Above: Air Force Combat Controller Unit practicing firing movement
Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) is the official name used by the U.S. government for its military response to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. It was previously planned to have been called “Operation Infinite Justice,” but this phrase had previously been restricted to the description of God (among followers of several faiths), and it is believed to have been changed to avoid offense to Muslims. On October 5, 2006 NATO officially took over control of US forces in Afghanistan.
Above: Map of Kabul, the Capital of Afghanistan (click map to enlarge)
CNN released exclusive footage of Kabul being bombed to all the American broadcasters at approximately 5:08pm September 11, 2001.  Who was doing the air raids that targeted the city’s airport, among other things, has never been answered, although one explanation at the time was that Northern Alliance helicopters carried out the attacks.
Above: Allied troops securing borderline near Shuranam, Afghanistan
At approximately 16:30 UTC (12:30 EDT, 21:00 local time) on Sunday October 7, 2001, American and British forces began an aerial bombing campaign targeting Taliban forces and al-Qaeda. Strikes were reported in the capital, Kabul (where electricity supplies were severed), at the airport and military nerve-centre of Kandahar (home of the Taliban’s Supreme Leader Mullah Omar), and also in the city of Jalalabad (training camps). The U.S. government justified these attacks as a response to the September 11, 2001 attacks and the failure of the Taliban to meet any U.S. demands. The Taliban condemned these attacks and called them an “attack on Islam.”
Above: Picture of Minister Tony Blaire & US President George Bush shaking thier hands after the press conference
At 17:00 UTC, President Bush confirmed the strikes on national television and British Prime Minister Tony Blair also addressed the UK. Bush stated that at the same time as Taliban military and terrorists’ training grounds would be targeted, food, medicine, and supplies would be dropped to “the starving and suffering men, women and children of Afghanistan.” .
Above: Tomahawk missile launched by an Allied Submarine
A number of different technologies were employed in the strike. US Air Force general Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated that approximately 50 Tomahawk cruise missiles, launched by British and U.S. submarines and ships, 15 strike aircraft from aircraft carriers and 25 bombers, such as B-1 Lancer, B-2 Spirit, B-52 Stratofortress and F-16 Fighting Falcon were involved in the first wave. Two C-17 Globemaster transport jets were to deliver 37,500 daily rations by airdrop to refugees inside Afghanistan on the first day of the attack.
Above: Mugshot of Osama bin Laden
A pre-recorded videotape of Osama bin Laden had been released before the attack in which he condemned any attacks against Afghanistan. Al Jazeera, the Arabic satellite news channel, reported that these tapes were received shortly before the attack. In this recording bin Laden claimed that the United States would fail in Afghanistan and then collapse, just as the Soviet Union did, and called for a war of Muslims, a jihad, against the US.
Above: A B-1B Lancer and BLU-109 2,000-pound bombs bay loaded before OEF mission
Bombers operating at high altitudes well out of range of anti-aircraft fire began to bomb the al-Qaeda training camps and Taliban air defenses. During the initial build-up before the actual attack, there had been speculation in the media that the Taliban might try to use U.S.-built Stinger anti-aircraft missiles that were the bane of Soviet helicopters during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s. If any of these missiles existed at the time of the air campaign, they were never used and the U.S. didn’t lose any aircraft to enemy fire. Beyond that, the Taliban had little to offer in the way of anti-aircraft weaponry, relying mostly on left-over arms and weapons from the Soviet invasion. U.S. aircraft, including Apache helicopter gunships, operated with impunity throughout the campaign, while cruise missiles pounded the country.
Above: Coffins of US troops who died during the battle of Operation: Enduring Freedom
The strikes initially focused on the area in and around the cities of Kabul, Jalalabad, and Kandahar. Within a few days, most al-Qaeda training sites had been severely damaged and the Taliban’s air defenses had been destroyed. The campaign then focused on command, control, and communication targets which weakened the ability of the Taliban forces to communicate. However, the line facing the Afghan Northern Alliance held, and no tangible battlefield successes had yet occurred on that front. Two weeks into the campaign, the Northern Alliance demanded the air campaign focus more on the front lines. As the war dragged on civilian casualties also began to mount in the affected areas. Meanwhile, thousands of Pashtun militiamen from Pakistan poured into the country, reinforcing the Taliban against the U.S. led forces.
Above: F/A-18 Hornet landing on Allied Aircraft Carrier
The next stage of the campaign began with carrier based F/A-18 Hornet fighter-bombers hitting Taliban vehicles in pinpoint strikes, while other U.S. planes began cluster bombing Taliban defenses. For the first time in years, Northern Alliance commanders finally began to see the serious results that they had long hoped for on the front lines. The Taliban support structure began to erode under the pressure of the air-strikes. U.S. Special Forces then launched an audacious raid deep into the Taliban’s heartland of Kandahar, even striking one of Mullah Omar’s compounds. However, the campaign’s progress seemed to remain very slow. The last week of October had ended, and it was now the beginning of November.
Above: A map showing the location of Mazari Sharif
At this time, the next stage of the air campaign began to fulfill long-awaited Northern Alliance expectations. The Taliban front lines were bombed with 15,000-pound daisy cutter bombs, and by AC-130 gunships. Poor Taliban tactics increased the effects of the strikes. The fighters had no previous experience with American firepower, and often even stood on top of bare ridgelines where Special Forces could easily spot them and call in close air support. By November 2, Taliban frontal positions were decimated, and a Northern Alliance march on Kabul seemed possible for the first time. Foreign fighters from al-Qaeda took over security in the Afghan cities, demonstrating the instability of the Taliban regime. Meanwhile, the Northern Alliance and their CIA/Special Forces advisors planned the next stage of their offensive. Northern Alliance troops would seize Mazari Sharif, thereby cutting off Taliban supply lines and enabling the flow of equipment from the countries to the north, followed by an attack on Kabul itself.
Above: Various of bombs displayed outside the B-52 aircraft, prior Carpet Bombing Operation
Land advances: Mazari Sharif
On November 9, 2001, the battle for Mazari Sharif began. U.S. bombers carpet-bombed Taliban defenders concentrated in the Chesmay-e-Safa gorge that marks the entrance to the city. At 2 P.M, Northern Alliance forces then swept in from the south and west, seizing the city’s main military base and airport. The forces then mopped up the remnants of the Taliban in the gorge in front of the city, meeting only light resistance. Within 4 hours, the battle was over. By sunset, what remained of the Taliban was retreating to the south and east. Mazari Sharif was taken. The next day, Northern Alliance forces seeking retribution combed the city, shooting suspected Taliban supporters in on-the-spot executions. Approximately 520 Taliban, demoralized and defeated, many of whom were fighters from Pakistan, were massacred when they were discovered hiding in a school. Looting was also widespread throughout Mazari Sharif.
Above: Taliban position blasted with Allied aerial bombs
The same day the massacres of former Taliban supporters was taking place in Mazari Sharif, November 10, Northern Alliance forces swept through five northern provinces in a rapid advance. The fall of Mazari Sharif had triggered a complete collapse of Taliban positions. Many local commanders switched sides rather than fight. The regime was beginning to unravel at the seams throughout the north. Many of the their front line troops were outflanked and then surrounded in the northern city of Kunduz as the Northern Alliance drove past them southwards. Even in the south, their hold on power seemed tenuous at best. The religious police stopped their regular patrols. A complete implosion of the Taliban regime seemed imminent.
Above: Corpses of two fighters lying on the street, outside Military base in Kabul
The Fall of Kabul
Finally, on the night of November 12, Taliban forces fled from the city of Kabul, leaving under cover of darkness. By the time Northern Alliance forces arrived in the afternoon of November 13, only bomb craters, burned foliage, and the burnt out shells of Taliban gun emplacements and positions were there to greet them. A group of about twenty hardline Arab fighters hiding in the city’s park were the only remaining defenders. This Taliban group was killed in a brief 15-minute gun battle, being heavily outnumbered and having had little more than some shrub to shield them. After these forces were neutralized Kabul was in the hands of the US/NATO forces and the Northern Alliance.
Above: Map of Afghanistan showing the location of city Herat
Air Force combat controllers send coordinates for air strike (identities censored for security purposes)The fall of Kabul marked the beginning of a collapse of Taliban positions across the map. Within 24 hours, all of the Afghan provinces along the Iranian border, including the key city of Herat, had fallen. Local Pashtun commanders and warlords had taken over throughout northeastern Afghanistan, including the key city of Jalalabad. Taliban holdouts in the north, comprised of mainly Pakistani volunteers, fell back to the northern city of Konduz to make a stand. By November 16, the Taliban’s last stronghold in northern Afghanistan was besieged by the Northern Alliance. Nearly 10,000 Taliban fighters, led by foreign fighters, refused to surrender and continued to put up stubborn resistance. By then, the Taliban had been forced back to their heartland in southeastern Afghanistan around Kandahar.
Above: Tora Bora Cave Complex – Osama bin Laden‘s Fortress (click image enlarge)
By November 13, al-Qaeda and Taliban forces, with the possible inclusion of Osama bin Laden, had regrouped and were concentrating their forces in the Tora Bora cave complex, on the Pakistan border 30 miles (50 km) southwest of Jalalabad, to prepare for a stand against the Northern Alliance and US/NATO forces. Nearly 2,000 al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters fortified themselves in positions within bunkers and caves, and by November 16, U.S. bombers began bombing the mountain fortress. Around the same time, CIA and Special Forces operatives were already at work in the area, enlisting and paying local warlords to join the fight and planning an attack on the Tora Bora complex.
Above: Heavy explosions at Taliban and al-Qaeda mountainous bastion during Tora Bora Bombing
The Fall of Konduz
Just as the bombardment at Tora Bora was stepped up, the siege of Kunduz that began on November 16 was continuing. Finally, after nine days of heavy fighting and American aerial bombardment, Taliban fighters surrendered to Northern Alliance forces on November 25-November 26. Shortly before the surrender, Pakistani aircraft arrived to evacuate a few hundred intelligence and military personnel who had been in Afghanistan previous to the U.S. invasion for the purpose of aiding the Taliban’s ongoing fight against the Northern Alliance. It is believed that up to five thousand people in total were evacuated from the region, including Taliban and al-Qaeda troops allied to the Pakistanis in Afghanistan.
Above: Picture of Mullah Mohammad Omar
By December 6, Omar finally began to signal that he was ready to surrender Kandahar to tribal forces. His forces broken by heavy U.S. bombing and living constantly on the run within Kandahar to prevent himself from becoming a target, even Mullah Omar’s morale lagged. Recognizing that he could not hold on to Kandahar much longer, he began signaling a willingness in negotiations to turn the city over to the tribal leaders, assuming that he and his top men received some protection. The U.S. government rejected any amnesty for Omar or any Taliban leaders. On December 7, Mullah Mohammad Omar slipped out of the city of Kandahar with a group of his hardcore loyalists and moved northwest into the mountains of Uruzgan Province, reneging on the Taliban’s promise to surrender their fighters and their weapons. He was last reported seen driving off with a group of his fighters on a convoy of motorcycles. Other members of the Taliban leadership fled into Pakistan through the remote passes of Paktia and Paktika Provinces. However, Kandahar, the last Taliban-controlled city, had fallen, and the majority of the Taliban fighters had disbanded. The border town of Spin Boldak was surrendered on the same day, marking the end of Taliban control in Afghanistan. The Afghan tribal forces under Gul Agha seized the city of Kandahar while the Marines took control of the airport outside and established a U.S. base.
Below: City Map of Kandahar, Afghanistan