Today is the 15th anniversary of the attacks of September 11th. If you lived through the events of the day, you’ll recall the shock and horror as the towers fell and the Pentagon was attacked.
As the events of the day unfolded, it became clear that the four planes that were hijacked were part of a sophisticated plan that was launched by a AlQaeda. The terrorist group had found refuge in an Afghanistan under control of the Taliban. America and the world had to do something to avenge the attacks.
Less than a month after the attack, then President Bush made a joint address to Congress where he said,
“On my orders, the United States military has begun strikes against al Qaeda terrorist training camps and military installations of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. These carefully targeted actions are designed to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations, and to attack the military capability of the Taliban regime.”
An armada of B-1s, B-52s, and B-2s were enroute to attack the Taliban in an operation that became known as Operation Enduring Freedom or OEF. Targeted attacks combined with special forces would quickly to the demise of the Taliban as a formal government entity.
During the speech, President Bush also acknowledged that an important component of this new campaign would be to provide aid to the Afghan people who were oppressed by the fanatical Taliban regime. Senior decision makers and allies were careful to not portray this war as a war between religion but instead as a war between good and evil. Bush added,
At the same time, the oppressed people of Afghanistan will know the generosity of America and our allies. As we strike military targets, we’ll also drop food, medicine and supplies to the starving and suffering men and women and children of Afghanistan.
Airlift’s Role in the Launch of OEF: Enter the C-17
In 2001, the C-17 was still a relatively new platform with limited combat experience in the Balkans. As OEF kicked off, the C-17 received the call to operate a 10,000+ mile round robin from Ramstein AB in Germany to Afghanistan and back without landing. The Globemaster would prove its potential for extended combat operations. The C-17 dropped food and medicine from a high altitude to avoid any potential enemy fire. One of the first missions was documented by the TV show “Inside Edition”. It showed a C-17 crew airdropping pallets of food and supplies under the cover of darkness using night-vision goggles. In the midst of war, the crews of the C-17 delivered American generosity halfway across the world.
We all know that 15 years later, America is still involved in Afghanistan. Terrorism still exists and many would argue that the threat is as severe today as it was back in 2001. Almost 3,000 lives were lost that day. The aviation industry would be upended and changed forever. On an even larger scale, America as a nation would be changed forever too as it became entangled in OEF and later a wider war against terrorism in Iraq and now major swaths of the Middle East.
It’s worth noting that even as America reeled from the attacks, they recognized that remaining a principled nation was an important component of potential success. The C-17 Globemaster was a vital tool to carry out America’s strategy. It would later prove to be a workhorse of OEF and OIF.