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Eleven Men at the Gates of Kandahar - Special Operations Forces and Operation Enduring Freedom | Defense Media Network


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On Oct. 7, 2001, the United States initiated Operation Enduring Freedom-Afghanistan (OEF-A), the Special Operations Command (SOCOM)-led campaign against the al Qaeda terrorist network and the fundamentalist Taliban regime providing it a safe haven. By the end of December 2001, many of the campaign’s goals had been achieved: The Taliban government had been overthrown, a new provisional government led by interim president Hamid Karzai had been installed, and al Qaeda was on the run. OEF-A’s achievements in southern Afghanistan were made possible in large part by 11 Special Forces operators – Green Berets – from Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) 574 of 5th Special Forces Group, led by then-Capt. Jason Amerine.

What is remarkable about OEF-A’s success is that going in, the United States did not have a pre-existing master plan for military operations in Afghanistan. SOCOM filled that void with a radical proposal calling for an unconventional warfare response using Special Forces ODA teams assisted by Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) combat controllers who would link up with anti-Taliban forces in the country and coordinate ground attacks with air strikes. While an anti-Taliban force – the Northern Alliance – existed in the north, no such comparable force existed in the south, which was home to both the Taliban movement and the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, the Pashtun. But two Afghan exiles claimed such a force could be organized there.

Though the Taliban had its roots in the Pashtun tribe, Hamid Karzai and Abdul Haq, two Afghan exiles and themselves Pashtuns, claimed that Pashtun support of the Taliban was not as strong as widely believed. According to them, most villages in the south were Taliban supporters only for reasons of survival. With American support, Karzai and Haq said they could rally disaffected Pashtuns and help overthrow the government. This struck some American leaders as high-risk wishful thinking, but a tentative agreement of support was reached. Karzai and Haq went back to Afghanistan to organize cadres. Four days after he returned to Afghanistan, Haq was captured and killed by Taliban troops. Karzai narrowly escaped a similar fate and returned to Pakistan with a handful of followers.

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