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special operations forces » operations / missions » objectives rhino & gecko
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Objectives Rhino and Gecko

On the night of October 19th / morning of October 20th, 2001, US Special Operations Forces (SOF) carried out a large scale airborne operation into the heart of Taliban-held Afghanistan.

Their were 2 objectives, code named Objective Rhino and Objective Gecko.

Objective Rhino

Objective Rhino was a desert landing strip to the southwest of Kandahar.

Objective Rhino, Afghanistan (google earth kmz file)

This was assaulted by troops from the 3rd Battalion, the 75th Ranger Regiment who were to parachute onto the objective. Before the Rangers dropped, several targets on and around the objective were softened up, first by bombs dropped from B2 stealth bombers, then by fire from orbiting AC-130 aircraft. These air strikes resulted in a number of enemy KIAs and several enemy fleeing the area. Following the air strikes, 4 MC-130 Combat Talon aircraft flew over the drop zone at 800 feet. In zero illumination, 199 Rangers proceeded to exit the MC-130s.

The Ranger's objectives were to:

  • seize the landing strip
  • destroy any Taliban forces
  • gather intelligence
  • assess the suitability of the landing strip for future operations
  • establish a forward aerial refuel/rearm point (FARP) for helicopters involved in the nearby operation at Objective Gecko

Once on the ground, A Company, 3/75 Rangers, cleared several objectives, code named TIN and IRON, meeting minimal resistance. C Company moved out towards a walled compound, code named objective COBALT. PSYOP specialists from the 9th Psychological Operations Battalion, broadcast messages on loud speakers in an attempt to coax any defenders to surrender but it was soon established that the compound was empty.

With the landing strip secured, a MC-130 landed with medical personnel onboard who proceeded to treat 2 Rangers who had been injured during the jump.

USAF Combat Controllers surveyed the landing strip, assessing it for possible future use. They also communicated with the AC-130s which were circling high overhead. When a small number of enemy troops and vehicles were spotted approaching the area, the AC-130s engaged and destroyed them.

MH-60 and MH-47 helicopters, flown by the 160th SOAR and taking part in the operation at Objective Gecko, soon arrived and were refueled and rearmed at the FARP which had been established using MC-130 tankers. Once rearmed and refueled, the SOAR helicopters took off and left the area.

With all objectives completed, the Rangers and CCTs boarded the MC-130s which soon departed. PSYOP leaflets were left behind for any Taliban who might have ventured onto the scene over the coming days.

The same airstrip was later to be seized by the United States Marines following a reconnaissance operation by US Navy SEALs. It would later become known as Camp Rhino.

Related video:

Footage of Rangers jumping to secure objective Rhino:

(official DoD footage - released to public domain)

Objective Gecko

While the Rangers took Objective Rhino, a helicopter-borne assault of Delta Force and Rangers were hitting Objective Gecko. Obj Gecko was a large walled compound belonging to the meritorious one-eyed Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar. Omar's compound was situated in the city of Kandahar.

Objective Gecko, Afghanistan (google earth kmz file)
(Mullah Omar's compound has since been built into a special operations firebase (Firebase Gecko))

Delta's objective was to raid the compound, kill any Taliban inside (hopefully including Omar himself) and gather up any intelligence found there. The Rangers were to provide a security perimeter around the Delta operation.

Before the troops arrived, USAF AC-130 and MH-60L DAP gunships fired on the area around the compound. A fleet of MH-60 and MH-47 helicopters then flew the Delta/Rangers assault group in. As the Rangers set up blocking positions, Delta entered the compound and began to clear it. There were no Taliban forces inside the compound and there are mixed reports of whether any useful intelligence was found inside. It has been reported that as the assault force were preparing to extract from Obj Gecko, they were ambushed by a large number of Taliban who were armed with a large supply of rocket-propelled grenades. Delta and the Rangers extracted from the area under heavy fire. A MH-47 was hit and lost a piece from its landing gear as it took off. At least one soldier was injured during the firefight, reportedly having a foot blown off by an RPG.

The operations at Rhino and Gecko have since drawn criticism. Detractors state that the raids had little military value and seem to be designed primarily as psychological operations, the effectiveness against fanatical forces such as the Taliban or Al Qaeda have been called into question. Others say that the raids were meant as something visible for the American public, in contrast to the covert CIA / Special Forces operations that were taking place in secret. Footage of the Ranger operation at Obj Rhino as shown on the nightly news, a fact that supports this contention.

AC-130 Gunship
Both operations were supported by AC-130 gunships orbiting high above the objectives.
photo : U.S. Air Force

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