First In

Today’s Pic of the Day is a Russian Mi-17 helicopter designated 91101. It was part of Operation Jawbreaker, which put the first US boots on the ground in Afghanistan only 15 days after the attacks of 9/11. It carried 3 pilots and seven CIA officers from the Special Activities Division (SAD). It also contained a steel box with $ 3 million in $100 bills because that’s how business was conducted in Afghanistan in those days. The Northern Alliance would not exactly take debit cards.

The Mi-17 was chosen because it would not arouse suspicion, as there were already several operating in the area. It was specially modified to fly at high altitudes and over mountains.

Jawbreaker’s presence wasn’t just boots on the ground. They were equipped with cutting-edge satellite communication tools, ensuring real-time communication with the CIA headquarters. They were instrumental in setting up targets for Operation Crescent Wind, facilitating emergency combat search and rescue operations, and assessing the aftermath of bombings. Notably, they revamped a historic airstrip in Gulbahar, originally constructed by the British in 1919, making it feasible for modern fixed-wing aircraft landings.

 

Jawbreaker taking off
Taking off in the Panjshir Valley in the Fall of 2001. Photo courtesy of the CIA

Primary Objectives

  • To liaise with the Northern Alliance, an Afghan faction that was already fighting the Taliban prior to 9/11.
  • To gather real-time intelligence on the ground.
  • To facilitate targeting for U.S. airstrikes against Taliban and al-Qaeda forces.
  • To prepare the ground for the subsequent introduction of U.S. conventional forces.
Jawbreaker numbers
Two days after arrival in Afghanistan, the tail number was repainted to 91101. Photo courtesy of the CIA

Significance

Operation Jawbreaker and the relationships it established with the Northern Alliance were instrumental in the rapid fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The CIA team provided the Northern Alliance with weapons, supplies, and cash, and called in precise airstrikes against Taliban positions.

Challenges

The team faced significant challenges in terms of the rugged terrain, a hostile environment, and the complex geopolitics of Afghanistan. They had to navigate the internal rivalries of the Afghan factions and ensure the various groups were unified against the common enemy – the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Outcome

Operation Jawbreaker, in coordination with U.S. military operations, achieved initial success in rapidly ousting the Taliban from power. Kabul, the Afghan capital, fell to the Northern Alliance on November 13, 2001.

jawbreaker in the us
The Mi-17 back in the US after his mission was over. Photo courtesy of the CIA

The story of Operation Jawbreaker is a testament to the capabilities of small, specialized teams working in challenging environments. It underscores the importance of intelligence-driven operations in modern warfare, especially in the early stages of a conflict.

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