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April 3, 2017
Relentless Strike by Sean Naylor
At 10:30 P.M. on November 13,  the silence of another moonless Afghan night was disturbed by the thrumming of a single [MC-130] Combat Talon’s four turboprops 800 feet above the desert about fifty miles southwest of Kandahar. From the plane tumbled forty dark shapes that floated to earth in a matter of seconds after parachute canopies blossomed above them, barely visible against the night sky.
The parachutes belonged to thirty –two [US Army] Rangers from 3rd Battalion’s B Company and an eight-man [US Air Force] 24th STS [Special Tactics Squadron] element. Their mission was to seize a desert landing strip named Bastogne and prepare it to receive two Combat Talons, each loaded with a pair AH-6 Little Bird gunships, a mobile forward arming and refueling point, and the pilots and other personnel to man them. The Little Birds were then to fly off to attack preplanned targets. Bastogne was the Rangers’ second combat parachute assault of the war, but unlike the seizure of Objective Rhino, this mission was most certainly not a propaganda exercise. There would be no Pentagon press briefing about it, ever. Rather, the Bastogne mission was the latest step in a campaign of deception and destruction Task Force Sword had decided to wage across southern Afghanistan.
The details of that campaign would remain secret for years, but even the broad brushstrokes had not been imagined when, with the Gecko and Rhino raids finally out of the way, the staff on Masirah [an island southeast of Oman, memorable to American special operators because it was a staging base for the failed Eagle Claw mission to rescue Americans at the embassy in Iran in 1980] pondered Sword’s next move. There was no long-term plan. Everything was seat-of-the-pants decision. “After we did this first mission, we went, ‘All right, what are we going to do now?’” said the retired special ops officer.