On this day in SOF history: October 19th

2001—3rd Ranger Battalion conduct an airborne operation in Afghanistan to seize Objective Rhino; part of a highly publicized U.S. effort to show that the United States could put boots on the ground anywhere in the world whenever it wanted. A slick video montage of the operation was created by an Army PSYOPS team that was broadcast on news networks across the world, depicting grainy footage of 119 Rangers loading on and exiting military aircraft onto an obscure desert objective. It has become known as the “first American boots on the ground” in the War in Afghanistan, although other American forces were already in-country at the time.

What was largely forgotten was that 3rd Battalion’s mission that night was really a supporting role for the main effort that was occurring elsewhere in Afghanistan: a Delta raid on Mullah Mohammed Omar’s Kandahar residence known as Objective Gecko. The Rangers were to seize the airfield at Rhino to support the air assault carrying Delta operators into Kandahar, in addition to assessing the airfield at Rhino for follow-on operations.

After jumping onto the largely deserted air field, killing one enemy fighter in the process, Rangers cleared Rhino quickly and found the buildings on the air field to be empty. At Gecko, despite a few mishaps that resulted in aircraft being damaged, it too was a dry hole. Later accounts of Objective Gecko claimed a serious, running firefight with the Taliban had occurred there, resulting in multiple Delta operators being wounded. But, these stories have been refuted, the wounded men ascribed to the helicopter accident and an accidental friendly use of frag grenades instead of flashbangs while on the objective. No one was medevac’d, and no one was seriously injured.

Still, the actions on the night of October 19th 2001 were an important milestone for JSOC, the U.S. military as a whole, and the American public who yearned for a more decisive response to the 9/11 attacks while what was left of the World Trade Center was still smoldering.

Image courtesy of Department of Defense footage via YouTube

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