Hours after the September 11 attacks, the U.S. military was already planning a response against the masterminds in al-Qaeda and its host in Afghanistan, the Taliban.

Policymakers and military planners discussed several courses of action. CIA and Army Special Forces teams would infiltrate from the north and south and work with local anti-Taliban forces.

But something more was needed. So the White House and Pentagon decided on a daring special operations raid deep into enemy territory.

They turned to Joint Special Operations Command, and the Army’s elite Delta Force, specifically, for the mission. They would be the first boots on the ground in Afghanistan.


Objective Gecko

Delta Force during Operation Gecko in Afghanistan
Delta Force operators boarding an MH-47 during Operation Gecko to fly to Objective Rhino. (U.S. Defense Department)

Objective Gecko was the compound of Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban. The group’s equivalent of the White House, the compound was located close to Kandahar, the group’s birthplace and stronghold.

Taking out Mullah Omar would send a powerful message about the U.S. military’s reach. But the target presented several logistical and planning difficulties.

To begin with, Gecko was more than 500 miles from the USS Kitty Hawk, the aircraft carrier that would serve as a floating staging base for Delta Force.