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."