Coalition, Afghans Mark Four Years of Operation Enduring Freedom
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 6, 2005 Four years ago, America launched its counterattack against terrorism, hammering terrorist targets in Afghanistan and ushering in Operation Enduring Freedom and the global war on terror.
That volley, launched Oct. 7, 2001, targeted far more than al Qaeda training camps and facilities and the repressive Taliban regime in Afghanistan, President Bush noted in announcing the attacks during a White House address. It sent an unmistakable message to terrorist organizations worldwide that the United States and its coalition partners refuse to live under a cloud of fear and intimidation, he said.
Bush emphasized that the action represented just one front in an ongoing U.S. effort against terror networks. "Today, we focus on Afghanistan, but the battle is broader," the president said.
Bush also presented his challenge to the world to stand up against terrorism. "Every nation has a choice to make," he said. "In this conflict, there is no neutral ground. If any government sponsors the outlaws and killers of innocents, they have become outlaws and murderers themselves. And they will take that lonely path at their own peril."
Operation Enduring Freedom began after the Taliban rejected U.S. demands made following terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Bush had called on Afghanistan's leaders to close terrorist training camps and hand over al Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. The president also demanded the return of all unjustly detained foreign nationals and the opening of terrorist training sites to U.S. inspection.
When the terrorist ignored those demands, about 15 land-based bombers and 25 Navy strike aircraft from carriers launched the first strikes in Operation Enduring Freedom. In addition, U.S. and British ships and submarines launched some 50 Tomahawk missiles, then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers reported that day.
The forces targeted Taliban-held airfields, terrorist training camps, command-and-control nodes, and anti-aircraft positions in what defense leaders described as a blend of 21st-century technology and 19th-century military tactics. The effort combined air power, precision-guided munitions and state-of-the-art communications with thousands of Afghan warriors on horseback or foot.
Initially, the operation involved a relatively small force -- a few hundred special operations forces and thousands of Afghan forces in the Northern Alliance supported by powerful U.S. air support. U.S. Marines and soldiers joined the force to clean out remnants of terrorist elements still in Afghanistan.
Later, Operation Enduring Freedom shifted to a broader-based effort aimed at creating conditions in Afghanistan that caused people worn down by more than 23 years of war to reject terrorists and their activities outright.
That involved establishing provincial reconstruction teams that dot the country to extend security and the reach of the national government into the provinces. Today, NATO commands nine of the teams, and the coalition, 13.
Four years later, the coalition in Afghanistan remains strong, representing a key front in the overall global war on terror. More than 21,000 members of Combined Forces Command Afghanistan -- more than 17,900 U.S. servicemembers and more than 3,100 troops from 20 allied nations -- conduct full-spectrum operations, from combat to humanitarian activities, to defeat terrorism and establish enduring security in the country.
During a Sept. 23 briefing with Pentagon reporters, Army Col. Kevin Owens, commander of the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Afghanistan, said coalition operations have "significantly degraded the enemy combatants in Afghanistan."
"The enemy can't offer the people of Afghanistan anything but fear and ignorance," and their military operations have been reduced to uncoordinated and random rocket and mortar attacks and roadside bombs, said Owens, who also commands Combined Task Force Bayonet and Regimental Command South, in Afghanistan.
"I'm confident things are heading in the right direction," he said "And I'm also confident that we are starting to gain irreversible momentum."
Meanwhile, progress continues in building Afghanistan's security forces, which currently number more than 30,000 soldiers and more than 50,000 police. Owens told reporters those forces continue to increase in capabilities.
"The Afghan National Army is a work in progress," he said, and is made up of "enormously capable and motivated and professional soldiers, particularly at the individual and small-unit level."
Efforts continue to improve their logistics systems, command-and-control systems and maintenance operations, and, Owens said, U.S. and coalition soldiers are "working shoulder-to-shoulder with them" to make those improvements.
Owens called the troops "absolutely courageous," highly motivated and proud of what they're contributing to their country.
Equally important, he said, the Afghan National Army soldiers "are absolutely revered" by the Afghan people, who are witnessing "an army that is raised from their ranks, that is representative of all tribes and ethnicities across Afghanistan, providing a secure environment for them."
As the coalition helps the Afghans continue the battle against terrorist threats in their country, they're also helping set conditions for Afghanistan to succeed as a fledging new democracy.
Millions of Afghans defied the Taliban and al Qaeda remnants in the country and elected Hamid Karzai as their president during Oct. 9, 2004, presidential elections. On Sept. 18, the Afghans returned to the polls, this time to elect a lower house of parliament and councils for each of their nation's 34 provinces.
"We believe the real winners in this process are the people of Afghanistan, who courageously took a stand against years of violence and oppression and took a major step forward toward peace and prosperity," said Army Maj. Gen. Jason Kamiya, commander of Combined Joint Task Force 76 following the Sept. 18 elections.
"The success of Afghan elections clearly shows how earnestly Afghan people want a truly free and democratic country," agreed Army Lt. Col. Michael Fenzel, deputy commanding officer for Regional Command East. "These elections are yet another powerful reminder, among many I have witnessed, that Afghanistan will not be controlled by the Taliban, al Qaeda, or other enemy forces."
Meanwhile, other conditions around Afghanistan demonstrate continued progress: a growing economy, a boom in school attendance by girls as well as boys, and work on the "Ring Road" that links the country.
Owens said these efforts go hand in hand toward building a new Afghanistan. "Our enduring lines of operation are security, good governance and reconstruction," he said. "I believe all of these are interrelated, and you can't have one without the other."
Army Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, who took the reins of Combined Forces Command Afghanistan in early May, said the credit for much of the progress to date goes to U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.
During the ceremony marking his assumption of command, Eikenberry pledged to "continue to work together, build security forces and support the rebuilding of Afghanistan."
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, speaking to Pentagon reporters Sept. 20, said history will record the historic developments that have taken place in Afghanistan during the past four years as a major step forward for freedom.
"Think of it," Rumsfeld said. "The country that hosted Osama bin Laden, that supported training camps for al Qaeda, endured decades of civil war, Soviet occupation, drought, Taliban brutality, is now a democracy that fights terrorists instead of harboring them."
Those who have been involved in the country's transformation "can be enormously proud," the secretary said.