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Operation Enduring Freedom

‘Innovation or accident?’ Account for why the Afghan model emerged in Operation En-during Freedom in 2001 and evaluate its military effectiveness against the Taliban/Al Quaeda

Essay 2009 10 Seiten


‘Innovation or accident?’ Account for why the Afghan model emerged in Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001 and evaluate its military effectiveness against the Taliban/Al Quaeda.

The war in Afghanistan, started in October 2001, was being waged in an unprecedented man­ner. That form of conduct is now known as the “Afghan model”. Below I will shortly outline which components constitute that model and how it emerged in the Afghan operation follow­ing the terrorist’s attacks on September 11th, 2001. I will then analyse how effective the model proved in achieving the political and military goals of the campaign.

What is the Afghan model?

The Afghan model - executed by the U.S. Army during the war in Afghanistan - differed from “conventional” wars of the past mainly in the circumstance that there was no significant U.S. ground force employed in the battlefield. Rather more the model comprises the use of Special Operations Forces and precision weapons while simultaneously utilising indigenous allies.[1] This form of warfare was widely seen as “novel”.[2] In this kind of warfare the main task of the Special Operations Forces was to assign - e.g. by using laser equipment - suitable targets, which were then hit by air strikes. Thereafter the local allied troops - beforehand stalled by those enemy positions, which were now annihilated by air strikes - could take over land, which was now to the greatest extent free of enemy forces.

Only about 100 Central Intelligence Agency officers and 350 Special Forces soldiers were deployed to support the 15.000 Afghan opposition forces in 2001 to overthrow the Taliban. Approximately 100 combat sorties per day were conducted and the U.S. only suffered a dozen fatalities.[3] This way of waging a war - as its conduct in Afghanistan suggests - is generally less cost-intensive and leads to fewer casualties.[4] The perception of this model regarding its military effectiveness and general applicability (on future war theatres) differs largely among military officials and scholars.

How did the Afghan model emerge in the Operation Enduring Freedom?

Before tracing the course of how the Afghan model emerged it is reasonable to contemplate the objectives the Bush administration wanted to achieve with a military operation in Af­ghanistan. Soon after the terrorist attacks of September 11 President Bush proclaimed the aim, to get hold of Usama bin Laden and other key leaders of the Al Quaeda network - e.g. Ayman al Zawahiri - as well as to destroy their infrastructure and training camps in Afghanistan. Moreover, as the Taliban quickly signalled their reluctance to cooperate on this issue, the Bush administration realised the need to overthrow the Taliban regime, preventing Afghani­stan from becoming a safe harbour for terrorists again.[5]

The idea of fighting the war in Afghanistan according to the characteristics of the Afghan model - as described above - arouse in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) rather than in the conventional sphere of the U.S. military. Those in charge within the military had no pre­cast plans for Afghanistan when being asked for military options by President Bush. General Tommy Franks, commander of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and therefore re­sponsible for South Asia and the Middle East, announced on September 12, 2001 that it would take months to prepare a significant military assault in Afghanistan.[6] CENTCOM had not developed a plan for conventional ground operations in Afghanistan and neither were diplo­matic arrangements made with neighbour states regarding issues like basing, staging and overflight. Existing plans concerning Al Quaeda and Taliban were practically limited to the idea to strike potential targets with missiles or manned bombers.[7] The Bush administration was not eager for an invasion (with ground troops) of Afghanistan, anyway. They feared that the presence of vast U.S. ground troops would possibly give rise to hostile insurgency.[8]

The Northern Alliance, a multi-tribal, anti-Taliban opposition, was at that time in control of the north-eastern part of Afghanistan and facing the Taliban at two front lines north and north­east of Kabul in a stalemate-like situation for over one year. The CIA, in contact with that opposition force for years, thought they could take advantage of the Northern Alliance’s will to fight the Taliban. Supporting the Alliance in its combat against the Taliban would facilitate the efforts of the U.S. army to take down Bin Laden and Al Quaeda.[9] Military officials inside the Pentagon, however, were initi]ally sceptical about deploying CIA paramilitary operatives and Special Operations Forces in order to aid the opposition groups in Afghanistan. Their concern was mainly that those opposition groups might lack the skill to fight the Taliban ef­fectively.[10]

Tommy Franks knew that due to the remote, landlocked and mountainous geography and to­pography of Afghanistan a war plan would have to “transcend conventional thinking”[11]. After the general had consulted his CIA officer Pat Hailey the idea of the Afghan model was born. Hailey assured Franks of the capability of the Northern Alliance to effectively fight the Tali­ban if they only were equipped properly. It became clear to the CENTCOM strategists that the Northern Alliance would need close air support. Different sorts of Special Operations Forces were to be employed. First those who were trained to augment and lead guerrilla forces against conventional enemies. Second, Air Force combat air controllers, who would pinpoint enemy targets. This mixture of Air Power and Special Operations Forces would enable the local allies to destroy the Taliban and Al Quaeda, although the latter outnumbered the Northern Alliance at least by two.[12]


[1] Biddle, S., Allies, Airpower and Modern Warfare: The Afghan Model in Afghanistan and Iraq, International Security, Vol. 30, No. 3 (Winter 2005/06), p. 161.

[2] See, for example, Biddle, S., Afghanistan and the Future of Warfare (2003), Foreign Affairs, Vol. 82, No. 2 (March/April 2003), p. 31

[3] Jones, S., The Rise of Afghanistan’s Insurgency: State Failure and Jihad, International Security, Vol. 32, No. 4 (Spring 2008), p. 7.

[4] Andres, R., Wills, C. and Griffith Jr., T., Winning with Allies: The Strategic Value of the Afghan Model (2005/06), p. 124

[5] The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 2004), pp. 330-333.

[6] Rothstein, H., Afghanistan and the Troubled Future of Unconventional Warfare (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2006), pp. 1-4.

[7] Franks, T., American Soldier (New York, Regan Books, 2004), pp. 250-251

[8] Hawkins, W., What Not to Learn from Afghanistan, Parameters, Vol. 32 (Summer 2002), p. 27.

[9] Gary C. Schroen, First In: An Insider’s Account of How the CIA Spearheaded the War on Terror in Afghanis­tan (New York: Presidio Press, 2006), pp. 15-16, 99.

[10] Benjamin S. Lambeth, Air Power against Terror: America’s Conduct of Operation Enduring Freedeom (Santa Monica, Rand Corporation, 2005), p. 45.

[11] Franks, American Soldier (2004), p. 251.

[12] Franks, American Soldier (2004), pp. 260-261.


ISBN (eBook)
574 KB
Institution / Hochschule
University of Wales, Aberystwyth – Department of International Politics
2010 (August)
Operation Enduring Freedom Account Afghan Operation En-during Freedom Taliban/Al Quaeda



Titel: Operation Enduring Freedom