The Navy at War in Afghanistan: Operation Enduring Freedom 2000-2003 Learning Objectives

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The Navy at War in Afghanistan: Operation Enduring Freedom 2000-2003

Learning Objectives

  • ●The student will understand the events leading up to the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, including President George W. Bush’s foreign policy doctrine before and after September 11, 2001
  • ●The Student will understand the conduct of war in Afghanistan, to include the coalition and command structures, as well as the relevance of naval components.
  • ●The student will critically assess an interpretation of the Afghan War as the best exercise to date of a modern war according to Seapower 21 doctrine, especially in in the application of Network-Centric concepts.

Prologue: Foreign Policy of President George W. Bush

  • Emphasis during 2000 presidential campaign
  • was to keep up with the Revolution in Military
  • Affairs (RMA) and within budget by
  • modernizing the military. President Bush’s
  • plan included:
  • ● Missile system
  • ● Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of
  • Defense (mandated under “transformation”)
  • ● Transformation Office

Missile Defense System

  • ●Hostile states (Iran, N. Korea) were developing long range missile programs
  • ●China challenges U.S. protection of Taiwan
  • ●It was suggested U.S. would not be willing to use nuclear weapons if challenged.

September 11, 2001

  • Unfortunately, it took the tragedy of 9/11 to initiate President Bush’s call for change.

The Challenge

  • The administration had to bring firepower to an area with no immediately available bases, but how?
  • ● Sea-based carrier warfare
  • ● Network-centric concepts (limited, PRECISION force)

Coalition Warfare

  • ● U.S. invokes Article 5 of NATO treaty
  • ● NATO governments respond slowly to call for troops

Maritime War

  • ● Naval aircraft flew ¾ of all sorties, dropped 1/3 of all bombs
  • ●Amphibious Ready Groups (ARGs) provided principal ground force in Southern Afghanistan
  • ●New tanking architecture and cooperation with allied forces provided tanking to support carrier based air strikes

Coalition Forces

  • England (heavy contributor of sea and air power, tankers, and surveillance)
  • Australia, Bahrain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Japan (moderate sea power contributors)
  • Pakistan (allowed integral covert use of airfields)


  • ●Preexisting CENTCOM command structure makes command relationships clear from onset, its success prompts permanent Joint Task Force build up
  • ●Exercise of command via satellite later blamed for important misunderstandings in the war
  • ●USAF Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) in Saudi Arabia vital for effective air power employment
  • USAF Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC)

Precision Air Attack: The New Kind of War

  • ●Effects-based targeting
  • ●New weapons: GPS and Joint Defense Attack Munitions (JDAM)
  • ●Improved Air Tasking Order
  • ●Real time intelligence streaming

Initial Strikes

  • Mission: Roll back Afghani Integrated Air
  • Defense System (IADS) and destroy land
  • communications
  • 07OCT01: Attack on Taliban begins with TLAM launches, followed by carrier strike aircraft, USAF long-range bombers from Diego Garcia, B-2s from United States, etc.

Taliban Response

  • ● U.S. accused of killing civilians
  • ●Taliban moves targets into civilian-populated areas
  • ●Shoulder-launched Stinger missile threat


War in the North

  • Northern Alliance
  • ● Special Force representatives
  • 13NOV: Northern Alliance take Kabul, then Konduz (last stronghold in the north) with little opposition

War in the South

  • ● Southern Alliance (weak)
  • ● Fifth Fleet (based in Bahrain) responsible for most of theater
  • ● Task Force 58 (2 MEUs minus heavy material) allow personnel insertion far inland with organic helicopters

War in the South

  • ● Task Force 57 (air support)
  • ● Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG)
  • ● Camp Rhino
  • Camp Rhino Marines

FOB Rhino

  • ●Seized by the Marines 25NOV
  • ● Position (“tyranny of distance”) limits rate at which Rhino can be built up.
  • ●Marines thrived in smaller formations.
  • ●Initial strikes eliminated Taliban anti-air
  • capability.
  • ●Rhino personnel was capped, so as not to anger native Afghanis, raids are limited, and conducted at night.

War in the South

  • 19OCT: Southern campaign commences with special forces attack on Taliban compound outside Khandahar
  • ● The U.S. proves itself and learns that Afghan fighters have limits
  • ● Body armor keeps U.S. casualties low during the entire war

War in the South

  • 06DEC: Kandahar taken by Marines from Rhino and Southern Alliance forces
  • Jan 2002: TF 58 relieved in place by Army’s 101st Airborne Division. The fighting did not stop, and handover was not completed until the end of the month.

Other Considerations

  • Tribal leaders
  • ● U.N. stabilization force (called in to legitimize Afghan government without the appearance of American occupation)
  • Map of tribal leader territories

Opposition’s Leadership

  • ● Although major cities had fallen, none of the Taliban or Al Quaeda leaders had been captured.
  • ● Leaders were believed to be either hiding in the mountains or escaping to Africa by sea.
  • ● U.S. and allied warships set up an interception zone in Arabian Sea, but only a few leaders were caught.
  • ● However, new campaigns waged in the mountainous regions of Tora Bora and Anaconda were fruitful in providing masses of documents, computers, personnel, and intelligence.

Tora Bora

  • ●Large Taliban concentration, including Osama Bin Laden
  • ● Assault conducted by Afghan troops and U.S. firepower
  • ●Many key figures escaped, perhaps due to difference in coalition and U.S. goals
  • ●Taliban loses 50% of force
  • ●Al Quaeda learn U.S. can intercept radio and cell phone communications

Operation Anaconda

  • ●U.S., British, Canadian forces, with Australian SOF
  • ●Largest ground battle of the war
  • ●Mostly Army operation, Naval support came via air sorties
  • ● Considered a disappointment due to joint effort problems—lives saved mostly due to effective body armor
  • The war ends with U.S. and coalition forces in nominal
  • control of Afghanistan, however, many Taliban are still
  • in place, and there is general agreement that the war
  • is not over, as conflict still exists.
  • Disposition of forces and Topography of Shahi Khot

Airstrike Footage

  • March 11, 2002: F/A-18 airstrike on fleeing Al Qaeda forces attempting to exfiltrate the Anaconda area
  • March 4: F-14 airstrike on a mortar position that was engaging friendly forces.

A Modern War

  • ●RMA: emphasis on network-centric war
  • ●Initial air strategy: attack Centers of Gravity (successful with addition of ground support, e.g., MEUs and Northern Alliance
  • ●SOF liaisons with Northern Alliances
  • ●New approach to presence--reflected in decision to form ESGs and ARGs (Amphibious Ready Groups).

In Hindsight…

  • The Afghan air war was closer to network-centric models than past wars (Kosovo), but did not quite get there:
  • ●Not enough sensors
  • ●Split objectives between hunt for Bin Laden and defeat of Taliban


  • The Afghan War demonstrated the value of naval forces which could operate free of bases, remote sensing assets (satellites), and special forces operations. Sea-basing offered independence, and sensing facilitated the information “backplane” necessary for network-centric warfare. All of this is integral to Sea Power 21.

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