WEB SPECIAL - Attack on America

US MARINES ENTER THE FRAY

American marines have consolidated their positions at Dolangi Airfield in southern Afghanistan and are ready for further action.
Within hours of landing the first wave of marines destroyed a Taliban flying column headed their way, with help from US Navy F14 Tomcat strike jets.

By November 27, more than 600 Marines from the 15th and 26th Marine Expeditionary Units (MEUs) had arrived at the new forward operating base, southwest of Kandahar.

A Pentagon source stated that the number would soon grow to more than 1,000.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told a Pentagon media briefing: "...they will bring in whatever they think they need to be able to establish, hold, and protect, and provide the force protection for, that location."

A sailor leads US Marines from the 15th MEU to their helicopters aboard the USS Peleliu, for the journey into Afghanistan. Photo: USMC.

Mr Rumsfeld added: "It was decided that it would be helpful to have a base there from which a variety of things could be done."
The initial waves of US Marines left the assault carriers USS Peleliu (LHA5) and Bataan (LHD5) - currently stationed in the Arabian Sea - in CH46 Sea Knights and MH53 Sea Stallions. The helicopters landed in Pakistan and the marines transferred to Chinooks and C130 Hercules transport planes for the final leg of each insertion. Three hundred US Marines landed in the first wave on November 25.

One of the 15th MEU Cobra helicopter gunships that allegedly helped destroy a Taliban flying column. Photo: USMC.

The leathernecks involved are from Combined Task Force 58 (CTF58), which is under the command of Brigadier General James N. Mattis, a 32-year veteran. He has nearly 9,000 marines and sailors at his disposal to project American resolve and combat power ashore.

"We are going to support the Afghan people's effort to free themselves of the terrorists and the people who support terrorists," Mattis told reporters from the deck of the USS Peleliu, as the first US Marines went in.

Vital preparation for the mission ahead was provided for the marines during participation in October's Exercise Bright Star in the Egyptian desert.

• Some material from official USMC sources.

HARRIERS BLOODED EARLY

Aircraft from CTF58 have performed successful bombing runs on Taliban convoys and provided close air support for marine operations ashore.

Harrier pilots with the 15th MEU, aboard the Peleliu, got their baptism of fire some three weeks before the ground insertion. They flew their first bombing missions on Taliban and Al-Qaeda command and control targets in Southern Afghanistan on November 3. The fighter attack jets were armed with 500-pound MK-82 bombs. It was the first time Harriers had conducted such combat missions as part of the international 'War on Terrorism'.

• Some material from official USMC sources.

US TROOPS ON THE GROUND TO APPLY 'GENERAL PRESSURE'

Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke has denied that the marines' mission is hunting down Osama bin-Laden (a job being carried out jointly by US and UK Special Forces). She maintained that the extra ground troops are there to "generally apply pressure...to the Taliban and the Al Qaeda."

Ms Clarke couldn't say how long American forces might be in the area. However, she said: "It is not our intent for people or US resources to be there for any length of time longer than is absolutely necessary."

At a subsequent media briefing in the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was asked if the tenacity of the foreign Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters had been a surprise. He responded: "I don't think anyone that I know needed to learn that the Al-Qaeda and the non-Afghan troops were much more likely and, in fact, have been among the toughest of the fighters and the most determined and the least likely to surrender.

He added: "I don't think that the non-Afghan Al-Qaeda, or Taliban, whatever you want to call them, are going to go easily anywhere."

AIR ASSAULT DIVISIONS TO FOLLOW?

There was speculation that the US Marines were the vanguard for a huge operation involving the 82nd and 101st Air Assault Divisions of the US Army. With the city of Kandahar being heavily populated, intense air bombardment was thought out the question. The two air assault divisions would be used to seal it off and then gradually tighten up the pressure to force the Taliban to surrender.

In the meantime members of US Special Forces, together with the UK's SAS and SBS, have been hunting for Osama bin-Laden and his hardcore followers in the mountainous terrain beyond Afghanistan's cities. To assist them, on November 26 alone, a quarter of more than 100 air strikes by US Navy and US Air Force strike jets were against tunnel and cave complexes in southern Afghanistan.

US NAVY RUNS INTERCEPTION BACKSTOP

A US Navy cruiser taking part in stop-and-search operations off Pakistan encounters a local fishing boat. Photo: US Navy.

American warships in the Arabian Sea are mounting stop-and-search patrols to intercept any attempts by Osama bin-Laden, or any of his followers, to escape from the tightening Coalition noose in Afghanistan. If the Al-Qaeda leader managed to reach a Pakistani port he might chose to use a harmless looking fishing vessel to head for refuge in nearby Arabia.

UK ROYAL MARINES AT KABUL REINFORCED

Royal Marines from the Brigade Patrol Troop, a unit which may have contributed to the British military presence at Bagram Airport, near Kabul. Photo: Steve Lewis/ Royal Marines.

Meanwhile at Bagram Airport, near Kabul, a British contingent - made up of personnel from the Special Boat Service and other elements of the UK's Royal Marines - was boosted to 150 fighting troops.

40 COMMANDO RMs STILL AVAILABLE FOR ACTION

In the Arabian Sea a reinforced company of Royal Marines from 40 Commando has remained at a high state of readiness aboard the assault ship HMS Fearless (L10), "for contingency operations".

OTHER UK FORCES STOOD DOWN

Other units of 3 Commando Brigade that had been on 48 hour notice to deploy to Afghanistan, alongside British Army paratroopers, were stood down to five days notice on November 26. While 40 Commando, and probably the troops at Bagram, have been assigned to possible operations against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, the other UK formations were ear-marked for a stabilisation force to safeguard the distribution of aid to the Afghan population. However, no sooner had the UK announced its readiness to despatch troops for such a purpose, than aid agencies and the Northern Alliance declined the offer. US Central Command, which is in overall charge of operations in Afghanistan, was also lukewarm about the deployment, considering it a distraction from the main job of searching for, and destroying, residual Al-Qaeda and Taliban forces.

JAPAN WITHDRAWS AEGIS, BUT BOOSTS FORCE LEVEL

Japan has sent three additional naval ships to assist the campaign against terrorism and boost humanitarian efforts - the destroyer JDS Sawagiri (DD157), the oiler JDS Towada (AOE422) and supply and transport vessel JDS Uraga (MST463).

Sawagiri and Towada are joining the advance task group - JDS Kurama (DDH144),

JDS Sawakaze (DDG17) and JDS Hamana (AOE424). Meanwhile the Uraga is to land relief supplies for Afghan refugees. The despatch of a Kongo Class AEGIS destroyer has been cancelled by the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force (JMSDF).

VANCOUVER & STENNIS BATTLE GROUP ARRIVE

HMCS Vancouver leaves her homeport bound for an RV with the USS John C. Stennis Carrier Battle Group. Photo: Canadian Defence Ministry.

The USS John C Stennis (CVN 74) Carrier Battle Group (CBG) deployed from the West Coast of the USA on November 12. It should now be in the war zone. Included in the CBG is the frigate HMCS Vancouver (331), which is one of six Canadian naval vessels sent to the Arabian Sea. Canadian warships deploy regularly with USN CBGs.
The Stennis CBG was originally scheduled to deploy in January to spearhead Allied enforcement of UN sanctions on Iraq. Ships in the Stennis CBG are: USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74); USS Port Royal (CG 73); USS Lake Champlain (CG 57); USS Decatur (DDG 73); USS Elliot (DD 967); USS Jarrett (FFG 33); HMCS Vancouver; USS Jefferson City (SSN 759); USS Salt Lake City (SSN 716); USS Bridge (AOE-6).

Based on information supplied by Canadian Defence Ministry.

UK SSNs USE DIEGO GARCIA

Tomahawk Load.jpg: One of the Royal Navy Trafalgar Class attack submarines assigned to Operation Veritas takes on a TLAM re-load at Diego Garcia. Photo: Royal Navy.

In addition to providing a launchpad for long-range B52 and B1 bomber strikes on Taliban positions, the British island superbase of Diego Garcia, deep in the Indian Ocean, has also been providing a re-ammunitioning facility for Royal Navy attack submarines. At least one of the two Trafalgar Class submarines assigned to Operation Veritas (the UK name for the USA's Operation Enduring Freedom) has taken on more Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAMs) at Diego Garcia. British attack submarines have, so far, fired two salvoes of cruise missiles at targets in Afghanistan. One of the TLAM-armed Trafalgars - believed to be HMS Triumph (S93) - has returned to UK waters, leaving HMS Trafalgar (S107) on station somewhere in the Arabian Sea.

ANZAC RETURNS FROM GULF

HMAS Anzac intercepting a suspect vessel in the northern Gulf during her deployment to the region. Photo: Damien Pawlenko/Royal Australian Navy.

The Australian frigate HMAS Anzac (150) sent boarding parties onto 55 suspect merchant vessels during a five month deployment to the Gul, where she helped enforce UN sanction on Iraq. Anzac arrived back at her homeport of HMAS Stirling in Western Australia to a tumultuous welcome from families and friends of her 164 crew. The ship was originally intended to return home in October, however her deployment was lengthened after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the USA.

Anzac is now undertaking a period of maintenance. The Adelaide Class guided missile frigate HMAS Sydney (03) has replaced Anzac in the Gulf.

The Royal Australian Navy has deployed the assault ships HMAS Kanimbla (L51), carrying Special Forces, together with the frigate HMAS Adelaide and another major surface warship to the Coalition fleet in the Arabian Sea.

Based on Australian Ministry of Defence news report.

NO CHEERS ON JOHN PAUL JONES

The commanding officer of one of the first USN ships to take the fight to the terrorists in Afghanistan says his crew was "thrilled" to carry out its role in the war against terrorism. The CO of USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53) said that when his ship fired Tomahawk cruise missiles at terrorist and Taliban targets inside Afghanistan, it was carried out like clockwork. The Captain added that when the first Tomahawk left its launcher, no cheers were heard in the Combat Information Center of the warship. In fact, because the San Diego-based ship conducts frequent missile drills, the crew knew exactly what to expect. "It's hardly different from practicing because the training is so realistic," explained the skipper. "The only difference is the missile actually leaves the ship."

John Paul Jones has fired several Tomahawks at military targets inside Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Based on official US Navy material.

TERROR ALERT IN HAWAII

US Marines Corps and US Navy bases in Hawaii went on red alert in mid-November, when a sinister telephone call from Hawaii to Afghanistan was intercepted by intelligence operatives. The overheard conversation included the phrase "the fireworks start tonight." Later the same day, an anonymous phone call was received by a military switchboard, asking the location of "the command building". Despite the fears, and increased vigilance, no terrorist attack was launched.

The Royal Australian Navy has deployed the assault ships HMAS Kanimbla (L51), carrying Special Forces, together with the frigate HMAS Adelaide and another major surface warship to the Coalition fleet in the Arabian Sea.

GROUND ZERO FLAG FLIES OVER BATTLEGROUND

A Stars and Stripes flag raised by fire-fighters over the remains of the World Trade Center in New York is currently flying from the US Navy aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVVN 71), as she takes part in air strikes on Afghanistan.

The same flag was carried in the cockpit of the strike jet that made the first American bombing run against terrorist targets - an F18 from a US Marines Corps squadron on the carrier.