6 November to 24 November 2001
The first week in November was a busy one for the TF 58 staff. In addition to planning, Brigadier General Mattis and several members of his staff conducted liaison visits to units, commands and countries throughout the AOR. The focus of these visits was to build rapport and establish solid working relationships. Special Operations Forces (SOF) had already been operating in southern Afghanistan. Interfacing with them helped to deconflict future operations in time and space and provided valuable information on the enemy and the environment.
On 7 November, BG Mattis met with Major General Dailey, CG of TF Sword. This marked the beginning of a relationship that at times proved to be both essential and symbiotic throughout the operation. Although the two had never met, General Dailey had been operating in the southern Afghanistan for over a month. He openly shared his thoughts on operations in Afghanistan. He made it very clear that both aircraft and Marines would be operating at the very edge of their performance envelope. The dust in southern Afghanistan was so bad that his pilots had to maintain forward movement while taking off and landing to stay ahead of the dust cloud. He also mentioned that, “…if you establish a FOB at Rhino the enemy may not even come, because you are Marines.” This prediction would eventually prove true. Though both of their headquarters were physically separated by the Arabian Gulf, occasional phone calls between the two commanders were invaluable. General Dailey, a highly respected officer, provided his input regarding the TF on a VTC, or in a one-on-one conversation with CENTCOM, and was persuasive and influential on several occasions.
General Dailey also stated that the presence of Marines ashore would contribute to the loss of strategic power in the Taliban spiritual center of Kandahar and facilitate the enemy’s defeat. While acknowledging that the identification and development of targets would be difficult, he believed that seizing a FOB in southern Afghanistan would benefit both conventional and SOF forces. With close coordination, both agreed that such a move would be mutually beneficial: SOF units would conduct the “surgical” missions, while TF 58 would bring a “ball peen hammer” to the fight. General Dailey also offered two additional observations: that certain elements of the Taliban were not afraid to fight, that they would “move to the sound of the guns;” and that Taliban employment of anti-air weapons systems was ingenious. He expected the Taliban to employ Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG’s) to take down Marine helicopters as they were entering Landing Zones (LZs).
Incorporating this information into his developing plan, General Mattis decided that TF 58 would maintain the flight routes, boundaries, and other control measures used by TF SWORD in the Area of Operations (AO). Hindering initial planning efforts was the fact that TF SWORD’s operations were classified as Special Category (SPECAT), all information and details about their activities was closely held. In order to maintain maximum operations security (OPSEC), only a few of the TF 58 planners would be “read in” to the program and allowed full access to the data. This initially challenged the staff’s ability to maintain the coordination and control measures used by TF SWORD, although new methods and terminology for internal and external planning purposes were rapidly developed. Additionally, the assignment of TF 58 liaison officers to TF SWORD greatly improved awareness.
TF 57, the Maritime patrol force for Commander, U.S. FIFTH FLEET was providing surveillance support to General Dailey and TF SWORD using P-3 Aircraft Improvement Program (AIP) aircraft, was highly recommended for inclusion into TF 58 operations due to its unique capabilities. The CG, his aide and the TF 58 Communications Officer, Major Scott Stebbins, subsequently accompanied and flew on a mission over Afghanistan, to conduct a leaders’ reconnaissance and to further assess the aircraft’s capabilities. The impressive capabilities of TF 57 led to its inclusion in all TF 58 missions over the next three months. This flight cemented the relationship between TF 57 and TF 58. The CG was also briefed on the capabilities of the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC), the Joint Special Operations Task Force-South (JSOTF-South; eventually TF K-BAR) at Bahrain, and the KC-130 Detachment at Shaik Isa Air Base (SIAB), Bahrain under Major “Mags” Magnuson (XO of VMGR-352).
General Mattis also continued to coordinate with Coalition personnel throughout this period. Traveling to Islamabad he called upon Ambassador Chamberlin and Major General Farooq, Chief of Plans of the Pakistani Joint Headquarters Staff commencing development of a close relationship with these two critical leaders. This visit laid the foundation for establishing a mutual respect between Major General Farooq and General Mattis that would continue throughout the operation. During his return from Islamabad, the CG stopped to visit with General Dailey and the Commanding Officer of British SOF forces. This led to the integration of a British liaison team joining the TF 58 staff on 18 November. The General and members of the TF 58 staff also paid a visit to 15th MEU staff aboard the USS PELELIU.
Shortly after TF 58 was established the staff realized that a call sign was needed to communicate with other units. Rather than pull a name from a list of unused call signs, the CG decided to choose a specific call sign and request to use it. Coincidentally, General Mattis and the staff were developing his mission statement for operations in Afghanistan. Because the CG intended to develop a sense of “chaos” within the Taliban and Al Qaida forces in Southern Afghanistan, he decided this would be an appropriate designation for the Task Force. The request to use “CHAOS” was submitted through NAVCENT to CENTCOM and approved on 19 November.
During this period in the planning process, General Mattis was able to renew an old friendship with Commodore Bob Harward. Commodore Harward commanded the Navy SEALS of the Naval Special Warfare Detachment. These SEALS, Joint forces and Coalition forces eventually made up TF K-BAR. The two had met previously only months before in July, at the Naval Amphibious Base in Coronado California. They were reunited again at NSA Bahrain. Commodore Harward immediately assigned a SEAL liaison officer to the TF 58 planning team and personally committed all possible support for the Marine operations in Afghanistan. As with many aspects of command relationships during these operations, this relationship was worked out without any formal guidance or direction.
Commodore Harward grew up in Iran and at the age of sixteen hitchhiked from Tehran to New Delhi; on the way he spent five days in a Kandahar hospital with dysentery. In a similar vein, General Mattis had hitchhiked across the United States in his youth. Both General Mattis and Commodore Harward spent time at the Naval Academy Prep School, General Mattis as the Battalion Officer and Harward as a student. During daily visits with the General, Commodore Harward, sometimes sleepy eyed but always smiling, would mooch food as his first order of business. Reminiscing about a pretty, old Swedish chemistry professor and an Irish poetry spouting English professor, they would laugh and laugh. Commodore Harward was always cheerful and the two men would enjoy fighting together in the coming months. TF 58 provided 75% of the assault support for all of TF K-BARs Sensitive Site Exploitation (SSE) missions as those missions unfolded in Kandahar.
Legitimate “hard” targets were difficult to identify as General Dailey had forecast from his own experience. Targets and objectives were difficult to identify because they largely did not exist, and information concerning specific sites was often outdated. Consequently, TF 58 intelligence planners spent considerable time and effort developing target folders and conducting reach back for updated information through CONUS based intelligence organizations.
Three concepts of employment were briefed to Admiral Moore on 3 November. These outlined employment options reflecting different objectives, force packages, and durations of operation. The first option presented a short duration raid, 6-12 hours long, employing a company-sized element approximately 40 miles into Afghanistan, and 350 miles from the sea. The second option utilized a near simultaneous raid concept, 24-36 hours long, with 2 companies operating on two different objectives. The final option presented a long duration raid, 48-72 hours long, employing a Battalion Landing Team (BLT) ashore.
These employment options reflected the guidance provided by Vice Admiral Moore to conduct raids, General Dailey to consider establishing a longer term presence ashore, and General Mattis to start with less complicated concepts and conduct raids intended to draw the enemy out for attack by aviation assets. General Dailey also speculated again that even if the Marines seized a FOB inside Taliban controlled territory, the enemy might not even take the offensive against them. Although no preference or guidance was given regarding which concept would be selected, the staff expected to employ all of three options at some point during the operation. The plan was continually refined as additional information and intelligence became available and guidance was modified. Eventually the mission was to change from conducting three to five raids, to a mission of seizing a FOB in order to attack Lines of Communications (LOC’s) leading into Kandahar.
Vice Admiral “Willy” Moore’s personality contributed considerably to the success of TF 58’s operation in southern Afghanistan. It was the Vice Admirals’ vision and his confidence in the ability of the Marines to cause chaos in southern Afghanistan. A bold thinker, unrestrained by doctrine or process, it was his enthusiasm that created the TF and enabled the Navy/Marine team to conduct operations 350 miles inland. Whether smoking on his office patio or holding school on his staff after a VTC, Admiral Moore believed in and knew how to bring a concept to fruition. Had he been born a century and half ago, Vice Admiral Moore undoubtedly would have been in command of a ship, with a Jolly Roger at the masthead, brandishing a cutlass and causing chaos across the seas. He believed in the aggressiveness and abilities of his Sailors and Marines, and did everything to unleash them for their upcoming mission.
The establishment of Intermediate Support Bases (ISBs) in Pakistan was imperative to the success of operations in Afghanistan. Numerous sites were initially assessed for their suitability to support TF 58 operations and three sites - Pasni, Shamsi, and Jacobabad - were ultimately selected. Pakistani military support for TF 58 operations was outstanding. In terms of commitment and professionalism, Major General Farooq and his associates never let the Marines down. Coordination for the use of these sites was an ongoing process, requiring close ties with the CENTCOM liaison cell at the American Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan. LtCol Asad “Genghis” Khan, a Marine liaison officer assigned to Brigadier General Ron Sams, USAF, with his CENTCOM liaison cell provided a critical interface between TF 58 and the Pakistani military for the use of the ISBs in Pakistan. The Pakistani Joint Headquarters Staff trusted Genghis and years of disengagement and distrust were replaced by a warm, supportive, professional and personal relationship. Pakistan’s commitment to this effort consisted of over 35,000 Army troops committed to base security, activation of two Navy bases, 7,000 Air Force troops and squadrons and the deployment of frontier battalions along the Afghan-Pakistan border. The Pakistani Government’s contribution to combating terrorism was visibly demonstrated throughout OEF.
In addition to TF 58 and TF SWORD, Coalition SOF forces also intended to operate in southern Afghanistan during the same time period. This meant that up to three operational elements would be competing for targets in the same geographical area. For example, the TF 58 staff believed that their first mission would be a short duration raid against a drug processing facility located 40 miles north of the Pakistani border in Afghanistan. However, due to the competition for lucrative, identifiable targets, the Coalition SOF staff had focused on the same target. Ultimately, the Coalition forces would be approved to conduct this mission, forcing the TF 58 staff to focus on other objectives in the AO.
On 10 November, General Mattis delivered the TF 58 concept of operations brief to the Deputy Commander in Chief (DCINC) of CENTCOM and staff via VTC from Bahrain. He was told to continue developing plans for operations in southern Afghanistan, and TF 58 was instructed to prepare for seizing and holding a FOB. The TF 58 staff had already anticipated that requirement and continued to assess a desert airstrip known as Rhino, the airstrip General Dailey noted as most supportable for such an operating base. Rhino, a hunting camp with a 6,400 foot-long dirt airstrip and associated buildings, had been a previous objective of theater SOF. Although the concept for the establishment of a FOB in southern Afghanistan was approved shortly following this brief, the initial plan would be refined until the TF 58 staff boarded the USS PELELIU ten days later. During this period the objective would change many times. Initially the objective was Rhino, but it was subsequently changed to Kandahar Airport, then Herat followed by Shindand, and back to Rhino, necessitating late nights and diffused planning.
The challenge of becoming a single TF lay in integrating the strengths (personality, equipment and procedures) of each MEU into a common entity. This required the development of internal command relationships within TF 58, established early by General Mattis with the releasing of a “personal for” (P-4) message to both of the MEU/ PHIBRON commanders. After developing a harmonious relationship with his MEU commanders, the General’s priority became developing a mutually supportive relationship between the two MEU commanders themselves.
Although Marines follow common doctrine and procedures, MEUs were by design intended to be self-contained operational organizations. Their highly trained and exceptionally qualified commanders establish Standing Operating Procedures (SOPs) for their organizations based on expected operations and their experience. TF 58 planners dealt with the issue of MEU individuality by designing operations that would preserve the unit integrity and capitalize on their well-honed procedures as much as possible, in each of the commands. For example, the 15th MEU was tasked with seizing and securing FOB Rhino, while the 26th MEU would flow through to conduct raid, interdiction, and seizure missions from the FOB. The 26th MEU facilitated the coordination process by stationing a two-man liaison team with the staff.
Following the release of the P-4 message, the staff began early integration and information sharing with the MEUs. VTCs were conducted, allowing the staff to interact real-time with the MEUs throughout the planning process. Certain assets were identified and considered critical to the success of the operation. These included: KC-130 aircraft, CH-53E aircraft, refueling equipment and SEABEES. The aviation resources of both MEUs (KC-130’s and CH-53E’s) were required during the initial seizure of FOB Rhino, as well as for follow on operations. Requirements for four additional CH-53’s and two additional KC-130’s were identified and Requests For Forces (RFF’s) sent out. These RFF’s would be approved and aircraft from I MEF would deploy to support TF 58. While exercising great flexibility in combining assets from both MEUs to accomplish a single TF 58 objective, responsibilities and requirements would have to be clearly established for each MEU. The MEU and TF 58 staffs constantly defined and re-defined roles and responsibilities. This constant exchange of ideas between staffs helped strengthen personal and unit relationships.
TF 58 moved into the MICFAC facilities in Bahrain on 8 November. These consisted of two “temper tents”, a conference room, and a spare office for General Mattis, located in a building that supported CTF 57. The move to tents was not insignificant and required the creation of new e-mail accounts on a new MICFACCENT domain (old accounts in the MCE were on the NAVCENT domain). In addition, chairs, desks, paper, pens, printers, phones, and everything else required to support a staff had to be procured and moved into the tents. The Task Force Headquarters staff itself was a non-Table of Organization (T/O), non-Table of Equipment (T/E) unit. The move validated the General’s concept that every member of the staff would be required to “fill sandbags,” as everyone was required to support the move. While the move was occurring, the staff continued to plan and refine a brief due to CINCCENT on 10 November. The tents remained in place for members of the Bahrain TF 58 staff providing logistical and intelligence support.
The tension associated with the planning process was intense. Plans had to be developed and briefed at all levels. Some of the plans would make it through the process easily, others were changed based on new guidance, usually verbal, out of Tampa, Florida. Team and trust building, so important for the upcoming mission, had to be continually developed and nurtured. RFFs and Deployment Orders (DEPORDS) critical to plan development had to be initiated, monitored and factored into the overall process, as expected arrival dates fluctuated. Communications to higher, adjacent, and subordinate units made the process difficult, both ashore and at sea. Initially the 15th and later the 26th MEU would experience frustrations, but both would swallow their frustrations, maintaining focus on the ultimate mission endstate. The 15th MEU was uncertain as to when the Army would relieve their security forces at Jacobabad, and the 26th MEU was uncertain when they would arrive in the North Arabian Sea. The planning timeline was compressed so every action occurred with a sense of urgency.
As planning continued, the TF 58 staff began to identify personnel requirements for the operation. Several issues concerned the requirement for staff personnel on ship, as well as procuring billeting and working space for them aboard the USS PELELIU. Although the bulk of the staff, 19 personnel, would transition afloat, it became clear that members of the administrative, intelligence and logistics sections would stay behind providing reach back support. Coordination began during the second week of November to affect this transition. The TF 58 staff interfaced with the 15th MEU S-4, and the Phibron N-4 via e-mail, to coordinate billeting and space availability. The JIC-B space and ample billeting were set aside for the TF 58 staff as the MEU, PHIBRON and ships’ Commanders did everything possible to welcome TF 58 on board.
The TF 58 staff moved aboard the USS PELELIU on 20 November. The staff and members of the press pool traveled by Marine KC-130 from Bahrain to Pasni and from Pasni to the ship by helicopter. Once aboard, they received a formal Confirmation Brief from the 15th MEU staff in the wardroom that evening. The brief lasted approximately three and a half hours, and provided a comprehensive overview of the plan to seize FOB Rhino, showcasing superb detailed planning of the most complex landing plan in anyone’s memory. D-day was established as 1700Z on 23 November 2001. Additional planning was needed concerning the movement of forces from ship-to-shore and detailed coordination with LtCol Khan was required for the staging of Marine forces in Pakistan. The Thanksgiving meal was served on board the ships on this day in anticipation of the upcoming operation.
On 21 November, as the USS BATAAN closed on the PELELIU ARG, key PHIBRON 8 and 26 MEU staff members were crossed decked from the USS BATAAN to the USS PELELIU. The purpose of this movement was to reinforce the integrated nature of TF 58 and to continue coordination planning between the three staffs. After General Mattis issued his guidance to the assembled staffs, they broke into operating groups and continued to conduct close coordination and plan refinement. General Mattis conducted a separate visit to the BATAAN to address the Navy and Marine officers on board.
During planning, General Mattis found the Rules of Engagement (ROE) for the assault force overly restrictive. They required hostile intent or hostile act before we could engage. TF 58 requested modification to the ROE allowing the ground force commander to treat as hostile and attack all personnel in the landing zone when making an assault into enemy territory and during extract. Initially there was some resistance in Tampa to allow TF 58 forces this ROE change. With NAVCENT’s full support, and with the persistence and the conviction that our Marines required the freedom to proactively engage the enemy using their initiative and trusting the Marine’s good judgment, CENTCOM authorized this ROE modification.
The Pakistani government placed certain constraints on TF 58 throughout the operation, adding a level of complexity to the impending mission. These constraints reflected the Pakistani desire to conceal its support of U.S. military operations and to control the information released to the public due to the volatile nature of its internal politics. One restriction required TF 58 to conduct all ship-to-shore and air movement into and out of Pakistan during hours of darkness. Others involved the movement and staging of equipment and personnel required to support the FOB seizure, at sites in Pasni, Shamsi, and Jacobabad.
Pasni, located on the coast of Pakistan, provided both access from the sea and the air. Movement occurred from the Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) to a Beach Landing Site (BLS) under the cover of darkness for subsequent ground movement to Pasni airfield, approximately an hour drive away. Upon arrival at the airfield, the Pakistani’s placed restrictions on the amount of equipment allowed at Pasni at any given time and required that personnel ashore maintain a low profile during the day (initially many of them remaining confined inside hangers). Despite the restrictions, without the cooperation and willingness of the Pakistani government to open Pasni in support of TF 58 operations, the assault into Afghanistan would not have been possible.
Shamsi, approximately 90 nautical miles north of Pasni, would provide a critical forward refueling point and staging area for Marine helicopters and personnel enroute from the ships to southern Afghanistan. Jacobabad served as the KC-130 staging and refueling site and would be used to pre-stage assault troops for the mission. Although D-day would slide to 25 November, the conditions were set for the commencement of the operation on 23 November 2001.