My second and third SOTG rotations saw a dramatic increase in our task group’s access to air assets. We heavily utilized U.S. aircraft, based permanently in Tarin Kot, which included the 101st Aviation Regiment’s Task Force Eagle Attack as well as 3rd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment’s Task Force Wolfpack. These assets allowed for us to plan for and execute operations that previous rotations did not.

These joint operations became prevalent between our two nations and dominated the way in which our task group operated. Extended vehicle patrols started to give way to time-sensitive targeting and deliberate actions utilizing air assets. The reach of our FE also began to extend beyond the Uruzgan border into neighboring Zabol, Kandahar, and Helmand provinces.

The SOTG was pushing farther into Taliban and insurgent sanctuaries where, in some cases, the last coalition forces to enter had done so during the initial invasion. These areas were heavily armed and well organized, which meant for busy days and sleepless nights.

One operation that we conducted in 2009 had our entire task group inserted about 10km (6.2 miles) outside of the Kajaki Sofla Bazaar. We then approached the bazaar by foot in order to maintain the element of surprise. The intelligence picture of Kajaki Sofla looked like one big void of inactivity; there were no colorful dots indicating IED strikes, IEDs found, IEDs rendered safe, ineffective IED attacks, contact reports, nothing.

One of the author’s photos showing an Apache AH-64 from TF Wolfpack at Tarin Kot.

In fact, there appeared to be a perfectly defined border surrounding the area which was essentially considered a no-go zone for a large period of time. None of the traditional reporting existed because the Afghan government and coalition forces generally stayed out of there altogether. We knew that this could be played to our advantage, as the IED threat was considered quite low—they were not dealing with a constant government or coalition presence.

After much deliberation, our planners decided that the best way to insert was to be dropped outside of the CH-47’s audible range for a pre-dawn foot infil into the bazaar. Once there, the company placed teams in strategic locations in and around the bazaar, with snipers on overwatch, and waited for the fireworks to begin. The entire day went as predicted, and from first to last light, what seemed like the entire Sofla decided to come out and play. We found a large amount of drugs, weapons, IED-making equipment, and other paraphernalia which had been openly stashed throughout the bazaar. We even found a British UAV, which we diligently confiscated and is now hanging on our company wall at our unit in Australia. After last light, we withdrew back into the dasht for extraction by the same U.S. CH-47s that brought us in.

My third SOTG rotation to Afghanistan was in 2011, and with it came yet another evolution in our partnered operations and the air assets that were made available to our FE. One of the most influential officers from the 2nd Commando Regiment—for the purposes of this article he will be referred to as Major ‘Y’—led a group of planners from both the DEA and ODA to present a concept of operations (CONOPS) to the United States Marine Corps head shed at Camp Leatherneck in Helmand Province.

The meeting got off to a great start, with the Mötley Crüe of SOF and DEA planners, complete with beards, ponytails, and devil-may-care attitudes, giving a CONOPS brief to around 20 high-and-tight USMC career officers. The uneasy and slightly apprehensive feeling in the room soon lifted, however, after the planners discussed in detail our intention to focus our combined efforts and operate in the worst parts of Helmand province. Another ace card also lay in the fact that one of the DEA planners piloted a Bell AH-1 Cobra in Operation Desert Shield with the one-star general who was in charge of the Marine Air Wing. Both were captains during the Gulf War, and the general basically said, “Whatever you guys need, you’ve got it.”