The September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington resulted in nearly 3,000 deaths. The attacks were attributed to the international terrorist organization, al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda’s leader, Osama bin-Laden, and a cadre of his followers had been given sanctuary by the Taliban leaders of Afghanistan.
President George W. Bush authorized military action to destroy terrorist bases in Afghanistan and the government that had allowed them. The United States, along with the United Kingdom, Australia, and a “Northern Alliance” of Afghans, launched an attack on October 7, 2001, and quickly drove the Taliban from power. Al-Qaeda training camps were destroyed and the terrorists driven into hiding or into neighboring Pakistan. The initial coalition was expanded when members of NATO and other nations sent troops to assist in what had become a “Global War on Terror.” Eventually, troops from more than 40 nations participated in the fighting or the effort to bring democracy to Afghanistan.
The coalition, however, failed to eradicate either al-Qaeda or the Taliban which continued to attack with conventional military tactics and the deadly use of “improvised explosive devices” (IEDs). Despite President Barack Obama’s decision in December 2009 to increase the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the fighting has continued. “Operation Enduring Freedom” has now become the United State’s longest military conflict, exceeding both the Iraq War (Operation Iraqi Freedom) at 8.7 years and the Vietnam War at 8.5 years.
As with “Operation Desert Storm” a decade earlier, active military forces sent to Afghanistan were reinforced with Reserve and National Guard units. The West Virginia Air National Guard’s 130th (Charleston) and 167th (Martinsburg) Tactical Airlift Wings flew hundreds of missions for the Air Force. The West Virginia National Guard’s 2nd Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne), with headquarters in Huntington, was one of the first units sent to Afghanistan. Sergeant Gene A. Vance Jr., a member of that unit, was killed in action May 19, 2002. Vance was the only member of the West Virginia National Guard to die in Afghanistan, but 14 other West Virginians in active duty units also lost their lives in the conflict.
This Article was written by Kenneth R. Bailey
Last Revised on June 12, 2012