One thing that Americans excel at is high-technology and perhaps nowhere do we enjoy the application of technology more than in the context of war.  I’ve written about this topic previously and how it hurts the Special Forces mission or how it hinders our espionage efforts, which was why I was interested to come across a war college paper about the limitations of technology in the battle of Takur Ghar, which was a part of the larger Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan.

During the operation at Takur Ghar, it was decided to insert MAKO 30 which was a seven man reconnaissance element consisting of five SEALs and one Air Force combat controller.  MAKO 30 was to infiltrate Takur Ghar and establish an observation post where they would be able to observe Al Qaeda fighters moving through the valley.  Another call sign, MAKO 21 would also insert and link up with an existing observation post at another location.

MAKO 30 initially decided on an offset infiltration, landing somewhere further down the mountain and climbing up to the observation post.  Not hanging around the Landing Zone (LZ) after a helicopter insertion is something that American soldiers learned very quickly when the military began using helicopters.

The MAKO teams came to trust and rely on the incredible fire support of the AC-130 gunship, but also came to rely on the impressive sensor suite onboard the aircraft.  Using the sophisticated optics and sensors onboard the aircraft, the SEALs requested that the AC-130 do a flyby of their planned observation post at Takur Ghar to see if there were any enemy positions in the area.

Al Qaeda positions on Takur Ghar went completely undetected by the AC-130’s thermal cameras due to these bunkers being blanketed under two feet of snow which camouflaged their position to the naked eye as well as disguising thermal signatures.  Meanwhile, MAKO 30 was having a hard time getting off the ground and also having air coverage from AC-130 during their infiltration due to technical mishaps beyond their control and other American soldiers in contact with the enemy calling for airstrikes.

Growing concerned that there would not be enough hours of darkness left to infiltrate into their observation post from the landing zone, the MAKO 30 team leader requested a delay in the operation.  The SEAL Task Force reminded him of the importance of the mission and the team leader requested a shorter off-set infil which would mean less time to climb to the top of Takur Ghar.  The MH-47 pilots and aircrew noted that the only other suitable place to land was actually right on the top of Takur Ghar.  The MAKO 30 team leader agreed.

Army officer Andrew Milani writes, “the MAKO 30 team leader knew he was violating a basic tenet [of recon missions by directly infiltrating onto the observation post] but chose to do so confident that the AC-130U would confirm the lack of enemy presence Takur Ghar.  The team had been employed on other missions and was confident in the ability to leverage the considerable resources of the Joint Special Operations Task Force.”

Under pressure, the MAKO 30 team leader made the best decision he could based upon the information he had at that time, attempting to balance the perceived importance of the mission with sound tactical planning.  The AC-130 made a scan of the mountaintop and detected no enemy presence, but then was pulled off the mission to respond to troops in contact at another location.  MAKO 30 decided to infiltrate without having air cover.