Trained and equipped for rapid deployment by airlift for a wide variety of missions, the 10th Mountain has been involved in more campaigns than any other division in the Army.
The 10th Mountain Division has a history dating back to World War II. After Finnish ski troops decimated two Soviet tank divisions in November 1939, the Army began to arm and train units for mountain fighting. The 10th was put into action and spearheaded the Fifth Army's drive toward the Po Valley in the opening phase of the Italian invasion in August 1945. Fighting was fierce with 553 killed, lost, or wounded the first day.
Since then, the Division has shown a rare talent for the kind of complex missions of relief and nation-building the American military has had to perform in recent years. In the sweltering hornet's nest of Mogadishu, part of the division, the 2-14, fought a three-hour firefight to help rescue American forces shot down by Mohammed Aidid's gunmen (reportedly aided by al Qaeda trainers). They formed the core of the multinational force that stabilized Haiti in Operation Uphold Democracy. And in 1998, the Division was called on for peacekeeping duty in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Since the campaign in Afghanistan began, they've seen combat in Operations Anaconda and Mountain Lion, killing or capturing hundreds of al Qaeda fighters and destroying at least 4.5 million pounds of ammunition. Before Enduring Freedom, critics said that US forces would be unprepared for the harsh conditions of the Afghan mountain country. The 10th proved those critics wrong.
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A valuable addition to the US-led coalition, Afghan fighters consist of anti-Taliban ethnic minorities like Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Shiite Muslim Hazaras. These are the same factions that successfully fought to rid Afghanistan of Soviet armies through the 1980s.
What the Afghan fighters lack in organized military training and technology, they make up for in stamina and resourcefulness. Their extensive knowledge of the Afghan landscape has weakened al Qaeda's prime advantage against troops deployed from half a world away. Afghan fighters are also more capable of gleaning information from local residents about the movement of enemy troops in the area.
More than 2,000 Afghan fighters took part in the Tora Bora operation to oust Osama bin Laden from the al Qaeda cave complex. Commanded by three warlords from the Eastern Shura, the Afghan fighters charged an enemy they once fought with against the Soviets. The Afghan fighters used two-way radios and satellite cell phones to coordinate attacks. Their small teams are able to endure brutal weather with little food or gear and are experts at sniping and the art of ambushing.
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American soldiers first employed Ranger tactics in 1670, but it wasn't until the French and Indian War in the mid-1700s that Ranger techniques and methods of operations became the basis of a permanent, organized fighting force. For 300 years the Army Rangers, the toughest, most elite fighting unit, have been employed to handle some of the most difficult and deadly operations of all time from the Revolutionary war to the War on Terror.
Part of the United States' Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), Rangers are known for their superiority in all light infantry skills and specialized mission tactics: movement to contact, ambush, reconnaissance, air assaults, and rapid defense. Rangers penetrate hostile ground by land, sea, or air with lightning-quick speed and unparalleled talent.
One Ranger Battalion is on Ready Reaction Force (RRF), continuous alert, whereby its men are prepared to mobilize and fight in any location around the globe within 18 hours. A Ranger rifle company, including its command and control operations, is deployable in as few as 9 hours. All three Ranger battalions specialize in clandestine operations such as raids, "snatch" operations, hostage rescue, and enemy incapacitation.
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Formed around 1988 by Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda helped finance, recruit, transport, and train thousands of fighters from dozens of countries as part of the Afghan resistance against the Soviet Union. The resulting group turned into an international terrorist network after the war. In February 1998, it issued a statement declaring war on all US citizens and allies everywhere they could be found. Its strength further increased in June 2001 when it merged with an Egyptian terrorist group headed by Ayman al-Zawahiri.
al Qaeda has sophisticated tactics for assassination, bombing, hijacking, and kidnapping, with good operational security and long-range planning. Many reports and statements from bin Laden himself indicate that the group is determined to build or steal biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons. Their targets tend to be prominent symbols and public, high-profile buildings. According to former CIA head George Tenet, the organization has increasingly focused on developing puppet groups to carry out attacks in which bin Laden's fingerprints are not detected.
With a global financial network, dozens of affiliated groups, and several thousand recruits, the organization has provided training and support for terrorists fighting in Afghanistan, Algeria, Bosnia, Chechnya, Eritrea, Kosovo, the Philippines, Somalia, Tajikistan, Yemen, Kosovo, as well as North and South America.
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Afghanistan has never had much of a national army. Lack of resources and tribal society never allowed it. But individual factions could operate extremely well. And with a good knowledge of the lay of the land, these mountain fighters have repeatedly outmaneuvered invading forces. In the late 19th century against the British and in the late 20th century against the Soviets, the Afghans fought off dominant empires by retreating before their invading armies and then launching protracted, highly effective, and eventually successful guerilla wars. The Taliban's army is a coalition of militias with varying degrees of skill and loyalty to their cause. Many have a history of switching sides before coming under the command of the Taliban. They have good mobility but can't penetrate defenses or hold positions. In major battles, they have a tendency to rush into the front lines and leave their rear weakly defended and vulnerable to counterattack.
The Taliban are variously led by tribesmen, seasonal conscripts, and foreign volunteers. Many are from Pakistan, America's nominal ally in the war on terror. Some elite units exist with troops recruited from religious madrasa and led by the mujahedeen of earlier wars. The number changes, but there is a core of about 25,000 troops. Their cavalry units, if they can be called that, use pickup trucks for combat and support missions. Some units have armored vehicles and artillery and even a few tanks, but the Kalashnikov assault rifle is their mainstay.
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