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 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 logistics 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 at Rhino.
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 established a presence at the airfield in Jacobabad. The airfield continued to serve as a critical logistics and CSAR hub, and bed down site for Marine KC-130’s. It also provided the single source of bulk fuel and water for forces at Rhino and Kandahar.
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 and 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. Initially, all ship-to-shore movement was 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 CH-53Es and an AH-1W that were shipped from CONUS to augment or replace damaged aircraft. 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; 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 supported/supporting relationship.
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, but numerous ruts, some in excess of ten inches deep, had 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 SEABEES.
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 a nightly C-17 sortie 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. In the end, planners concluded 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 but 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 Coalition forces. 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.
On 16 December, SEABEES divided their detachment to begin the repair of the runway at Kandahar Airfield. Although Marine KC-130s were conducting flights into the airfield, 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 feet.
While their expeditionary repairs opened the runway to C-17 and intra-theater aircraft operations, a tremendous amount of Foreign Object Damage (FOD) debris was strewn across the runway which impeded aviation operations. 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 an 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 that ground LOCs were not secure, the bulk of material support would have to be inserted via transport aircraft. Although two KC-130’s are normally attached to deploying MEUs, 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 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 Airfield, follow-on forces and sustainment items were airlifted to the airfield from Rhino, 90 nautical miles to the southwest. 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, the American Embassy in Kabul, 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 supply chain had matured to the point that TF 58 was supporting over 4,500 Marines, Sailors, Soldiers and coalition forces ashore throughout Afghanistan and Pakistan. At 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 MEU 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, 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, which helped offload pallets at FOB Rhino, to mission critical barrier materials used in the construction of Kandahar’s Short Term Handling Facility (STHF). Once the supplies were located in CONUS or in theater, Avenetti worked 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) 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 a comment by Staff Sergeant Koval, the 26th MEU(SOC) Embark Chief, when he noted 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 MREs from Landing Force Operational Reserve Material (LFORM) aboard the BATAAN ARG and 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 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 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 to augment organic capacity.
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 CONUS.
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 various theater APODs. 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 destination.
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 weeks.
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.