The Strategypage is a comprehensive summary of military news and affairs.
June 10, 2023

Continuing Operations
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. 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 and follow-on negotiations provided the MEU access to the site with the full support of the U.S. Army there. The plan allowed the MEU to move vehicles through Pasni, Pakistan and direct from Rhino to the site 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 Soviet occupation.

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 Convention. 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.

Prisoner interrogations were conducted by Marine Interrogator-Translators, 202d MI Bn, and other government agencies. 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 in the detention security and running of 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 again turned to the SEABEES.

TF 58 received some non-standard help in the continuing effort to make the airport more secure. In addition to the ATF and ODA forces assisting in the security mission, TF 58 also had the help of “Charlie,” an officer from an Other Government Agency (OGA). 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 tomorrow.”

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. Charlie had an enemy in 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 a former Taliban military facility west of Kandahar, and another 120 nm north/north-east of Kandahar.. 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-53E 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 Anti-Taliban Forces (ATF, CENTCOM had directed that the term OG be replaced with this term during December), 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 at what would eventually be known as FOB Rhino, allowing TF SWORD to come in, attack and kill the enemy.

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 Command (DIRMOBFOR) visited Kandahar and said that the only reason that he was flying airplanes into 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. 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 in the 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. 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. 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 at a former terrorist camp in the vicinity of Khowst. This target had been bombed days before the mission was assigned. Affectionately referred to as “Gilligans 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 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. 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). 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 area on a two week mission to conduct SSEs and S&R of the objective. During this period, 26th MEU was tasked to provide security to an OGA safe house. 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 them with their aggressiveness and attention to duty.

The number of organizations operating in the area complicated the Khowst mission. In addition to the SSE missions, 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 the 9th of 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 Canadians force already there, placing additional stress on communications, 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 my 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 runway.

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 move 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 Andy Frick, CO of 26th MEU, and Colonel Weircinski, CO of TF RAKKASAN agreed 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 ensured 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 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 to conduct SSE exploitation at a suspected Al Qaida/Taliban facility northeast of Gardez 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 the 4th of February, when they were released TACON from CFLCC and reverted OPCON to CFMCC. On February 5th CTF 58 and the remaining staff repositioned to NSA 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 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.

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