At the time of the raid, Biden was serving as vice president under then-President Barack Obama.
“Ten years ago, I joined President Obama and members of our national security team, crowded into the Situation Room to watch as our military delivered long-awaited justice to Osama bin Laden,” Biden said in a statement. “It is a moment I will never forget – the intelligence professionals who had painstakingly tracked him down; the clarity and conviction of President Obama in making the call; the courage and skill of our team on the ground.”
He added: “It had been almost ten years since our nation was attacked on 9/11 and we went to war in Afghanistan, pursuing al Qaeda and its leaders. We followed bin Laden to the gates of hell – and we got him.”
After the 9/11 terror attacks, the US invaded Afghanistan to bring down the terrorist organization Al Qaeda. The execution of bin Laden in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 2, 2011, was a major accomplishment for the Obama administration.
“We kept the promise to all those who lost loved ones on 9/11: that we would never forget those we had lost, and that the United States will never waver in our commitment to prevent another attack on our homeland and to keep the American people safe,” Biden continued in his statement.
Since bin Laden’s death, the US has reduced the number of troops stationed in Afghanistan, and Biden has committed to withdrawing troops from the country by September 11, 2021, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.
“As we bring to an end America’s longest war and draw down the last of our troops from Afghanistan, al Qaeda is greatly degraded there,” Biden said. “But the United States will remain vigilant about the threat from terrorist groups that have metastasized around the world.”
He added: “We will continue to monitor and disrupt any threat to us that emerges from Afghanistan. And we will work to counter terrorist threats to our homeland and our interests in cooperation with allies and partners around the world.”
Biden ended his statement by thanking the service members that have valiantly fought to protect the US.
“We will continue to honor all the brave women and men, our military, our intelligence and counterterrorism professionals, and so many others, who continue their extraordinary work to keep the American people safe today,” he said. “They give their best to our country, and we owe them an incredible debt of gratitude.”
A small number of US special operators and CIA paramilitary officers partnered with the Northern Alliance, a hodgepodge of anti-Taliban factions, and other groups. By late 2001 they had largely defeated Al Qaeda and the Taliban through a combination of air power and ground operations conducted by local fighters with guidance from Green Berets.
It was a perfect unconventional-warfare campaign and a ringing endorsement of the US and Coalition special-operations community, leading policymakers to rely more on commandos.
Following the Battle of Tora Bora, in which Delta Force and British Special Boat Service commandos almost caught Osama bin Laden in December 2001, the US military sought to find and destroy any Al Qaeda and Taliban remnants in the country.
Intelligence indicated a large combined Al Qaeda and Taliban force was in the Shahi Khot Valley in eastern Afghanistan. The US military decided to strike the roughly 1,000 terrorists and Taliban fighters there.
Surrounded by mountains, the Shahi Khot valley has a base altitude of 8,500 feet and is about 3 miles wide and 6 miles long. The peak of Takur Ghar mountain – which would end up playing a key part in the operation – looks down on the valley from a height of about 12,000 feet.
The plan was to trap the Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters in the valley in an “anvil and hammer” operation.
Paratroopers from the US Army’s 101st Airborne Division would land in several different areas south of the valley, while an Afghan partner force led by Army Green Berets would block the valley’s north end. Meanwhile, several small special-operations teams would position themselves on the mountains surrounding the valley and provide intelligence updates and direct airstrikes against the enemy below.
All in all, Operation Anaconda, which took place during the first half of March 2002, involved about 2,000 troops, including Delta Force, SEAL Team 6, Australia’s and New Zealand’s Special Air Services, and Canadian commandos.
You broke the world record? Hold my beer
Canada, a steadfast US ally, was one of the first to commit troops to fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban. By March 2002, there were about 1,000 Canadian troops in Afghanistan, but only a handful participated in Operation Anaconda.
Two three-man sniper teams from the 3rd Battalion of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry were attached to the 101st Airborne for the operation’s duration.
In addition, operators from the Joint Task Force 2 (JTF-2), a Canadian special-operations unit similar to the US Army’s Delta Force, worked independently and directed airstrikes against the enemy.
The Canadian snipers hit the ground running, racking up multiple kills, but they truly distinguished themselves a few days into the operation, when Master Cpl. Arron Perry took out an Al Qaeda fighter who was acting as a forward observer.
Perry’s shot was from 2,310 meters, or 2,526 yards, breaking the record for the longest sniper kill. But glory was not his for long.
A few days later, Cpl. Rob Furlong broke that record with a 2,430-meter (2,657-yard) shot against an enemy machine-gunner.
By the end of Operation Anaconda, the Canadian snipers had made the difference, killing numerous enemy fighters and saving countless US lives. As a result, the five snipers received the US military’s Bronze Star Medal for Valor, the fourth-highest award for bravery under fire.
In the years of fighting that followed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the impressive records set in Shahi Khot Valley were broken, but the titles remain in Canadian hands. The current record is 3,540 meters (3,871 yards), set by JTF-2 commandos against ISIS fighters in Mosul, Iraq, in 2017.
Disaster on Takur Ghar
Operation Anaconda, however, didn’t end well for everyone.
Advance Force Operations teams from the elite Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) were the first to deploy to Shahi Khot Valley, sending precious information about enemy positions back to headquarters.
But as the battle progressed, the teams – composed of Delta Force, SEAL Team 6, and operators from other special-mission units – ran out of rations and batteries. Instead of resupplying the teams on the ground, JSOC sent in fresh personnel. However, the new teams weren’t acclimated to the brutal conditions and terrain. This would be fatal.
MAKO 30, a SEAL Team 6 element, decided, with approval the JSOC task force commander, to insert on top of Takur Ghar instead of landing on its slopes and making its way to the top.
During its approach, the MH-47 Chinook helicopter carrying MAKO 30 came under intense fire. Chief Petty Officer Neil Roberts fell from the ramp of the Chinook as it took evasive action.
The chopper had to make an emergency landing on the slopes before heading back to base. MAKO 30 was reinserted on Takur Ghar to save their teammate, who by that time had been killed and mutilated by Al Qaeda fighters after a valiant last stand.
Once reinserted, the SEALs were pinned down and forced to retreat with several wounded, leaving behind Tech. Sgt. John Chapman, an Air Force combat controller, who they thought had been killed. Chapman, however, was still alive and fought to the end, even charging the enemy positions by himself.
An Army Ranger quick reaction force went in to save MAKO 30 but came under fierce enemy fire. One Chinook carrying the Rangers crash-landed on the slopes of the mountain. The soldiers inside put up a brave fight but lost four men, while five were wounded. A second Ranger quick reaction force relieved them after several hours of battle.
The Battle of Takur Ghar yielded two Medal of Honors. Chapman and Master Chief Britt Slabinksi, MAKO 30’s team leader, received the military’s highest award for valor.
Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate.