Operation Enduring Freedom

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Operation Enduring Freedom
Part of the war on terror and War in Afghanistan
U.S. Soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division during Operation Enduring Freedom.jpg
U.S. soldiers of the Army's 10th Mountain Division deployed during Operation Enduring Freedom 2009
Date7 October 2001 – 28 December 2014 (in Afghanistan) [1] [2]
(13 years, 2 months and 3 weeks)
Result U.S.-led victory

In Afghanistan:(completed)

In the Philippines:(completed)

In Somalia/Horn of Africa:

In Georgia:(completed)

In Kyrgyzstan:(completed)

Other nations

Flag of Afghanistan (2004-2021).svg In Afghanistan:

Flag of the Philippines.svg In the Philippines:

Flag of Somalia.svg In Somalia:

In Sahara:

Commanders and leaders

Flag of the United States (Pantone).svg CIC George W Bush (2001–2009)

Flag of the United States (Pantone).svg CIC Barack Obama (2009–2014)
Flag of the United States (Pantone).svg GEN Tommy Franks (2001–2003)
Flag of the United States (Pantone).svg GEN John Abizaid (2003–2007)
Flag of the United States (Pantone).svg ADM William J. Fallon (2007–2008)
Flag of the United States (Pantone).svg GEN Martin Dempsey (2008–2015)
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg MRAF Sir Graham Stirrup (2003–2011)
Flag of the United States (Pantone).svg GEN David Petraeus (2008–2010)
Flag of the Taliban.svg Mohammed Omar #
Flag of al-Qaeda.svg Osama bin Laden  
Flag of al-Qaeda.svg Ayman al-Zawahiri  
Flag of Jihad.svg Khadaffy Janjalani  
Flag of Jihad.svg Riduan Isamuddin  (POW)
Casualties and losses

Flag of Afghanistan (2013-2021).svg45,000+ killed
Flag of the United States.svg 2,380 killed by January 2016 [5]
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg 456 killed [5]
Flag of Canada (Pantone).svg 158 killed [5]
Flag of France.svg 90 killed [5]


Flag of Germany.svg 57 killed [5]
Flag of Italy.svg 53 killed [5]
Flag of Denmark.svg 43 killed [5]
Flag of Australia (converted).svg 41 killed [5]
Flag of Poland.svg 40 killed [5]
Flag of Spain.svg 34 killed [5]
Flag of Georgia.svg 32 killed [6]
Others 200+ killed [5]

Flag of the Taliban.svg In Afghanistan:

  • 72,000+ killed [7]

Flag of the Philippines.svg In the Philippines:

Flag of Somalia.svg In Somalia:

Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) was the official name used by the U.S. government for both the first stage (2001–2014) of the War in Afghanistan (2001–2021) and the larger-scale Global War on Terrorism. On 7 October 2001, in response to the September 11 attacks, President George W. Bush announced that airstrikes targeting Al-Qaeda and the Taliban had begun in Afghanistan. [11] Beyond the military actions in Afghanistan, Operation Enduring Freedom was also affiliated with counterterrorism operations in other countries, such as OEF-Philippines and OEF-Trans Sahara. [12] [13]

After 13 years, on 28 December 2014, President Barack Obama announced the end of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. [14] Subsequent operations in Afghanistan by the United States' military forces, both non-combat and combat, occurred under the name Operation Freedom's Sentinel. [15]

Subordinate operations

Operation Enduring Freedom most commonly referred to the U.S.-led combat mission in Afghanistan. [16] [17] The codename was also used for counter-terrorism operations in other countries targeting Al Qaeda and remnants of the Taliban, such as OEF-Philippines and OEF-Trans Sahara, primarily through government funding vehicles. [12] [13]


The U.S. government used the term "Operation Enduring Freedom" to officially describe the War in Afghanistan, from the period between 7 October 2001 and 31 December 2014. [18] [24] Subsequent operations in Afghanistan by the United States' military forces, both non-combat and combat, occurred under the name Operation Freedom's Sentinel. [15]

The operation was originally called "Operation Infinite Justice", but as similar phrases have been used by adherents of several religions as an exclusive description of God, it is believed to have been changed to avoid offense to Muslims who are the majority religion in Afghanistan. [25] In September 2001, U.S. President George W. Bush's remark that "this crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while", which prompted widespread criticism from the Islamic world, may also have contributed to the renaming of the operation. [25]

The term "OEF" typically refers to the phase of the War in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2014. Other operations, such as the Georgia Train and Equip Program, are only loosely or nominally connected, such as through government funding vehicles. [12] All the operations, however, have a focus on counterterrorism activities.

Operation Enduring Freedom, which was a joint U.S., U.K., and Afghan operation, was separate from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which was an operation of North Atlantic Treaty Organization nations including the U.S. and the U.K. [26] The two operations ran in parallel, although it had been suggested that they merge. [27]


In response to the September 11 attacks, the early combat operations that took place on 7 October 2001 to include a mix of strikes from land-based B-1 Lancer, B-2 Spirit and B-52 Stratofortress bombers, carrier-based F-14 Tomcat and F/A-18 Hornet fighters, and Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from both U.S. and British ships and submarines signaled the start of Operation Enduring Freedom.

The initial military objectives of OEF, as articulated by President George W. Bush in his 20 September address to a Joint Session of Congress and his 7 October address to the country, included the destruction of terrorist training camps and infrastructure within Afghanistan, the capture of al-Qaeda leaders, and the cessation of terrorist activities in Afghanistan. [28]

In January 2002, over 1,200 soldiers from the United States Special Operations Command Pacific (SOCPAC) deployed to the Philippines to support the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in their push to uproot terrorist forces on the island of Basilan. Of those groups included are Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah. [29] The operation consisted of training the AFP in counter-terrorist operations as well as supporting the local people with humanitarian aid in Operation Smiles. [30]

In October 2002, the Combined Task Force 150 and United States military Special Forces established themselves in Djibouti at Camp Lemonnier. The stated goals of the operation were to provide humanitarian aid and patrol the Horn of Africa to reduce the abilities of terrorist organizations in the region. Similar to OEF-P, the goal of humanitarian aid was emphasized, ostensibly to prevent militant organizations from being able to take hold amongst the population as well as reemerge after being removed.

The military aspect involves coalition forces searching and boarding ships entering the region for illegal cargo as well as providing training and equipment to the armed forces in the region. The humanitarian aspect involves building schools, clinics and water wells to enforce the confidence of the local people.

Since 2001, the cumulative expenditure by the U.S. government on Operation Enduring Freedom has exceeded $150 billion. [31]

Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan

The Taliban

Seizing upon a power vacuum after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan after their invasion, the Taliban governed Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. Their extreme interpretation of Islamic law prompted them to ban music, television, sports, and dancing, and enforce harsh judicial penalties (See Human rights in Afghanistan). Amputation was an accepted form of punishment for stealing, [32] [33] and public executions could often be seen at the Kabul football stadium. [34] [35] Women's rights groups around the world were frequently critical as the Taliban banned women from appearing in public or holding many jobs outside the home.[ citation needed ] They drew further criticism [36] when they destroyed the Buddhas of Bamyan, historical statues nearly 1,500 years old, because the Buddhas were considered idols.

In 1996, Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden moved to Afghanistan. When the Taliban came to power, bin Laden was able to forge an alliance between the Taliban and his al-Qaeda organization. It is understood that al-Qaeda-trained fighters known as the 055 Brigade were integrated with the Taliban army between 1997 and 2001. It has been suggested that the Taliban and bin Laden had very close connections. [37]

U.S.-led coalition action

On 20 September 2001, the U.S. stated that Osama bin Laden was behind the 11 September attacks in 2001. The U.S. made a five-point ultimatum to the Taliban: [38]

  • Deliver to the U.S. all of the leaders of al-Qaeda
  • Release all imprisoned foreign nationals
  • Close immediately every terrorist training camp
  • Hand over every terrorist and their supporters to appropriate authorities
  • Give the United States full access to terrorist training camps for inspection

On 21 September 2001, the Taliban rejected this ultimatum, stating there was no evidence in their possession linking bin Laden to the 11 September attacks. [39]

On 22 September 2001 the United Arab Emirates and later Saudi Arabia withdrew their recognition of the Taliban as the legal government of Afghanistan, leaving neighboring Pakistan as the only remaining country with diplomatic ties.

On 4 October 2001, it was reported that the Taliban covertly offered to turn bin Laden over to Pakistan for trial in an international tribunal that operated according to Islamic shar'ia law. [40] On 7 October 2001, the Taliban proposed to try bin Laden in Afghanistan in an Islamic court. [41] This proposition was immediately rejected by the US. [42]

On 14 October 2001, the Taliban proposed to hand bin Laden over to a third country for trial, but only if they were given evidence of bin Laden's involvement in the events of 11 September 2001. [43]

The UN Security Council, on 16 January 2002, unanimously established an arms embargo and the freezing of identifiable assets belonging to bin Laden, al-Qaeda, and the remaining Taliban.

Combat operations start

5-country multinational fleet, during Operation Enduring Freedom in the Oman Sea. In four descending columns, from left to right: Maestrale, De Grasse; USS John C. Stennis, Charles de Gaulle, Surcouf; USS Port Royal, HMS Ocean, USS John F. Kennedy, HNLMS Van Amstel; and Luigi Durand de la Penne Fleet 5 nations.jpg
5-country multinational fleet, during Operation Enduring Freedom in the Oman Sea. In four descending columns, from left to right: Maestrale, De Grasse; USS John C. Stennis, Charles de Gaulle, Surcouf; USS Port Royal, HMS Ocean, USS John F. Kennedy, HNLMS Van Amstel; and Luigi Durand de la Penne

On Sunday 7 October 2001, American and British warplanes began targeting Taliban forces and al-Qaeda. Cruise missiles were fired from warships. [44]

The Northern Alliance, aided by Joint Special Operations teams consisting of Green Berets from the 5th Special Forces Group, aircrew members from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR), and Air Force Combat Controllers, fought against the Taliban. Aided by U.S. bombing and massive defections, they captured Mazar-i-Sharif on 9 November. They then rapidly gained control of most of northern Afghanistan, and took control of Kabul on 13 November after the Taliban unexpectedly fled the city. The Taliban were restricted to a smaller and smaller region, with Kunduz, the last Taliban-held city in the north, captured on 26 November. Most of the Taliban fled to Pakistan.

The war continued in the south of the country, where the Taliban retreated to Kandahar. Whilst in Kandahar the Taliban agreed to surrender but the deal was rejected by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as it would have provided amnesty to Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. [45] [46] After Kandahar fell in December, [47] remnants of the Taliban and al-Qaeda continued to mount resistance. Meanwhile, in November 2001 the U.S. military and its allied forces established their first ground base in Afghanistan to the south west of Kandahar, known as FOB Rhino. [48]

The Battle of Tora Bora, involving U.S., British and Northern Alliance forces took place in December 2001 to further destroy the Taliban and suspected al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. In early March 2002 the United States military, along with allied Afghan military forces, conducted a large operation to destroy al-Qaeda in an operation code-named Operation Anaconda.

The operation was carried out by elements of the United States 10th Mountain Division, 101st Airborne Division, the U.S. special forces groups TF 11, TF Bowie, TF Dagger, TF K-Bar, British Royal Marines, the Norwegian Forsvarets Spesialkommando (FSK), Hærens Jegerkommando and Marinejegerkommandoen , Canada's 3rd Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, Canada's Joint Task Force 2, the German KSK, and elements of the Australian Special Air Service Regiment and of the New Zealand Special Air Service and the Afghan National Army.

After managing to evade U.S. forces throughout the summer of 2002, the remnants of the Taliban gradually began to regain their confidence. A U.S. and Canadian led operation (supported by British and Dutch forces), Operation Mountain Thrust was launched in May 2006 to counter renewed Taliban insurgency.

Since January 2006, the NATO International Security Assistance Force undertook combat duties from Operation Enduring Freedom in southern Afghanistan, the NATO force chiefly made up of British, Canadian and Dutch forces (and some smaller contributions from Denmark, Romania and Estonia and air support from Norway as well as air and artillery support from the U.S.) (see the article Coalition combat operations in Afghanistan in 2006 ). The United States military also conducts military operations separate from NATO as part of Operation Enduring Freedom in other parts of Afghanistan, in areas such as Kandahar, Bagram, and Kabul (including Camp Eggers and Camp Phoenix.)

International support

The United States was supported by several nations during Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan in 2001–2003 and in subsequent coalition operations directly or indirectly in support of OEF. See the article Afghanistan War order of battle for the disposition of coalition forces in Afghanistan as of 2012.


AV-8B Harrier IIs from the United States Marine Corps' VMA-231 provide close air support over Helmand Province in December 2012. Close Air Support (8260511841).jpg
AV-8B Harrier IIs from the United States Marine Corps' VMA-231 provide close air support over Helmand Province in December 2012.

The U.S.-led coalition initially removed the Taliban from power and seriously crippled al-Qaeda and associated militants in Afghanistan. However, success in quelling the Taliban insurgency since the 2001 invasion has faltered. As the war dragged on, the Taliban demonstrated they could not be defeated also thanks to sanctuary in neighboring Pakistan. [49]

On 9 October 2004, Afghanistan elected Hamid Karzai president in its first direct elections. The following year, Afghans conducted the 2005 Afghan parliamentary election on 18 September. Since the invasion, hundreds of schools and mosques have been constructed, millions of dollars in aid have been distributed, and the occurrence of violence has been reduced.

While military forces interdicted insurgents and assured some form of security, Provincial reconstruction teams were tasked with infrastructure building, such as constructing roads and bridges, assisting during floods, and providing food and water to refugees. Many warlords have participated in an allegiance program, formally recognizing the legitimacy of the government of Afghanistan, and formally surrendering their soldiers and weapons. Subsequent actions have led to questions about their true loyalties.

The Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police, and Afghan Border Police were being trained to assume the task of securing their nation.

On 31 December 2014, Operation Enduring Freedom concluded, and was succeeded by Operation Freedom's Sentinel on 1 January 2015. [50] [51]

In 2020, the US left Afghanistan to the Taliban under an agreement ensuring a safe passage for American forces out of the country by mid 2021. [52] [53] On 15 August 2021, all of Afghanistan, besides Kabul, was back in the hands of Taliban. By August 31, all US and allied forces departed the Hamid Karzai International Airport, thus ending any official operations within Afghanistan. [54] [55] [51]


Hardliner newspapers in Iran and religious scholars in Lebanon suggested "Infinite Imperialism," "Infinite Arrogance," or "Infinite Injustice" might have been more appropriate name for the operation. [25] [56] [57] [58] [59]

AFP, reporting on a news story in the Sunday, 3 April 2004, issue of The New Yorker , [60] wrote that retired Army Colonel Hy Rothstein, "who served in the Army Special Forces for more than 20 years, ...commissioned by The Pentagon to examine the war in Afghanistan concluded the conflict created conditions that have given 'warlordism, banditry and opium production a new lease on life'..."

The conduct of U.S. forces was criticised in a report entitled Enduring Freedom – Abuses by U.S. Forces in Afghanistan by U.S.-based human rights group Human Rights Watch in 2004. Some Pakistani scholars, such as Masood Ashraf Raja, editor of Pakistaniaat, have also provided a more specific form of criticism that relates to the consequences of the Global War on Terrorism on the region. [61]

Operation Enduring Freedom – Philippines (OEF-P)

Abu Sayyaf Group

The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) Al Harakat Al Islamiyya, is deemed a "foreign terrorist organization" by the United States government. Specifically, it is an Islamist separatist group based in and around the southern islands of the Republic of the Philippines, primarily Jolo, Basilan, and Mindanao. [62]

Since inception in the early 1990s, the group has carried out bombings, assassinations, kidnappings, and extortion in their fight for an independent Islamic state in western Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago. [62] Its claimed overarching goal is to create a Pan-Islamic superstate across the Malay portions of Southeast Asia, spanning, from east to west, the large island of Mindanao, the Sulu Archipelago (Basilan and Jolo islands), the large island of Borneo (Malaysia and Indonesia), the South China Sea, and the Malay Peninsula (Peninsular Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar).

Jemaah Islamiyah

Jemaah Islamiyah is a militant Islamic terrorist organization dedicated to the establishment of a fundamentalist Islamic theocracy in Southeast Asia, in particular Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, the south of Thailand and the Philippines. Jemaah Islamiyah originally used peaceful means to achieve its goals, but later resorted to terrorism because of its connections with al-Qaeda. [63]

Financial links between Jemaah Islamiyah and other terrorist groups, such as Abu Sayyaf and al-Qaeda, have been found to exist. [64] Jemaah Islamiyah means "Islamic Group" or "Islamic Community" and is often abbreviated JI.

Jemaah Islamiyah is thought to have killed hundreds of civilians. Also, it is suspected of carrying out the Bali car bombing on 12 October 2002, in which suicide bombers attacked a nightclub killing 202 people and wounding many more. Most of the casualties were Australian tourists. After this attack, the U.S. State Department designated Jemaah Islamiyah as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. Jemaah Islamiyah is also suspected of carrying out the Zamboanga bombings, the Metro Manila bombings, the 2004 Australian embassy bombing and the 2005 Bali terrorist bombing.

U.S. Actions

In January 2002, 1,200 Members of United States Special Operations Command, Pacific (SOCPAC) were deployed to the Philippines to assist the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in uprooting al-Qaeda, Jemaah Islamiyah and Abu Sayyaf. The members of SOCPAC were assigned to assist in military operations against the terrorist forces as well as humanitarian operations for the island of Basilan, where most of the conflict was expected to take place.

The United States Special Forces (SF) Unit trained and equipped special forces and scout rangers of the AFP, creating the Light Reaction Company (LRC). The LRC and elements of SOCPAC deployed to Basilan on completion of their training. The stated goals of the deployment were denying the ASG sanctuary, surveiling, controlling, and denying ASG routes, surveiling supporting villages and key personnel, conducting local training to overcome AFP weaknesses and sustain AFP strengths, supporting operations by the AFP "strike force" (LRC) in the area of responsibility (AOR), conducting and supporting civil affairs operations in the AOR. [65]


The desired result was for the AFP to gain sufficient capability to locate and destroy the ASG, to recover hostages and to enhance the legitimacy of the Philippine government. Much of the operation was a success: the ASG was driven from Basilan and one U.S. hostage was recovered. [65] The Abu Sayyaf Group's ranks, which once counted more than 800 members, was reduced to less than 100. The humanitarian portion of the operation, Operation Smiles, created 14 schools, 7 clinics, 3 hospitals and provided medical care to over 18,000 residents of Basilan. Humanitarian groups were able to continue their work without fear of further kidnappings and terrorists attacks by the Abu Sayyaf Group. [30] [66]

Operation Enduring Freedom – Horn of Africa (OEF-HOA)

Unlike other operations contained in Operation Enduring Freedom, OEF-HOA does not have a specific terrorist organization as a target. OEF-HOA instead focuses its efforts to disrupt and detect terrorist activities in the region and to work with host nations to deny the reemergence of terrorist cells and activities. Operations began in mid-2002 at Camp Lemonnier by a Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force (CJSOTF) augmented by support forces from Fort Stewart, Fort Hood, and Fort Story. In October 2002, the Combined Joint Task Force, Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) was established at Djibouti at Camp Lemonnier, taking over responsibilities from the CJSOTF. CJTF-HOA comprised approximately 2,000 personnel including U.S. military and Special Operations Forces (SOF), and coalition force members, Combined Task Force 150 (CTF-150). The coalition force consists of ships from Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Netherlands, India, Italy, Pakistan, New Zealand, Spain, Turkey and the United Kingdom. The primary goal of the coalition forces is to monitor, inspect, board and stop suspected shipments from entering the Horn of Africa region. Since 2003, the U.S. Military also conducts operations targeting Al-Qaeda-linked fighters in Somalia, these operations had reportedly killed between 113 and 136 militants by early 2016. On 7 March 2016, a further 150 were killed in U.S. airstrikes on an al Shabaab training camp north of Mogadishu. [67]

CJTF-HOA has devoted the majority of its efforts to train selected armed forces units of the countries of Djibouti, Kenya and Ethiopia in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency tactics. Humanitarian efforts conducted by CJTF-HOA include the rebuilding of schools and medical clinics, as well as providing medical services to those countries whose forces are being trained. The program expands as part of the Trans-Saharan Counter Terrorism Initiative as CJTF personnel also assist in training the forces of Chad, Niger, Mauritania and Mali. [68]

U.S. action

"Operation Enduring Freedom"

International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) patch ISAF-Logo.svg
International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) patch

Anti-piracy operations were undertaken by the coalition throughout 2006 with a battle fought in March when US vessels were attacked by pirates. In January 2007, during the war in Somalia, an AC-130 airstrike was conducted against al-Qaeda members embedded with forces of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) operating in southern Somalia near Ras Kamboni. US naval forces, including the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, were positioned off the coast of Somalia to provide support and to prevent any al-Qaeda forces escaping by sea. Actions against pirates also occurred in June and October 2007 with varying amounts of success.

"Operation Resolute Support/Freedom's Sentinel"

Effective 1 January 2015, Secretary of Defense Hagel announced that the new U.S. mission in Afghanistan will focus on training, advising, and assisting Afghan security forces and designated as Operation Freedom's Sentinel. 19 About 13,500 U.S. troops are expected in Afghanistan through 2015 and will be assisted by troops from NATO allies.

Military decorations

Since 2002, the United States military has created military awards and decorations related to Operation Enduring Freedom

NATO also created a military decoration related to Operation Enduring Freedom:

See also

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Operation Trent was an operation by Special Air Service (SAS) elements of the British Army, the largest known post-WWII operation in SAS history. Tony Blair had requested that the SAS be allowed an operation. The operation was carried out by members of a regimental task group, made up of a tactical HQ, members of A Squadron and G Squadron of the 22nd Special Air Service Regiment, supported by United States (US) forces, on an al-Qaeda-linked opium plant during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan at the start of Operation Enduring Freedom – Afghanistan (OEF-A).

The following is an outline of the series of events that led up the War in Afghanistan (2001–2021).

al-Qaeda has five distinct phases in its development: its beginnings in the late 1980s, a "wilderness" period in 1990–1996, its "heyday" in 1996–2001, a network period from 2001 to 2005, and a period of fragmentation from 2005 to 2009.


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Further reading