous coverage from the airport for almost a month prior to and after
Christmas. He interviewed numerous Sailors and Marines and allowed many of them to send
greetings home to their families and loved ones. The inner courtyard of the airport had nightly
crowd of 50 or more lined up to greet their loved ones back in the States. The media coverage
that he provided was positive and beneficial for TF 58 personnel and the viewing public
worldwide. The mere presence of the news media indicated to the Marines that their efforts were
important and were being closely monitored back home. Despite the fact that CNN was due to
leave after the holidays, the ratings for the programming were so high that they remained at
Kandahar for several more weeks. The Marines had a reputation for treating the media
professionally. Dominic Kennedy, a Senior Correspondent for The Times of London, had a
positive experience with Marines. He wrote; “Nothing could have prepared me for the
professionalism, courtesy and eloquence of the members of the US Marine Corps I met, of all
CNN was at the airport on 1 January to capture a joint flag raising ceremony as Marines
and members of the Afghani government raised the U.S. and Afghani flags. As the flags went up
at Kandahar Airport the majority of the TF 58 staff, recently returned from Rhino and the USS
PELELIU to Bahrain, began organizing and preparing to capture the historical record of TF 58.
Seven TF 58 staff members would remain in Kandahar with the CG to continue to support
Navy/Marine operations in Afghanistan.
TF 58 participated in another SSE mission during the first week of January. Mission
planning started on the 4th of January to exploit a series of cave complexes known as AQ008 in
the vicinity Zhawar Kili, Afghanistan. This target had been bombed days before the mission was
assigned. Affectionately referred to as “Gilligan’s patrol” by the 26th MEU staff, the mission
initially planned to be accomplished in hours, was extended to nine days. TF K-BAR had the
lead on the mission and TF 58 provided security, QRF, and TRAP. The initial concept was to
provide security support to TF K-BAR for a period of 12 hours. As the operation at AQ008
progressed, the site yielded tremendous amounts of information and weapons caches. On the
completion of the operation, U.S. aircraft delivered over 120 Joint Direct Attack Munition
(JDAM) into the cave complexes to assist in the destruction of weapons discovered on site.
Marines also employed numerous satchel charges to assist in the effort. Captain Lloyd Freeman,
CO of Lima Company BLT 3/6 recalls, “Things are going great out here. We have been doing
everything from digging graves to clearing rooms of deserted villages. Have sent out four
patrols over the past two days, Lt Solomon discovered a bunker up about 500 feet from where we
are. The air guys got his grid and plan on JDAMs for it when we leave. I was on our first night
patrol, the first night with an AC-130 prepping our objective-very impressive. The air guys have
been very busy with JDAMs and bunker busters landing daily and nightly….shakes our
compound. The area is target rich.” Secondary explosions from the destroyed weapons
reverberated continuously throughout the area.
The CINC had made the decision to conduct a Relief-In-Place (RIP) between TF 58 and
elements of the 101st Airborne Division, TF RAKKASAN, as part of the original concept of
operations in Afghanistan. The RIP would entail a complete turnover of the security functions
and capabilities at the airport and associated missions assigned to TF 58. The projected timeline
for the RIP was set for 10 January, but stratlift prioritization and availability caused delays to the
RIP schedule. As Soldiers took over a specific function, i.e. perimeter security, Marines became
available to execute other taskings. This seemingly simple concept was complicated throughout
the month of January by the timing of the replacement unit’s arrival in Kandahar. To speed the
process, TF 58 used one of its own KC-130’s to transfer one of the 101st rifle companies from
Jacobabad to Kandahar to assist effecting the relief process.
On 6 January, the airport at Kandahar was opened for day light operations. On the same
day, Rear Admiral Kubic, Commander of the Third Naval Construction Brigade (SeaBees)
wrapped up his visit with his Sailors. During his visit he attended meetings with TF
RAKKASAN engineers to discuss engineering projects necessary for the RIP. Over 300
engineers from the Army would replace his 36 SeaBees.
Major General Farooq, Pakistan Army, also visited Kandahar, flying in from the Army
Headquarters, Pakistan aboard a Marine KC-130. He and General Mattis had maintained a
superb relationship that had started prior to the assault into Rhino when General Mattis had
briefed the entire operation to General Farooq, including, dates, times, routes and the objective.
This act served to bolster the trust and confidence between the two men. Pakistani support to the
ongoing Navy/Marine operations was critical, and continued meetings between the two men
were beneficial to maintaining this support. During his visit General Farooq met with Coalition
and Marine leaders and toured the STHF. The General’s visit spoke volumes about Pakistan’s
continuing support to Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) which was becoming increasingly
difficult due to the increase in tensions between India and Pakistan. Public acknowledgement of
the Pakistani role was prohibited due to political sensitivities within the country. Without the
unwavering support of the Pakistani Government and Major General Farooq, TF 58 would not
have been able to orchestrate the complex operation in southern Afghanistan.
TF 58 received an order to begin planning for a mission in the Khowst-Gardez area of
Afghanistan. Because the local ATF commander of Khowst-Gardez didn’t defeat any forces in
the area (he had just raised the anti-Taliban flag), numerous pockets of enemy forces remained.
To meet the CINC’s intent to prevent the escape of enemy forces, a significant force would be
required for operations in the region. The area was in the vicinity and comprised of the same
rugged terrain as Tora Bora. The cold weather gear that had been earmarked for the 15th MEU
and the Tora Bora mission now would be required for the Marines of 26th MEU. Mission
planning included the use of LAV’s to support the operation. This complicated the operation, as
the Marines would have to conduct a 40-hour road march from Kandahar to Gardez. The
mission would include TF K-BAR, TF 64 and TF 58. The original concept was to use TF K-
BAR and TF 64 to identify targets and to use conventional Marine forces to provide security and
as a “hammer” if required.
Based on the 250 nautical mile distance and the need to be responsive to operations in the
area, planners quickly determined that an airfield in the Khowst-Gardez area was necessary. The
airfield could be used as a FARP and if suitable could also be used by Marine KC-130 aircraft to
flow additional forces and to provide sustainment to the forces in the field. Two airfields needed
to be assessed for suitability by the TF 58 staff. In order to do this, an Air Force STS team had
to be inserted by 26th MEU helicopters. The site that was eventually determined to be suitable
for aviation operations was Band e Sardeh (BES) (3320N 06838E). BES was close enough to
allow TF 58 to conduct QRF by ground or air within an hour vice the 2 ½ hours from Kandahar.
The airfield would allow TF 58 to “pounce” on actionable intelligence in the area as it developed
and if tasked. TF 64 conducted a motor march from Kandahar to the Khowst area on a two week
mission to conduct S&R of the objective and to conduct SSE’s. During this period, 26th MEU
was tasked to provide security to a CIA team safe house in Khowst. A platoon (reinforced) was
inserted and provided security for the OGA and later ODA teams in the area. The Marines
presence allowed freedom of action for the OGA/ODA forces. Rapidly the Marines gained the
complete trust of the tenants, impressing the CIA with both their aggressiveness and attention to
The number of organizations operating in the area complicated the Khowst mission. In
addition to the SSE missions in Khowst, Coalition efforts were ongoing to work with the local
population to stem the tribal infighting and power struggle in the region. Overall the mission
was complex and the operating environment very difficult. TF 58 continued to “lean into” the
operation conducting S&R, airfield surveys and positioning security forces to support. The
Khowst operation would never require a sizeable TF 58 presence and eventually became a series
of independent, yet linked operations conducted by many different organizations.
The Marines of the KC-130 detachments continued to provide the bulk of the lift into and
out of Kandahar. The discipline and commitment of these pilots and aircrew were critical to the
efficiency in which operations were conducted in support of Navy and Marine forces. Daily
these aircrew would risk their lives flying in difficult, unforgiving conditions delivering cargo to
support the Marines and Sailors on the ground. The Marine KC-130’s were also instrumental to
sustaining all operations being conducted in Afghanistan. Tragically, on 9 January, a KC-130
from VMGR-352 crashed while on final approach into Shamsi, Pakistan. Marines providing
security at Shamsi quickly climbed aboard CH-46 aircraft to move to the crash site, while
Pakistani soldiers at the airfield immediately sent forces to the site by foot. The crash site was
located in steep, difficult terrain, complicating search and recovery efforts. The Marines aboard
the CH-46 would have to return to the airfield, unable to find a suitable LZ at the crash site.
Major Nasir Khan and Captain Omar Khan of the 11th Balach Battalian, 11th Balach Regiment of
the Pakistani Army, assisted in the search. Under zero illumination, and with secondary
explosions occurring, the Pakistanis scaled the steep mountainside with little regard for their own
safety. Their efforts were indicative of the close bond established in support of the U.S. led anti-
terrorism effort. From Captain to Major General, their support was always reliable. Combat
Search And Rescue (CSAR) aircraft were also dispatched from Jacobabad. Despite the quick
response to the crash scene, which included the heroic efforts of two Pakistani Army officers,
rescue crews determined that all seven Marines aboard perished in the crash. Over the next
several days all of the bodies from the aircraft would be recovered and returned to the United
States. The deceased Marines were: Captain Matthew Bancroft, Captain Daniel McCollum,
Gunnery Sergeant Stephen Bryson, Staff Sergeant Scott Germosen, Sergeant Nathan Hays,
Sergeant Jeanette Winters and Lance Corporal Bryan Bertrand.
Coalition forces also continued to flow into Kandahar Airport. British, German,
Norwegian, and Jordanian forces all began to arrive, joining Australian, New Zealand, Dutch,
Turkish and Canadian forces, placing additional stress on communications and logistics and the
available space at the airport. Much of the area surrounding the airport was heavily mined, and
expansion to accommodate the additional equipment and personnel required that certain areas be
de-mined. One of the Coalition forces to arrive was the Norwegian Army contingent, equipped
with a mine flail that proved itself to be very useful during mine clearing operations. Led by
Major Treeva Enger, the 15-man detachment was ready, eager and willing to tackle the minefield
problem. Without complaint and with only a mission type order, they methodically ran their
flail, which proofed the entire perimeter of the airfield. They unselfishly provided the Jordanian
Mine Clearing detachment with items and equipment that would allow their participation in
effort. Briefing his daily plan, Major Enger would coordinate the actions of his detachment
ensuring that the CTF 58 intent was met. He and his conscript troops were an inspiration as they
happily charged into mined areas each day.
On 10 January, Vice Admiral Moore visited the Marines and sailors at Kandahar. The
Admiral met with the CTF 58, Coalition Commanders, toured the STHF, spoke with the
SeaBees, toured the perimeter and the medical facilities at Kandahar. He then flew in a P-3 to
observe/inspect Rhino from above. No individual in the chain of command garnered more
Marine respect for his leadership than did this fighting Admiral. A canny and trusted advisor to
General Mattis, whose kind-hearted actions towards the Sailors and Marines ashore belied an
occasionally gruff exterior.
That evening at approximately 1630Z, Kandahar airport was probed by enemy patrols
and small arms fire. The firing came from the north and west of the airport and 26th MEU
Marines on the perimeter responded quickly. Marines returned fire with small arms, 40mm
grenades, 25mm cannon and 60mm and 81mm illumination rounds. Rotary Wing CAS
responded to the threat and all fires and actions were deconflicted with the ATF Commander.
Flight arrivals were temporarily suspended during the action. Soldiers from the 101st who just
arrived at Kandahar as part of the RIP force had a rude welcome to Kandahar. Having to take
cover, the Soldiers found themselves in proximity to a firefight, lacking ammunition due to
USAF insistence that they not fly with ammunition on Air Mobility Command (AMC) aircraft.
At approximately 1900Z, TF 58 returned to normal security operations and re-opened the
The probe occurred coincidently as the first group of detainees were departing from
Kandahar for Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. CINCCENT, Tampa had specified certain detainees
would be moved from the STHF at Kandahar to the detention facility in Cuba. Extensive
coordination was required to affect the transfer and movement of the individuals, and 20 were on
the first flight out. These flights would continue over the next week as certain detainees were
identified and transferred from the STHF to Cuba. Population numbers at the STHF continued to
rise although there was a slow transfer of detainees to Guantanamo. Initial guidance received by
TF 58 was to construct the facility to detain up to 500 personnel; this capacity was met
incrementally as construction material became available. The flow of detainees in the facility
would eventually peak at 391, despite a Secretary of Defense imposed interruption to permit
Guantanamo to better prepare.
On 15 January, TF 58 remained poised and ready to conduct the mission in the Khowst-
Gardez region and elsewhere in southern and eastern Afghanistan. The situation remained fluid
in the region, many units were conducting operations and many remained posed for operations.
Poor weather and ongoing mission analysis had contributed to the delay in execution. As the
strategic decision makers wrestled over whether or not to conduct the mission, the tactical
situation on the ground in the region changed. As the decision to move north remained
unchanged, CTF 58 issued instructions to 26th MEU to prepare for backload. The date to
commence backload of 26th MEU was set for the 18th of January. With the 101st assuming more
of the airfield security and operating functions, all personnel not required for operations up north
would begin movement back to the ARG ships.
Throughout January, TF 58 supported TF K-BAR on numerous SSE missions providing
assault support, security forces, QRF and TRAP. Repeatedly TF K-BAR was “…able to flex,
without affecting other missions, due to the support of TF 58.” The integration and mutual
support between the organizations was outstanding. Always ready, TF 58 repeatedly and
seamlessly integrated with TF K-BAR to accomplish assigned missions. The 16 January TF K-
BAR SITREP notes, “By all accounts, this Navy Marine Corps team swiftly jelled into a potent
fighting force and distinguished themselves on the Battlefield.” Many times this support allowed
K-BAR to complete their missions quickly without relying on limited JSOAC air support.
On 19 January, Colonel Weircinski, Commander of TF RAKKASAN and Colonel Andy
Frick, CO of 26th MEU agreed that the soldiers of TF RAKKASAN were ready to assume
control of the airfield. The Army had enough force in place to take over the perimeter security
and was eager to assume the mission. The turnover was smooth and the Marines happily turned
over Kandahar to the Army.
On this same day a Marine CH-53E crashed while on a supply run from Bagram to
Khowst. The flight of two aircraft was transiting a rugged area in the vicinity of Khowst, when
the number one engine flamed out, causing the aircraft to lose power, crashing into the 9,500-
foot mountainous terrain. Heroic efforts by the pilot of the aircraft saved the lives of five of the
seven crew. Initially knocked unconscious during the crash, Captain Doug Glasgow awoke
inside the burning aircraft. Despite the fact that he had a broken wrist, Captain Glasgow assisted
the injured crew out of the aircraft, and ensuring that all Marines were accounted for before the
helicopter was consumed by fire. He then stomped out SOS in the snow and rendered what aid
he could to the injured. A Predator aircraft saw the SOS, and rescue aircraft were immediately
dispatched to the site. The injured and deceased Marines were taken to Bagram by TF
DAGGER’s QRF, where they received aid and were rapidly moved to forward hospitals. The
deceased marines were Staff Sergeant Walter Cohee III and Sergeant Dwight Morgan.
The 15th MEU had conducted a turnover with the 13th MEU during their OUTCHOP.
13th MEU was initially placed OPCON to TF 58, however, would revert OPCON to NAVCENT
in the coming days. The 13th MEU had sailed on 1 December 2001, six weeks early, from San
Diego. The MEU had eight CH-53E’s aboard and the Marines and Sailors were eager to support
operations ashore in Afghanistan. General Mattis met with the Commanding Officer of 13th
MEU, Colonel Chris Gunther and Commodore Jeff Connelly COMPHIBRON 3 in Kandahar,
and then paid a visit to the Marines and Sailors of the BONHOMME RICHARD ARG
(BHRARG.) With 26th MEU conducting reembarkation back to their ARG, 13th MEU would
sail to support exercises and operations in the vicinity of the Horn of Africa.
TF 58 would continue to support QRF and TRAP requirements for the forces involved in
operations in Afghanistan throughout the rest of the month of January. An additional mission
would come down and the TF 58 staff would be deeply involved in the planning and support of
the operation. The mission, known as Ali Kheyl (AQ 0049) would involve aviation and security
elements from the MEU. Political and operational constraints and weather delays would prevent
TF 58 participation in any additional missions. TF RAKKASAN continued to flow forces into
Kandahar and the RIP was complete with all services and functions turned over at the end of
January. The FARP facility at Shamsi, Pakistan, which was initially scheduled for turnover
during the first part of January, would also be turned over at the end of January. Despite the
arrival of 15 C-17 loads of personnel and equipment to support the 561st Corps Support Battalion
(CSB) they continued to rely on 10 Marines from the 26th MEU to provide Air Traffic Control
(ATC), airfield lighting and re-fueling capability. These Marines remained in place over the next
couple of days until the 561st CSB received additional support. TF 58 remained to support
operations until 4 February, when they were released TACON from CFLCC and reverted back
OPCON to CFMCC. On 5 February, CTF 58 and the remaining staff repositioned to Bahrain,
ending TF 58’s initial participation ashore in Afghanistan. 26th MEU would continue to
reembark their forces from Afghanistan and Pakistan, reconstituting their force aboard the ARG
on 9 February.
On 11 February 2002, TF 58 was tasked by CENTCOM via CFLCC to return to
Afghanistan. Despite TF RAKKASAN’s presence in Kandahar, Marines and three of their CH-
53’s were needed to assist TF K-BAR with SSE missions. Brigadier General Mattis with a four
man TF 58 forward OP joined Colonel Fricks’ approximately 90 Sailors and Marines (including
Sparrowhawk) who flew back into Kandahar. The Marines quickly reestablished their superb
working relationship with TF K-BAR. General Mattis returned to Bahrain while Colonel Frick
and his Marines assisted TF K-BAR in the accomplishment of two SSE missions approximately
30 nautical miles northeast of Gardez: Marine KC-130’s provided lift for elements of TF
RAKKASAN and TF K-BAR, from Kandahar to Bagram, and the missions were accomplished
expeditiously. On 20 February, with the concurrence of TF K-BAR and CTF 58, CFLCC
released TACON of these assets, allowing them to return to sea and to reembark aboard the ARG
for a long overdue maintenance standdown and rest period. 26th MEU had done its usual superb
job supporting TF K-BAR on these short-fused missions, showing once again the flexibility of
Naval forces and the ease with which they could mesh into Special Operations alongside their
trusted TF K-BAR comrades.
Vice Admiral Timothy Keating, who had assumed command from Admiral Moore,
directed that TF 58 be disestablished at the end of February ending over three months of
Navy/Marine participation in combat operations in Afghanistan.
(25 November to 26 February 2002)
Military operations in Pakistan and southern Afghanistan surpassed the logistical
complexity normally associated with amphibious operations. Extended distances from
Amphibious Ready Group ships, Theater and CONUS based resources were alone enough to
severely tax the capabilities of the Logistics personnel and equipment. TF 58 also had to operate
flexibly in the face of political and military constraints, a collapsed civil infrastructure in
Afghanistan, harsh environmental conditions, and the constantly changing scope and duration of
the assigned missions. Solutions to logistic problems relied on imagination, initiative and
aggressiveness to develop capabilities and relationships with subordinate and supporting
commands, supplemented by equipment and support from sister services.
Prior to D-day, TF 58 spent a considerable amount of time developing and coordinating
the logistical portion of the plan to seize FOB Rhino. The focus was on getting Marines and
equipment ashore in Pakistan for follow on transportation to the objective. While it was possible
to flow Marines directly from the ARG ships to Rhino, this would require using CH-53E
helicopters and refueling en route; either in the air or on the ground. Furthermore, employing the
CH-53E as the principal insertion platform limited the amount and type of equipment that the
Marines could transport ashore as external lifts were ruled out due to dust/brown out conditions
It quickly became clear that TF 58 would have to establish Intermediate Support Bases
(ISBs) in Pakistan, from which organic and intra-theater fixed wing aircraft could transport
personnel, equipment and supplies into Afghanistan. Numerous airstrips were assessed. Some
locations were discounted due to their proximity to hostile populations, while others were
excluded because of terrain limitations, aircraft restrictions, or excessive risks during helicopter
operations. Reviewing CTF 58’s support requirements, MGen Farooq and the Pakistani military
offered three primary sites in Pakistan, Jacobabad, Shamsi, and Pasni, to stage Marine equipment
and supplies prior to D-day, to facilitate insertion of the raid force and provide the means to
sustain the force.
On 7 October, prior to the standup of TF 58, the 15th MEU and Amphibious Squadron
One SEAL detachment had established a presence at the airfield in Jacobabad. Jacobabad
continued to serve as a critical logistical and CSAR hub and bed down site for Marine KC-130’s.
Jacobabad would provide the single source of bulk fuel and water for forces at Rhino and
Shamsi airfield had been initially offered to the US military to support SOF operations in
southern Afghanistan prior to the arrival of TF 58. Some of the SOF facilities and equipment
were transferred to Marine Corps personnel, as the SOF operations phased out and TF 58 became
the primary user of the Forward Arming Refueling Point (FARP). Approximately 80 Marines
provided security, refueling, and Air Traffic Control (ATC) capability at the airfield. During the
seizure of FOB Rhino, Shamsi provided a critical refueling capability for helicopters transiting
from the ship.
Pasni airfield was chosen as an ISB because of its proximity to the Pakistani coast and
suitable beaches for amphibious operations enabling ARG ships, operating 12-20 nautical miles
offshore, to conduct timely ship-to-shore movement of personnel and equipment. After Navy
SEALS and Force Reconnaissance Marines assessed the beach area and the road network leading
to the airfield, two Beach Landing Sites (BLS) were established. Blue One was used for Landing
Craft Air Cushioned (LCAC), while Blue Two was used for Landing Craft Utility (LCU). With
nine LCACs and four LCUs there was sufficient capability to rapidly transport the assault forces
and their supplies ashore. All ship-to-shore movement was initially required to be conducted at
night due to the Government of Pakistan’s concern for adverse public reaction if their support for
the coalition effort became public knowledge. Upon arrival at the beach, equipment and
personnel had to make a 1-hour cross-country trip over improvised dirt roads to the airfield.
Convoys were limited to one or two per night to facilitate Pakistani security escorts; early
arriving personnel and equipment often had a long wait on the beach while the convoy was
assembled and awaited permission to move. The Pakistani Government request to keep the
footprint at Pasni to an absolute minimum added another level of complexity. Approximately
300 Pakistani Marines maintained security at the airfield and beach during operations.
CTF 53 (COMLOGFOR NAVCENT) supported TF 58 by conducting routine re-supply
of the ARGs by replenishment at sea throughout the operation. Mission-critical supplies were
transported from sites in theater to TF 58 forces afloat in the North Arabian Sea. During the
operation, over eighteen million gallons of ship’s fuel, two million gallons of aviation fuel, and
ten thousand pallets of supplies were delivered to the two ARGs. Ships of the ARGs also picked
up and delivered four augmentation CH-53Es and a replacement AH-1W from Masirah, Oman.
CTF 53 superbly supported the Marines throughout the operation.
The ARG’s maintained an aggressive wet well and flight deck cycle to support the initial
assault and subsequent operations on the objective. The PELARG debarked over 1,700
personnel, 180 vehicles and 267 short tons of cargo and the BATARG debarked over 1800
personnel, 70 vehicles, and 400 short tons of cargo. Developing a “Force” Tactical Logistics
(TACLOG) to track ship to shore movement and the subsequent move inland was accomplished
by assigning one ARG the role as executive agent for TACLOG functions. At various stages of
the movement ashore, each MEU was responsible for consolidating, deconflicting and reporting
all movement from both ARGs to the objectives, their assignment to the duty following a
The force cap levied upon Naval forces at Rhino challenged the logistics system.
Because TF 58 had to ensure that it possessed sufficient combat power to maintain security in
Afghanistan, a trade off was forced between support assets and combat power. Due to the
uncertain nature of the security situation during the early days of the operation, limited combat
support assets were moved ashore to Rhino. Coupled with this was direction from Central
Command to “get the Coalition forces into the fight” as soon as possible. These competing
requirements and limitations required TF 58 planners to continually assess and modify the flow
of material to the objective to maintain the proper mix of combat power and sustainment.
During the first thirty-six days (25 November to 30 December), threat conditions limited
flight operations at Rhino to the hours of darkness. Although the threat appeared to diminish,
TF 58 chose to continue this restriction. One reason was that the aircrews had established a night
time battle rhythm, and it was less disruptive for them to continue to operate at night rather than
conduct a transition to daylight hours. The second reason was that the Seabees required an
increasing amount of time to maintain and repair the continuously degrading dirt runway.
Finally, the expanse of uncontrolled territory around Rhino remained a concern in light of
possible infiltration of a manpad threat.
By 28 November, TF 58 had conducted three continuous nights of fixed wing aviation
operations at Rhino and the runway was in dire need of repair. Not only had the top six inches of
the hardened desert airstrip been pulverized, numerous ruts, some in excess of ten inches deep,
had also been created across the landing strip. On D+3, thirty Seabees from the Air Detachment
of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 133 (designated TG 58.5) arrived on the first
C-17 into FOB Rhino. They performed the first tactical offload of cargo from a C-17 on an
expeditionary airfield in Seabee history.
Seabees and Airmen from Air Force Special Tactical Squadron (STS) 21 evaluated the
runway’s operational condition on a daily basis. The Seabees continued to maintain the runway
throughout the remainder of the operation, employing a combination of grading, watering, and
compacting techniques, and supplementing the runway matrix with clay and cement. Through
their efforts, FOB Rhino was able to sustain over 1350 fixed and rotary wing sorties between 28
November 2001 and 3 January 2002, but it was a closely watched situation. The airfield was
only kept in service thanks to the extraordinary efforts of a handful of hard working, competent
Two commodities, bulk water and dust palliative, were essential in this maintenance
effort and both presented sustainment challenges. The Seabees required approximately 5,000
gallons of bulk water each day, but no source of water was available at Rhino. Eventually, water
had to be flown in every day from Jacobabad requiring one C-17 sortie nightly dedicated to this
effort. TF 58 planners debated the merits of flying Seabee well-drilling equipment from Guam
to help alleviate the bulk water requirement concluding that the limited time of Rhino occupation
did not warrant the additional lift and effort required to drill a well.
Severe dust clouds created by helicopter landings, referred to as “brown-outs”, were
cause for significant concern. Every take-off and landing at Rhino had the distinct potential for a
crash. To mitigate the problem, use of AM2 matting was discussed and sourced however the lift
requirement for sufficient amounts of matting precluded its deployment. Several Marine
Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One (MAWTS-1) trained aviators recommended an
environmentally safe dust palliative nicknamed “Gorilla Snot” that is routinely used to abate dust
at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Yuma. Renamed “Rhino Snot” by the SeaBees, the initial
shipment of drums of dust palliative took three weeks to arrive. Unfortunately, while the
palliative helped to mitigate, it did not significantly reduce brown out conditions. Application of
the palliative was limited in scope because of the lack of bulk water and competing requirements
to use what little was available for runway maintenance.
SeaBees also provided contingency construction capability and assisted in numerous
projects in and around Rhino, proving their resourcefulness through their construction of a
multitude of projects. Scrounging for materials, they built map tables, surgical tables, and gun
racks for the Australian SAS. They also provided heavy equipment support with their bulldozer
“Natasha II”, which was gainfully employed to excavate berms, trash pits, and vehicle obstacles
for the Marines. One project, the construction of an expeditionary outhouse, affectionately
known as a “4-hole burnout,” was particularly well received by the Marines. The burnout
precluded the need to dig or use slit trenches and significantly improved the sanitary conditions
On 16 December, Seabees divided their detachment to begin the repair of the runway at
Kandahar airport. Marine KC-130’s were conducting flights into the airport, however, the
runway and taxiways required repairs before C-17 and other intra-theater aircraft could land.
Within 12 hours of arrival, the Seabees had filled numerous craters with a soil/cement mix and
compacted the top layer for stability, extending the serviceable portion of the runway to 6,000
While their expeditionary repairs opened the airport to C-17 and intra-theater aircraft
operations, a tremendous amount Foreign Object Damage (FOD) debris was strewn across the
runway and impeded aviation operations at Kandahar. The Seabees located an abandoned
Russian sweeper truck in the airfield junkyard and through the cannibalization of other vehicles,
made field expedient repairs. The Russian sweeper was used for almost two full weeks before the
Air Force sweeper truck arrived. The field expedient repair of the Russian sweeper highlights
the ingenuity and “can do” spirit of the Seabees that supported TF 58.
Early in the planning process, TF 58 recognized that since forces operating in southern
Afghanistan would be separated from supply stores aboard the ARGs and lacked secure ground
lines of communication, the bulk of material support would have to be inserted via transport
aircraft. Although two KC-130’s are normally attached to deploying MEU’s, General Mattis
believed that this would prove insufficient for the Task Forces’ needs and requested two
additional aircraft. Once deployed, TF 58 operated six KC-130 aircraft: two from VMGR-252
and four from VMGR-352.
Based out of Jacobabad, the KC-130s were the first fixed wing aircraft to fly into FOB
Rhino, Kandahar and other locations. As these aircraft fulfilled the majority of TF 58’s intra-
theater lift requirements, they transported Marines, equipment and supplies; completed numerous
Aerial and Rapid Ground Refueling (AR/RGR) missions; and conducted CASEVAC flights. In
total, TF 58 KC-130s flew more than 1400 sorties over 2500 hours, delivering more than 8400
passengers, nine million pounds of cargo, and one million pounds of fuel. Just as impressive,
given the tactical environment and the amount of night operations, only three of the aircraft had
Aircraft Survivability Equipment (ASE) and none of the cockpits were night vision capable. For
this reason, Marine KC-130 cockpit aircrew were unable to employ Night Vision Goggles
(NVG’s). The commitment made by the Marines of VMGRs 252 and 352 (nicknamed VMGR
552) was total - they would not let their fellow Marines down. They earned the undying
gratitude of the Marines, Sailors and coalition forces operating in Southern Afghanistan.
While TF 58 KC-130’s were true workhorses providing support and sustainment to the
operation, intra-theater lift was essential to provide the necessary support to the forces ashore.
Prior to D-day the TF 58 staff recognized the need for additional intra-theater lift and requested
C-17 aircraft. This requirement was initially viewed as a short-term requirement supporting the
closure of combat forces but as the operation progressed the requirement to provide all
sustainment via airlift made it readily apparent that additional support and intra-theater lift would
be required. Planners programmed two C-17s a day into the ATO to fly sustainment into Rhino
and then adjusted the loads depending on daily requirements.
As TF 58 expanded operations in Afghanistan the complexity of the ship-to-shore
sustainment grew exponentially. While the 350 nautical mile trip from the ARG to FOB Rhino
was challenging enough, the logistics chain was extended another 75 nautical miles as TF 58
helicopters airlifted chow, ammo, water, and fuel to forces conducting LOC interdiction missions
to the north and west. During the first three days following the seizure of Kandahar Airport,
follow-on forces and sustainment items were airlifted from Rhino 90 nautical miles northeast to
that location. Marine KC-130s began flying supplies directly to Kandahar from established
logistics hubs and once again became the principal lifeline supporting Marine and coalition
forces. After a 3-day delay, USAF aircraft also began flying sustainment to Kandahar.
Throughout the operation, the role of the TF 58 N4 evolved from a planning staff to
eventually performing the tasks of an operational level logistics hub similar to the role
envisioned by the Marine Logistics Command and those of a Force Movement Control Center
(FMCC). After starting the operation with a staff of two officers, by mid-December, the N4 staff
grew to six officers supporting a force spread between FOB Rhino, Kandahar Airfield, two
ARGs, Bahrain, Jacobabad, Shamsi and Pasni, Pakistan. At each location, officers had
connectivity to sites throughout the theater and back to CONUS. Through continuous phone
calls, e-mails and messages via SIPR chat, they coordinated highly responsive sourcing,
movement and tracking of personnel, equipment, and supplies.
Bahrain initially served as the critical hub for logistic support to TF 58. By Christmas,
the TF 58 supply chain matured and the aerial ports of debarkation at Seeb and Thumrait, Oman
became the hubs of choice. At this time TF 58 was supporting over 4,500 Marines, Sailors,
Soldiers and coalition forces ashore throughout Afghanistan and Pakistan. At these theater entry
points, the TF used expediters sourced from the MEU S4 shops to speed supplies into
Afghanistan. They ensured that the equipment and gear for each of the MEU’s was received at
their respective hub, accounted for, and tracked until loaded onto follow on transportation.
While most had a supply MOS background, the expediters were true expeditionary Marines who
quickly learned enough embarkation and traffic management skills to correct problems on the
spot and keep the material support flowing to their forward operating comrades in arms.
In Bahrain, Captain Samson Avenetti developed and maintained a complex logistics
network that linked TF 58 forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan with support organizations located
throughout the theater and CONUS. Working out of a borrowed temper tent, he spent countless
hours sourcing, negotiating and organizing logistical support for the forces ashore. He quickly
developed relationships with local NAVCENT, Seabee and commercial vendors to locate
mission critical supplies and equipment. Operating in support of a dynamic combat environment
and under a timeline that needed everything yesterday, he pushed supplies forward to feed, fix
and arm the combat force. He was able to locate items ranging from forklifts, that helped offload
pallets at FOB Rhino, to mission critical barrier materials used in the construction of Kandahars
Short Term Handling Facility (STHF). Once the supplies were located in CONUS or in theater,
Avenetti would work every available channel to fly the equipment from its origin to destination.
He coordinated with USMC KC-130s flying repair parts from Pasni, Pakistan to FOB Rhino. He
coordinated with Danish C-130s to fly fresh fruit, vegetables and Holiday care packages from
Bahrain to Shamsi. He employed USAF C-17s to fly construction supplies and detainee
handling equipment from Shaik Isa Air Base (SIAB), Bahrain to the detention facility at
Kandahar. To help facilitate these movements, he maintained close contact with the Joint
Movement Center (JMC) staff, located in the Coalition Air Operations Center (CAOC) to
request, schedule and track aircraft.
The Joint Movement Center (JMC), established at Prince Sultan Air Base (PSAB) in
Saudi Arabia, served as the central headquarters for movement requests throughout the theater.
Capt Erika DeVos, USAF, JMC Officer-in-Charge, became an essential partner in the
sustainment mission through daily phone and e-mail contact with Avenetti. They reprioritized
cargo loads throughout the day to meet the needs of forward units. Personal relationships and
professionalism between logisticians led directly to mission success.
As operations transitioned from FOB Rhino to Kandahar Airfield, sustainment focus also
shifted. Airlift priorities alternated between retrograde of forces from Rhino to sustaining
growing force levels in Kandahar. TF and MEU planners monitored requirements continuously
and held daily meetings to deconflict priorities and allocate organic and intra-theater airlift. The
teamwork and cooperation between the MEUs during this critical juncture were key enablers in
simultaneously completing the retrograde from Rhino and the deployment into Kandahar. The
teamwork was captured in the 26th MEU(SOC) Embark Chief, Staff Sergeant Koval’s comment
that is was “41st MEU” (15 + 26 MEU) that was working as a team.
Initial priorities for sustainment at Kandahar were for food, fuel and water. 26th MEU
pulled all MREs from Landing Force Operational Reserve Material (LFORM) aboard the
BATAAN ARG and pulled forward exercise stocks from Sigonella, Italy to support all USMC,
Joint, SOF and coalition forces operating from Kandahar. Once organic stocks were depleted,
replenishment sources of MREs proved difficult to obtain. CFMCC was not structured or
equipped to provide MREs for forces operating ashore. Guidance provided by MARFORPAC
stated that business as usual procedures remained in place and no push of sustainment was
planned by the components, leaving the 26th MEU on their own to requisition MREs from
CONUS sustainment sources. CFLCC began pushing MREs in support of TF RAKKASAN
with a goal of building to 15 Days of Supply (DOS) in place for the Relief In Place (RIP) and
desired these stocks not be used unless absolutely required. The problem was resolved though
the efforts of Major Terry Dresbach in the NAVCENT N4 and Major Dan Conley from TF 58,
who aggressively coordinated with CFACC to arrange for an issue from USAF war reserve
stocks with an agreement for a later replacement in kind.
Storage and delivery of fuel also presented challenges to the TF 58 sustainment effort.
Jacobabad was recognized early in the planning as the central source of fuel sustainment.
Coordination by TF 58 planners led CFACC to put 100,000 gallons of storage in place at
Jacobabad to better enable delivery of JP4 by KC-130 to both Rhino and Kandahar, and
eventually to Bagram to support USMC and coalition operations in the Khowst/Gardez area.
The use of JP4 however presented problems because of its incompatibility as a ground
equipment fuel. This required both MEUs to continuously fly in diesel fuel in 500-gallon
blivets, a method that never enabled sufficient stocks to be built up at either Rhino or Kandahar.
Reliance on TF-58 KC-130s as the only delivery means required both aviation and logistics
planners to continuously monitor fuel status and closely integrate airlift schedules to support the
refueling effort. This absolute reliance on KC-130 delivery of fuel became even more of a
concern during the RIP with TF RAKKASAN. TF 58 planners arranged for 150,000 gallons of
storage capacity from theater stocks and closely coordinated with CENTCOM and Defense
Logistics Agency (DLA) fuels offices for delivery of a multipurpose fuel via ground delivery
from Pakistan. This resupply was put into effect in sufficient time to alleviate the requirement to
leave the KC-130s in Jacobabad and complete the RIP with TF Rakkasan.
As with Rhino, hygiene standards at Kandahar were an early and continuous concern for
CTF 58. As force levels at Kandahar grew, lumber became an increasingly important
commodity to build sufficient heads and hygiene stations. Satisfying this requirement was
complicated by the need to build a 500 man Short Term Holding Facility. 26 MEU aggressively
tapped multiple sources of supply, primarily open purchase in Pakistan, but were never able to
get sufficient stocks to satisfy all demands. Once again the SeaBees proved instrumental by
finding and using any available construction materials in and around the Kandahar airfield.
Throughout operations in Afghanistan, several sustainment issues or trends impacted TF
58’s ability to provide sustainment to combat forces in the field. Though well suited to support
doctrinal TRAP, raid and demonstration missions, the MEU Table of Equipment (T/E) was not
designed to support sustained land combat involving extensive aviation operations. Expedient
refueling systems, designed to support helicopters in the field, lacked the capacity to support the
high volume of C-17 and KC-130 cargo sorties at FOB Rhino and Kandahar. TF 58 obtained
several 50,000-gallon fuel bladder systems and an R9 Refueling truck from in theater war
reserve stocks, using them extensively at both FOBs.
Aviation and ground equipment was adversely affected by the extreme conditions in
Afghanistan. Stock tires on the Force Recon and BLT Interim Fast Attack Vehicles (IFAV’s),
for example, rapidly disintegrated after lengthy patrols through desert, scrub and rocky
formations. When replacement tires found on the ship fared no better, the CG directed that
suitable replacements be purchased in Bahrain or elsewhere in theater. Eventually, TF 58 had to
obtain new tires from I MEF in California.
Equipment age was also an issue. Most of the aircraft, vehicles and weapons were
already at or beyond their recommended service life and had seen a significant amount of tactical
usage. In VMGR 352 for example, the newest aircraft was 25 years old, the oldest 42 years old,
first flown in 1960. Maintenance had to be continuous and aggressive in order to ensure
serviceability. Fuel, oil and air filters on the vehicles had to be replaced more often then normal
due to the desert environment.
Operational requirements also drove non-standard requests for support. The Seabees, for
example, needed graders, compacters and a water truck to conduct runway repair and
maintenance. The availability of these and other specific types of equipment had to be assessed
in theater and if unavailable, requested from host units. Equipment flew in from as far as Guam
and California. Once identified, the equipment had to be prepared for movement at home
station, shipped, and tracked to the TF 58 AO.
Compatibility of terminology and systems made the tracking of sustainment from outside
the CENTCOM AOR difficult. Even when properly used, the Air Force and Navy/Marine
tracking systems did not interface well and often created more confusion than they rectified.
Shipments of cargo that left CONUS as a consolidated load were broken apart in transit and
shipped via different routes. In one instance, I MEF equipment intended for FOB Rhino was
shipped from CONUS to Germany on USAF C-5s. Although the intent was to transfer the
equipment to C-17s for transport into the theater, much of it was bumped to accommodate 4th
MEB Marines on their way to relieve the 26th MEU at the American Embassy at Kabul. The I
MEF pallets were broken further apart; some of the gear was left in Germany, while the rest was
sent to Seeb, Oman and Shaik Isa, Bahrain. During the weeks that followed, it took the combined
effort of TF 58, I MEF and the JMC to collect the stray shipments for transport to their final
The use of commercial contractors achieved positive, but unspectacular results. For
example, once the dust palliative was identified as a mission requirement, TF 58 moved quickly
to procure the product. The palliative was purchased in CONUS and packaged for shipment to
theater. FEDEX picked up the shipment and scheduled it on a flight out of CONUS. Tracking
the shipment once it left CONUS was difficult. Local carriers lacked the automation necessary
to provide updates on the shipment’s location at any given time. Once the palliative arrived in
theater, transportation to Rhino had to be arranged. The entire process took approximately three
Channel flights enabled TF 58 to move personnel and weapons from CONUS to theater
without the constraints imposed by commercial flights. They were, however, constrained by the
number of stops required en route to pick up or drop off passengers. Furthermore, they were not
intended to move high priority cargo and equipment shipped via channel flights was often
delayed and did not meet the required delivery date.
I MEF G4 maintained a twenty-four hour watch and provided critical reach-back support
for TF 58. Needing very little amplifying information, personnel at the MEF quickly fulfilled
urgent requests for support from TF 58. To provide added visibility, personnel in the G-4 section
at MEF also established an informal tracking system and posted information concerning
requested items on their web page. In some cases, however, multiple transportation channels
were used to ship the gear and it became difficult to identify the specific contents.
The Navy Regional Contracting Center (NRCC) at Naval Support Activity, Bahrain
played a crucial role in the procurement of items through open sourcing. Familiar with local
vendors and practices, they were able to register the TF requirement, evaluate available sources
and purchase the necessary items. This capability allowed the TF 58 staff to rapidly purchase
items, load them on intra-theater or organic lift and quickly get them forward.
Through the combined efforts of the both MEUs, the SeaBees and the TF 58 staff a
logistics system was developed that was able to sustain TF 58 forces and provide the support
required to accomplish the mission. Teamwork, communication, personal relations, and a
willingness to utilize capabilities beyond doctrine were essential elements that created an
environment for success.
For 87 days, TF 58 operated in a unique, demanding, and challenging combat
environment in Afghanistan. The staffs and units that participated in the action had not trained
together as an organization and came together from both coasts. The experience level of the TF
58 and MEU and PHIBRON staffs was impressive. Two of the TF 58 staff were former
Regimental Commanders and all of the staff were well schooled with numerous deployments
under their belts. The MEU and PHIBRON staffs possessed the similar impressive levels of
experience. This harmonious convergence of experience combined with the MEU (SOC)
workups allowed the force to hit the ground running in Afghanistan. The Rapid Response
Planning Process (R2P2) was validated. The speed of the Marine Corps planning forced higher
and adjacent commands to speed their planning cycles. The process also helped to convince the
many Special Operations Forces and Coalition members that Marine forces (TF 58) were more
than conventional forces. They would come to rely heavily on TF 58 to compliment their
The operation created a new definition of the “littorals.” The operation was demanding
as it pushed current capabilities, logistical support, equipment and Marines to the edge of their
performance envelope. The initial objective, FOB Rhino, was nearly 350 nautical miles from the
coastline; by the conclusion of the operation, Marines and Sailors routinely operated 600 nautical
miles from the ARG ships. Old, but functional, equipment, combined with the deadly attitude of
Marines and Sailors led to the denial of terrorist sanctuaries in the Southern Afghanistan.
The operation was challenging as the TF 58 forces faced numerous political constraints.
Throughout the operation close coordination was required with the Pakistani government as TF
58 forces flowed through Pakistan while en route in and out of Afghanistan. This close
coordination created a strong partnership between TF 58 and the Pakistanis that enabled
operations in Afghanistan to occur. The cooperation and assistance that Pakistan and their
military forces provided TF 58 was critical to the successful execution of our operations. This
cooperation was a result of the continuous visits by General Mattis to Pakistan and the
establishment of professional, equal relationships.
Technology has closely linked strategic planners and Commanders with their
counterparts on the tactical battlefield. These strategists have the immediate ability to influence
tactical decisions. Additional training and discipline will be required in future operations to keep
strategists focused on their lanes, despite their ability to do otherwise. TF 58 learned that
Deployment Orders (DEPORDs) do not necessarily equate to forces on the ground. Despite the
fact that DEPORDs had been issued, TF 58 experienced problems conducting timely RIP’s at
Jacobabad, Shamsi and Kandahar with follow-on forces. Many lessons learned were generated
by the operation; however, three truths have been re-validated and emphasize not only the
capability of TF 58 but also the Navy/Marine Corps team as an institution. They are the
responsiveness, flexibility and expeditionary nature of forward deployed, combat ready forces
operating from sovereign US territory at sea.
The responsiveness of the force was closely tied to the amphibious capability. The Navy
and Marine Corps team were able to quickly and efficiently project power from the sea. The
PELARG was in place conducting operations prior to the stand-up of TF 58, and the BATARG
moved quickly to join TF 58. The force was able to respond to the crisis, arriving in place with
significant capability, quickly and efficiently. The amphibious capability also provided TF 58
with the capability to be “forward-based” from the sea. The vast majority of the CAS flown in
support of the operations ashore originated from the CVBGs and the ARG operating to the south
of the GATOR boxes. This capability alleviated the need for negotiating with nations in the
region for basing rights for the Marine ground forces or the Navy/Marine tactical air assets.
TF 58 validated the flexible nature of the Navy/Marine Corps team. The TF 58 staff was
small and comprised of numerous individuals from various organizations, backgrounds and
services. The MEUs supporting the operation came from different coasts with different Standard
Operating Procedures (SOPs) and varying degrees of operational experience in the AO. In
addition, TF 58 worked with a variety of U.S., Australian, British, and German SOF
organizations. TF 58 would also work closely with numerous inter-agencies such as the CIA,
FBI and DEA.
These SOF units contacted the Marines to provide necessary support to conduct their
missions. During the first six weeks of operations ashore, TF 58 would be the only source of
QRF for all forces operating in Afghanistan. Marine helicopters provided a rapid, capable,
flexible tool that would repeatedly assist in SOF mission accomplishment. SOF organizations
would come to rely on the timely, responsive, capable support provided by TF 58. Operations in
Afghanistan established a new relationship between Marines and the SOF community, a
relationship certainly to be maintained in the future.
Finally, the expeditionary nature of the Navy/Marine team was again validated. From the
ARG’s, Marines were able to rapidly move ashore, while operating within Host Nation (HN)
constraints. In an impressive demonstration of capability, Marines and Sailors exceeded
expectations and built combat power at Rhino in a matter of days. Carrier aviation provided
round-the-clock CAS in support of the ground forces early in the operation. Marine aviation,
especially KC-130s and CH-53Es, was vital to the build-up and sustainment of the force in
Afghanistan and allowed TF 58 to move equipment and personnel around the AO to accomplish
all assigned missions. By operating with only what was essential for mission accomplishment,
TF 58 maintained an expeditionary, yet lethal capability in Afghanistan.
All of these organizations were brought together rapidly and through force of personality
and professionalism, demonstrated great flexibility in forming a team. Personality as a force
multiplier was again validated. The actions of a single Sailor or Marine could and did make a
difference. This flexible attitude led directly to the many successes of TF 58, impressing all who
came in contact with our naval forces.
TF 58 operations in southern Afghanistan reinforced the responsive, flexible,
expeditionary nature of the Navy/Marine team. This revalidation of these concepts was just as
important as the many emerging lessons learned that will follow. While the Tactics, Techniques
and Procedures will be rightfully debated and critiqued, the courage, competence and
commitment of all hands will not be. We were directed to insert Navy and Marine forces into
Taliban/Al Qaida controlled southern Afghanistan, create chaos, and destroy the enemy’s will to
resist. In the final analysis, that is what we did.