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Profile: Operation Mountain Storm
Operation Mountain Storm was a participant or observer in the following events:
A news release issued from the headquarters of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) in Florida heralds the start of a new offensive, Operation Mountain Storm (OMS), describing it as “the next in the continuing series of operations in the south, southeast, and eastern portions of Afghanistan designed to destroy terrorist organizations and their infrastructure while continuing to focus on national stability and support.” [GlobalSecurity (.org), 3/13/2004]
OMS to Go after Bin Laden, Or Not To? - Elsewhere, the objective of Operation Mountain Storm is reported to be to “flush out militants, including members of the al-Qaeda terror network” and “insurgents led by remnants of Afghanistan’s former Taliban regime.” Although military sources have indicated that US forces are closing in on Osama bin Laden, according to US military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty, speaking from Kabul, this new operation is “not aimed at hunting for individuals.” All coalition troops, 13,000-plus, are to join the US-led campaign. [GlobalSecurity (.org), 3/13/2004]
The Measure of Success: Numbers - CENTCOM’s news release touts the success of the previous campaign, Operation Blizzard, enumerating its results thusly: “[W]e conducted 1,731 patrols, 143 raids and cordons and searches, killing 22 enemy combatants and discovering caches with 3,648 rockets, 3,202 mortar rounds, 2,944 rocket propelled grenades, 3,000 recoils rifle rounds, 2,232 mines, and tens of thousands of small arm ammunitions.” The CENTCOM news release then ticks off several areas where Operation Blizzard’s successor, Mountain Storm, has already found weapons caches. Concluding, it reports that “just yesterday afternoon, an Afghan citizen turned in to coalition forces in the vicinity of Deh Rawood a recoiless rifle, an anti-aircraft gun, a mortar, and machine guns, along with ammunition.” [GlobalSecurity (.org), 3/13/2004]
The Numbers Game and Pat Tillman's Death - Later, Stan Goff, an analyst and critic of military culture, writing about Pat Tillman’s death while on patrol in OMS less than a month after its launch (See April 23, 2004 and Early April 2004), will cite “the Rumsfeldian ‘metrics’ of quantification” used to measure and then propagandize military progress, as driving the order to split Tillman’s platoon, a chain-of-command decision which many, including some in command, will later contend led to his death by friendly fire, or as some define it, fratricide (see April 22, 2004). [Huffington Post(.org), 8/2/2007; CounterPunch, 8/9/2007]
Ron Synovitz, a correspondent for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFL/RL), reports on “how one commando team is contributing to the overall strategy” Operation Mountain Storm (OMS) employs in Afghanistan.
Report Relies upon Department of Defense Sources - Synovitz appears to base his observations of the “one commando team” solely on audio clips provided by a US Department of Defense (DoD) video; an undocumented description of same; the fact that an unidentified RFE/RFL correspondent “saw the team leave the Kandahar Air Field in camouflaged humvees,” bearing the DoD video cameramen; unnamed “US officials;” and a press conference in Kabul with the US military’s chief spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty. It is unclear if the eyewitness to the team’s departure is Synovitz himself or some other RFE/RFL reporter. What the article does clearly imply is 1) this OMS-participant team is representative of an overall well-coordinated and carefully planned strategy 2) the strategy, using “unconventional warfare” tactics, has the potential to prevail against any remaining “terrorist” threat in a wide-sweeping area 3) the strategy underlies a “new” operation, OMS, but continues the US Department of Defense’s military success, a success rooted in the effective strategy.
Article Highlights OMS Break with Tradition - Reporting on Hilferty’s description of the “counter-terrorism tactics designed to keep pressure on the Taliban and Al-Qaeda,” the article points out that, as distinguished from the use of “methods of conventional warfare,” in which units by the thousands amass “on the ground”—OMS combat forces—at times consisting of US Special Forces and Afghan National Army soldiers; at others, of US, Marines, Navy SEAL commandos, and CIA paramilitary officers—carry out “search and destroy” missions in small “commando teams,” operating along a large swath of Afghanistan’s interior as well as the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, to seek out enemy fighters and their weapons hidden in the mountains. For OMS, “there are no Bradley armored personnel carriers or Abrams tanks,” as used in the Iraq war, but rather, armored humvees and “fast-moving military trucks,” Special Forces employ all-terrain vehicles in desert regions.
Hilferty Touts Conventional Support for New Strategy - Still, Hilferty claims these departures from tradition are supported with the continuation of “patrols and vehicle checkpoints.” He also notes the “close air support” by “fighter jets, AC-130 Spectre gunships, and A-10 Warthog attack planes,” at the ready to intervene if OMS commandos run into problems. Hilferty touts this air support as available “24 hours a day circling overhead, ready to assist coalition forces.” In smaller airborne operations that military planners refer to as “heliborne insertion,” Chinook helicopters transport commando teams into the heart of the mountain posts guerrilla fighters claim. All of these tactics are custom-fitted to Afghanistan’s battlefield, primarily a mountainous terrain not well-served by a “heavy, mechanized force,” and are conducted simultaneously, so that the sum of the parts is what, mission by mission, adds up.
Article Echoes US Central Command's Focus on Quantity - Synovitz’s approach to reporting on the new offensive echoes that of US Central Command’s in its focus on discrete incidents, itemizing specific weapons recovered or enemy combatants killed. Synovitz contends that the unconventional nature of the conduct of warfare in Afghanistan calls for reporting “a stream of isolated incidents—like the announcement today by Hilferty that US-led soldiers had killed three suspected Taliban members this weekend while searching a cave in Qalat, in Zabul province.” [Radio Free Europe, 3/15/2004]
Pat Tillman Death Investigations Will Bolster Critics' View of OMS Strategy - Critics of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s reliance on what former solider and journalist Stan Goff will call “the metrics of quantification,” exemplified by OMS in its design and in reporting on it, will argue that, as with the “body counts” former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara boasted to claim success in Vietnam, much publicized hauls from “search and destroy” missions amount to little in terms of valid results. Further, promised support from conventional combat operations often does not materialize. For instance, Goff will point to a mission botched on several fronts as causing Pat Tillman’s death near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border (seeApril 23, 2004 and April 22, 2004). Regimental chain of command denied Tillman’s Ranger platoon the use of a helicopter to airlift a disabled humvee that became a link in a series of foul-ups leading to the “friendly fire” killing of Tillman and an Afghan Militia soldier while on patrol in OMS. In adddition, command denied the beleaguered Rangers air support in the “search and destroy” mission Tillman’s platoon was forced to conduct as night fell. Command’s urgency that there be “boots on the ground by dusk” stemmed from a need to fulfill the very sort of “checklist” Rumsfeld offered to document military progress. [FromTheWilderness, 6/23/2006; Associated Press, 11/9/2006; CounterPunch, 8/9/2007]
Entity Tags: Operation Mountain Storm, US Department of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, Bryan Hilferty, US Army Rangers, US Central Command, Stan Goff, Radio Free Europe, Pat Tillman, Ron Synovitz, Taliban
Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan
A top analyst with the International Crisis Group (ICG), an influential think tank with its headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, challenges the publicity campaign the US military appears to be waging for Operation Mountain Storm (OMS) in Afghanistan (see March 13, 2004 and March 15, 2004). [Time (Asia), 10/3/2005] Vikram Parekh, a top ICG analyst based in Kabul, comments: “I don’t understand… why they’ve been so public about it. I don’t see what it accomplishes.” Other experts contradict the US military’s central thesis—that it is keeping the new surge low-profile—and instead echo Parekh’s criticism. Reportedly: “As recently as late last month, Washington was playing up what officials there were touting as a spring offensive to catch bin Laden—leading to suggestions that US President George Bush’s administration hoped for an election-year gain out of the hunt and capture. But if the United states is now hot on the trail of bin Laden, some analysts question why US officials would signal so openly to the al-Quaeda leader to rethink his hiding place.” Parekh calls the publicity around OMS “tactically foolish.” [Radio Free Europe, 3/15/2004; Independent Online, 3/15/2004]
As the US Defense Department launches Operation Mountain Storm (OMS—see March 13, 2004 and March 15, 2004), a major planner for the Afghan resistance reveals the insurgency’s counter-strategy in an “exclusive meeting” with Asia Times Online.
Coalition Vs. Resistance Plan - In his article, “Afghan offensive: Grand plans hits rugged reality,” Syed Saleem Shahzad, the Pakistan bureau chief of Asia Times Online, describes the plan behind OMS: “US-led coalition forces would drive from inside Afghanistan into the last real sanctuary of the insurgents, and meet the Pakistani military driving from the opposite direction.” If the widely publicized operation were to go according to plan, Shahzad writes, “There would then be no safe place left to hide for the Taliban and al-Qaeda remnants, or, presumably, for Osama bin Laden himself.” However, according to the unnamed insurgent, the resistance has a plan of its own: to waylay US-led forces with a series of small-scale, local skirmishes and to divert Pakistani allies from joining the coalition’s new surge.
Afghan Resistance Leverages Tribal Loyalty and Harsh Landscape - The insurgent claims that tribes people, familiar with the increasingly forbidding territory, can exhaust their much stronger opposition through “a classic guerrilla strategy” designed by “foreign resistance fighters of Bangladeshi, Pakistani, and Arab origin.” Hidden in a dizzying array of seemingly endless mountains, they can “regroup,” then emerge to carry out “hit and run” battles against coalition forces while under the protection of villagers loyal to their cause. In turn, according to Asia Times, these local tribes “are now the protectors of the Taliban and al-Quaeda fighters” ranged along and across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Pakistani Army De-Railed - Meanwhile, Pakistani troops are occupied in South Waziristan with Wazir tribes and their neighbors. And Asia Times reports that “the South Waziristan fighting has spread to other areas,” flaring up in North Waziristan, for instance, where recently an attack on the Pakistani army resulted in the death of an officer and his soldiers. Effectively, the insurgency has stopped Pakistan from helping the US clean out “remnants” of its opposition, while more guerrilla fighters join in. This, in only the first week of the official launch of OMS.
Based on his interview with the opposition strategist, Shahzad concludes that, thus far, “the operation that began as a hunt for Osama bin Laden has already degenerated into sideshows against rebel Pakistani tribes people.” [Asia Times Online, 3/20/2004]
Critics Point Finger at US Defense Secretary for Poor Planning - Later, critics of the US military strategy in Afghanistan will cite numerous problems in the design and conception of OMS. Some will blame the high-profile death of Pat Tillman while on patrol for OMS, or on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s flawed strategy, one designed to boast quick results so as to help re-elect President George Bush in the upcoming November 2004 elections (see March 15, 2004).
After a tour of duty in Iraq, the Army Ranger platoon containing Pat and Kevin Tillman, the Black Sheep—officially, 2nd Platoon, A Company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment—ship out from Fort Lewis, Washington, to Afghanistan. It is to participate in a new offensive codenamed Operation Mountain Storm (OMS) (see May 23-June 1, 2002 and Early 2003).
Tillman 'Battled Steadfastly' - The year before, the Tillman brothers’ platoon had been sent to Iraq (see March 2003). There, in place of his fallen lead gunner, Pat Tillman stepped up to his first firefight and “battled steadfastly.” Although Tillman voices opposition to the war in Iraq, he originally joined the military because he wanted to fight in Afghanistan (see Early 2004).
Redeployed for Operation Mountain Storm - Assigned to the newly-minted OMS campaign, the infantrymen in the Tillmans’ platoon are to act as “special operators,” tasked to “flush out and entrap enemy guerrillas,” sweeping zones “grid by grid,” and traveling in “small, mobile, lethal units.” As Rangers, the soldiers are trained in the use of unconventional, commando-style tactics in which small units conduct search-and-destroy missions rather than larger combat operations. The US Department of Defense has developed a strategy designed to eliminate insurgents along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border relying on searching for weapons and guerrilla fighters by “sweeping and clearing” villages. It is while on such a search and destroy mission during OMS that Pat Tillman will meet his death under circumstances triggering a military criminal probe (see April 23, 2004). [Washington Post, 12/5/2004]
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