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 and Al Qaida organizations, 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 American 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 01/02, a multi-national military exercise in Egypt. While there, Brigadier General James N. Mattis, Commanding General (CG) of 1st MEB, was also 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 Naval Support Activity (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. LtCol J.D. Howell, 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 of potential amphibious missions. Two Bright Star planners, LtCol John Carl from MARCENT, and LtCol Howell, 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 Tom Lafferty, and Lieutenant Mike 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), Bahrain 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 (CSAR) aircraft 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 on 2145 local, 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, 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 Hagee, Commanding General of First Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF), and Lieutenant General 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) ARGs 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 British SOF forces, 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, Tampa, and a communicator from CJTF CM, 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 designations.
In 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 NSA 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 realized.
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; eventually renamed TF K-BAR).
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 TF 58 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.