Gen. Mark Milley says a civil war in Afghanistan is ‘likely’ after US troop withdrawal, potentially leading to a resurgence of al Qaeda

Mark Milley
Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley.

  • Gen. Mark Milley said that a future civil war in Afghanistan is “likely” after the US troop exit.
  • “I think there’s at least a very good probability of a broader civil war,” he said during a Fox News interview.
  • President Biden last week said that he did not want “to extend this forever war” in Afghanistan.
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Gen. Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that a future civil war in Afghanistan is “likely” after the US troop withdrawal from the country, which could lead to the reemergence of groups like al Qaeda and ISIS.

During an interview with Fox News National Security Correspondent Jennifer Griffin that aired on Saturday, Milley was asked if the US was safer with its military presence in Afghanistan having been eliminated.

“Well, you know, this is something that I’ve thought a lot about,” he said. “And I personally think that my military estimate is that the conditions are likely to develop of a civil war. I don’t know if the Taliban is gonna be able to consolidate power and establish governance – they may be, maybe not.”

He added: “But I think there’s at least a very good probability of a broader civil war, and that will then in turn lead to conditions that could in fact, lead to a reconstitution of al Qaeda or a growth of ISIS or other myriad of terrorist groups. You could see a resurgence of terrorism coming out of that general region within 12, 24, 36 months. And we’re going to monitor that.”

Milley went on to explain that intelligence gathering by the US will be complicated by the fact that the country no longer has a presence in Afghanistan.

“We’ll have to reestablish some human intelligence networks, etc.,” he said. “And then as opportunities present themselves, we’ll have to continue to conduct strike operations if there’s a threat to the United States.”

Read more: The ultimate White House org chart to 600+ members of Biden’s staff and who makes six figures

When asked if he could foresee a scenario where US troops would have to return to Afghanistan, Milley said it would be a “very difficult policy choice.”

“I wouldn’t say yes or no to anything actually,” he said, emphasizing that the country would continue to analyze intelligence information. “I think those are … it’s too early to say anything like that at this point.”

Milley’s comments come as President Joe Biden and his foreign policy and defense teams oversaw a tumultuous August in Afghanistan – defined by the Aug. 15 fall of Kabul to the Taliban, the deaths of 13 US service members and at least 169 Afghans in a Aug. 26 suicide bombing perpetuated by the Islamic State affiliate ISIS-K, and the Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline which the Taliban was emphatic on preserving.

The withdrawal marked the end to a nearly 20-year conflict in the country, which was put into motion by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when al Qaeda hijacked planes that destroyed the World Trade Center in New York City, severely damaged the Pentagon, and crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Nearly 3,000 people were killed on that fateful day.

Many lawmakers are distressed that Afghanistan could become a haven for terrorists with the lack of a US or allied military presence.

The Taliban have stressed that they have moderated since the 1990s and said that they would respect the rights of women, although many in Afghanistan and throughout the international community are highly skeptical.

In forcefully defending his decision to leave Afghanistan, Biden last week reiterated that he did not want “to extend this forever war.”

“To those asking for a third decade of war in Afghanistan, I ask: ‘What is the vital national interest?’ In my view, we only have one: to make sure Afghanistan can never be used again to launch an attack on our homeland,” he said.

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Why US military superiority meant nothing in Afghanistan

US Army 101 Airborne Afghanistan
US soldiers recover bundles of fuel at Forward Operating Base Waza K’wah in the Paktika province of Afghanistan.

  • The speed of the Afghan government’s collapse and of the Taliban’s return to power has prompted renewed criticism of the US withdrawal.
  • The criticisms, however valid, may be beside the point, as there were more fundamental problems with US strategy in the 20-year war.
  • Arie Perliger is a professor and director of security studies at the University of Massachusetts Lowell
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The speed and efficiency with which Taliban forces were able to complete the occupation of most of Afghanistan, as well as the quick collapse of the Afghan government, has led to criticism of President Joe Biden’s decision to end US military presence in Afghanistan and of the withdrawal’s logistics.

But the criticisms, while valid, may be beside the point.

I have studied conflicts like those in Afghanistan for more than 20 years. My experience has taught me that there are more fundamental problems with the United States’ strategy in the 20-year war, of which the current chaos is only the latest manifestation.

They stem from an approach in which military seizures of territory are intended to fight international extremist movements and ideologies, in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Nation-building is not a military strategy

Army Special Forces Afghanistan
A Special Forces company commander meets with village elders and Afghan National Army members in Helmand Province, April 10, 2007.

US military intervention in Afghanistan, and in Iraq, was initially justified by a need to dismantle immediate and serious national security threats: Al Qaeda and fears of weapons of mass destruction.

However, those short-term goals were quickly replaced by a longer-term goal of preventing future threats from those countries, such as new extremist groups. That led the US, with other nations, to occupy both nations and attempt to provide stability and security so that the people of those countries could set up their own governments.

It may be attractive to think that promoting democracy in occupied foreign countries is a morally justified and effective path for restoring security and stability. But political reform is more successful when it originates from the local societies and political cultures.

In Tunisia, for example, local political movements were able to transform their government, a success due in part to a lack of foreign involvement.

In Afghanistan, international groups like the UN, alongside nonprofits and independent aid agencies, spent millions of dollars and untold hours of work trying to build democracy, write a constitution, create a bill of rights and otherwise create a new political society.

But this external approach, based on military occupation, was “doomed to fail,” according to official assessments published in 2009 by the Center for Complex Operations at the US military’s National Defense University.

That assessment said “nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan has been a debacle” and recommended the military resume its historic focus on preparing for war.

Military organizations are not equipped or trained to engage effectively in civilian-centered missions such as fostering national identity, forming political institutions or instilling democratic practices of accountability.

Promoting stability is different from promoting democracy, and stability can in fact be present even under very undemocratic governments.

The history of military interventions in places such as the West Bank and Gaza, Lebanon, Somalia and Iraq shows that when local leaders are dependent on foreign military forces to maintain power, it’s hard to build popular legitimacy, govern effectively and build a shared national identity.

The misuse of military power in counterterrorism

US soldiers stand in front of a crowd of Afghan people.
US soldiers stand guard as Afghans wait to board a US military aircraft to leave Afghanistan in Kabul, August 19, 2021.

Boots-on-the-ground military forces aren’t good at nation-building or democracy-fostering. Nor are they good at information warfare – fighting effectively in the battlefield of ideas.

Terrorism, at its essence, is a form of symbolic but deadly violence used to communicate a political message. The conflict is not just over who controls which pieces of land, but rather whose narrative is most influential.

In Afghanistan, decades of Western military superiority failed to uproot the Taliban’s ideological narrative regarding the corrupted nature of Afghan leaders and their allies and their betrayal of Islamic traditions and practices.

Nor could that superiority strengthen a unified national identity that might at least partially erode tribal attachments, which were exploited so successfully by the Taliban.

And even when their forces were driven off targeted territory, both the Islamic State group and Al Qaeda developed new bases and strongholds far from the fighting. They did this not exclusively by military force, but also through the power of their ideas and by providing an alluring alternative ideological narrative.

The correct conclusions from Afghanistan

afghanistan us evacuation
US Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of US Central Command, on a plane evacuating people from Afghanistan, August 17, 2021.

After 20 years, the US presence in Afghanistan has failed to establish any coherent and sustainable political structure with popular legitimacy.

Based on that experience, and the experiences in other countries in other circumstances, there is no reason to think that a continued troop presence would change that.

Locally based political movements that seek democracy and civil liberties – in Afghanistan or elsewhere – can benefit from US support, but not from military force. Forcing societies to embrace democratic practices can lead to political instability, conflict and a decline in citizens’ safety.

In my view, the clear conclusion from all the evidence is that military intervention should be focused on military objectives, and should not diverge into political or social engineering.

[Get The Conversation’s most important politics headlines, in our Politics Weekly newsletter.]

Arie Perliger, Director of Security Studies and Professor of Criminology and Justice Studies, University of Massachusetts Lowell

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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There’s ‘zero question’ Afghanistan will be a safe haven for terrorists again, experts warn

osama bin laden
Al Qaeda leader and terrorist Osama bin Laden is seen in a video in 1998.

  • The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan has “greatly increased” the risk of it becoming a terrorist safe haven, one expert told Insider.
  • But there’s an evolving debate over the level of threat this will pose to the US.
  • Amid right-wing fearmongering, one expert also emphasized that there’s no evidence Afghan refugees pose a threat
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The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan has raised many questions about the future of the region, including whether the country will once again become a breeding ground for terrorist groups that threaten the West.

The Islamist militant group has vowed that it will not allow Afghanistan to be a launching pad for terror attacks in other parts of the world. But experts warn that the Taliban regaining control of Afghanistan provides a boost to terror organizations like Al Qaeda, and say groups like ISIS-K – an opponent of the Taliban – will also look to exploit the chaos. Moreover, a recent report from the Defense Department’s watchdog said the Taliban has maintained a relationship with Al Qaeda despite public claims to the contrary.

There’s “zero question” Afghanistan will now morph into a “a durable safe haven for terror groups like Al Qaeda who intend to conduct attacks abroad,” Jennifer Cafarella, a national security fellow at the Institute for the Study of War, told Insider.

“The propaganda victory the Taliban and Al Qaeda have gained by seizing control of Afghanistan is hard to overstate,” Cafarella added. “Attacks in the West inspired by the outcome in Afghanistan are likely in coming weeks and months.”

The US withdrawal and Taliban takeover has “greatly increased the risk that militant groups will use Afghanistan to reconsolidate their bases and strength,” Amira Jadoon, an assistant professor at the US Military Academy at West Point, told Insider.

This is not due to the fact the Taliban will seek to host these groups, Jadoon said, but because they “won’t have the capacity to constrain them, while also trying to govern simultaneously and extend their control over all of the country.”

There’s a real risk of an Al Qaeda comeback, Daniel Byman, a professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, wrote in Foreign Affairs. But he added that “Afghanistan’s reversion to its pre-9/11 role as a safe haven for jihadi terrorism is unlikely.”

“Although the Taliban’s victory will undoubtedly make Washington’s counterterrorism policy far harder to carry out, al Qaeda’s weakness, the Taliban’s own incentives, and post-9/11 improvements in U.S. intelligence coordination, homeland security, and remote military operations all reduce the threat,” Byman said.

‘The Al Qaeda network will be invigorated globally’

A Taliban fighter
A Taliban fighter stands guard at a checkpoint in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood in the city of Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021.

The US invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 in order to pursue and destroy Al Qaeda, the terror organization led by Osama bin Laden that orchestrated the 9/11 attacks, which the Taliban had opened its doors to.

The Taliban first controlled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, with the US invasion knocking it from power (the militants would go on to wage a deadly insurgency against the US, its NATO allies, and the US-backed government).

Nearly twenty years after the US invasion and the onset of the broader global war on terror, Al Qaeda remains active, though it’s suffered major leadership losses (including bin Laden in 2011) and its capacity for large-scale attacks has been diminished. The situation in Afghanistan, however, seemingly provides an opportunity for the group.

“The Al Qaeda network will be invigorated globally, with significant ramifications across Africa, the Middle East, and parts of East Asia,” Cafarella said. “The Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan positions Al Qaeda to reclaim its role at the leadership of the global Salafi jihadist movement from ISIS, potentially redirecting the flow of foreign fighters and new recruits back to Al Qaeda.”

Peter Neumann, professor of security studies at King’s College London, told the New York Times that Al Qaeda is “celebrating” what’s happened in Afghanistan.

“A lot of groups will piggyback on this victory in propaganda terms – if the Taliban can do it, you can do it,” Neumann said, but added that the likelihood the Taliban will rapidly provide a safehaven for groups like Al Qaeda is small because it’s not in the militant group’s self-interest.

ISIS-K ‘remains a potent threat’

President Joe Biden on Wednesday defended upholding an August 31 deadline for Afghanistan evacuations in part by citing the danger of an attack by ISIS-K (ISIS’s Afghanistan affiliate).

ISIS-K has struggled to gain a strong foothold in Afghanistan, Cafarella said, but “it remains a potent threat and one of the most important affiliates to the ISIS global organization.” Beyond potential suicide attacks or other acts of violence at the Kabul airport, ISIS-K could also “attempt to find and take American citizens hostage, raising serious risks that American citizens will face executions.”

The Taliban’s victory and the related benefits to Al Qaeda put pressure on ISIS to demonstrate its relevance and make it “more dangerous,” Cafarella warned.

ISIS-K remains a “persistent threat,” Jadoon said, adding that the group will “continue to use the peace deal as propaganda against the Taliban, and may also try to recruit more radical members of the Taliban or other militants who feel marginalized.”

Blinken: ‘Al Qaeda’s capacity to do what it did on 9/11 … vastly diminished’

Over the past few years, law enforcement and intelligence agencies have shifted from emphasizing the threat of jihadist groups to underscoring the dangers posed by far right extremism.

The Department of Homeland Security in October 2020 released a report warning that violent white supremacy would remain the “most persistent and lethal threat in the homeland.”

These warnings have escalated since the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6.

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas in June told senators that “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists” posed the greatest domestic terror threat to the US. “Specifically those who advocate for the superiority of the white race,” Garland said at the time.

There has not been a drastic change in rhetoric from US officials regarding the threat level from jihadist groups as a result of the crisis in Afghanistan.

The Biden administration has acknowledged that Al Qaeda and ISIS have a presence in Afghanistan, but Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday said, “Al Qaeda’s capacity to do what it did on 9/11, to attack us, to attack our partners or allies from Afghanistan is vastly, vastly diminished.”

‘No deadly jihadist attack in the past 19 years has involved someone who entered the US as a refugee’

Kabul airport
People struggle to cross the boundary wall of Hamid Karzai International Airport to flee the country after rumors that foreign countries are evacuating people even without visas, after the Taliban over run of Kabul, Afghanistan, 16 August 2021.

As the security situation evolves with evacuations ongoing, some Republicans and prominent right-wing commentators have sought to portray Afghan refugees as a potential danger.

“The US is remarkably secure from terrorism and historically there is no evidence to believe that refugees are a major threat,” David Sterman, a senior policy analyst at New America, told Insider. “It is irresponsible to conjure the false concept of a major threat from refugees without specifics and to use an implied potential fear of what some refugees might do in the future to put specific individuals at a far more imminent and clear risk to their lives.”

Sterman said that “no deadly jihadist attack in the past 19 years has involved someone who entered the US as a refugee, plotting to attack the United States.”

Citing data from New America, Sterman said 83% of those accused of jihadist terrorism-related crimes in the US since 9/11 were permanent residents or US citizens when they were charged – and almost half were born US citizens. Among those who weren’t US citizens, many arrived in the country a decade or more before being accused of such crimes.

“Is it possible that some refugees might end up being arrested for terrorism-related crimes in the future? Sure, just as it is possible – indeed more likely given data on prior arrests – that Americans who were born US citizens will be,” Sterman said. “The US has a substantial law enforcement and intelligence apparatus, whose responsibility it is to investigate specific threats.”

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Lindsey Graham threatens Biden with impeachment if US troops don’t stay in Afghanistan past August and ‘accept the risk’ of Taliban attacks

senator lindsey graham
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks to members of the media while arriving to Capitol Hill on February 13, 2021.

  • Sen. Graham argued on Friday that the US military should extend its withdrawal deadline in Afghanistan.
  • Graham and retired Gen. Jack Keane wrote in a WSJ op-ed that the US should also extend operations outside Kabul.
  • “[Biden] must be willing to accept the risk that the Taliban will attack our forces,” they wrote.
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Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and one of the Senate’s most outspoken war hawks, argued in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Friday that the US military should extend its withdrawal deadline in Afghanistan and risk being attacked by the Taliban.

Graham, who’s long supported indefinite American occupations abroad, and his op-ed co-author, retired Gen. Jack Keane, argued that the US government must not fully withdraw until many thousands of Afghan allies are evacuated. They urged President Joe Biden to keep US troops in Afghanistan past his August 31 withdrawal deadline and create pathways for Afghan allies to travel from across the country to the Kabul airport for evacuation.

“President Biden must keep forces in place long enough to evacuate those to whom we owe a great debt,” they wrote. “He must be willing to accept the risk that the Taliban will attack our forces.”

They argued it would be “dishonorable” to apply “anything less” than the “full force” of the US military to the effort.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley said this week that the US military would stay in the country until they’ve evacuated every American who wants to leave Afghanistan. Milley and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told the press on Wednesday that they did not have the capability to send troops into Kabul or anywhere else in the country to help bring people to the airport. Because of chaos and insecurity in Kabul, the military has so far been unable to meet its goal of moving 5,000 to 9,000 people through the Kabul airport and out of the country every day.

The president is set to deliver a speech on Friday with more information about the evacuation effort.

In a tweet on Friday morning, Graham insisted that Biden should be “impeached” for “dereliction of duty” if the US military fails to evacuate any Americans or Afghans who worked with US forces.

“If we leave any Americans behind, or if we leave thousands of Afghans who fought bravely alongside us behind, President Joe Biden deserves to be impeached for a High Crime and Misdemeanor of Dereliction of Duty,” he wrote.

Biden has been clear that he doesn’t believe the effort to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan justifies the loss of additional US soldiers.

“After 20 years – a trillion dollars spent training and equipping hundreds of thousands of Afghan National Security and Defense Forces, 2,448 Americans killed, 20,722 more wounded, and untold thousands coming home with unseen trauma to their mental health – I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan with no reasonable expectation of achieving a different outcome,” Biden said in a speech last month.

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Biden remembered ‘the courage and skill’ of US forces on 10-year anniversary of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden

Obama during Osama Bin Laden campaign.
US President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, along with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House on May 1, 2011.

  • President Joe Biden issued a statement to mark 10 years since the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
  • “We followed bin Laden to the gates of hell – and we got him,” Biden said.
  • Biden has committed to withdrawing troops from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

It has been ten years since US Special Forces conducted a raid in Pakistan that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.

On Sunday, President Joe Biden marked the 10-year anniversary of bin Laden’s death, which represented a huge victory for Americans in the fight against terrorism.

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.”

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How Canadian soldiers set 2 records for longest sniper kill during the first major battle in Afghanistan

CH-47 Chinook helicopter Operation Anaconda Afghanistan
CH-47 Chinook helicopters take off in the early morning in support of Operation Anaconda, March 4, 2002.

  • Within weeks of the September 11 attacks, US forces were in Afghanistan fighting Al Qaeda and its Taliban hosts.
  • By March 2002, US special-operations forces, their international partners, and local allies set out on the first major battle of the war.
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Nineteen years ago, a team of Canadian snipers set back-to-back world records for the longest sniper kill during one of the largest battles of the war in Afghanistan.

The US response to the September 11 terrorist attacks caught Al Qaeda and its Taliban hosts by surprise. Instead pouring tens of thousands of troops into Afghanistan’s harsh terrain, as the Soviets had done, the US military took the unconventional route.

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.

Operation Anaconda

anaconda afghanistan John Chapman

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

Army 101st Airborne soldiers Afghanistan
US Army 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) soldiers scan the ridge line for enemy forces during Operation Anaconda, March 4, 2002.

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.

Canadian soldiers Afghanistan Princess Patricia's Light Infantry
Soldiers from the 3rd Battalion of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry search for Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters north of Qualat, Afghanistan, July 2002.

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

John Chapman Afghanistan Anaconda
US Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Chapman.

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.

Britt Slabinski Anaconda Takur Ghar
US Navy Master Chief Britt Slabinski on top of Takur Ghar after the battle.

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.

A CIA drone was over Takur Ghar as Chapman fought, making his the first Medal of Honor action ever caught on film.

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.

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