One legendary Air Force combat controller called in a staggering amount of airstrikes in five days. Joe O’Keefe called in hundreds of strikes using 688,000 pounds of bombs.
The bombs, weighing twice as much as the Statue of Liberty, were dropped on an Afghanistan valley full of Al Qaeda. According to retired Air Force special operations officer Dan Schilling’s book “Alone at Dawn: Medal of Honor Recipient John Chapman and the Untold Story of the World’s Deadliest Special Operations Force,” it is still the most dropped by anyone in the “history of airborne warfare.”
Combat Controllers Job
A combat controller is a special operation airman who coordinates and brings in air support of other special operations units. They work with the Navy SEALS, Army Special Forces, British SAS, even the CIA teams in the area.
For O’Keefe, it was working with a CIA team attempting to access Tora Bora, a system of caves near Pakistan on the Afghanistan border. It was only three months after the 9/11 attacks, and the CIA team was trying to find, capture or kill Osama bin Laden.
It was rumored that he was in Tora Bora. O’Keefe, Dan, a Delta Force operator, and a couple of CIA officers were tasked with scoping it out.
“The chief of base looks over me and my two counterparts and says, ‘isn’t this what you do?'” O’Keefe said CIA station chief Gary Bernsten asked him and a few others. “We’re like ‘fuck yeah, every day and twice on Sunday.'”
Scoping The Caves
They went out on December 3. 2001, into the mountains heading toward Tora Bora, assisted by the Northern Alliance, a group of anti-Taliban fighters.
The Americans drove in a Northern Alliance truck, dressed as Afghan’s and armed with AK-47s. To get to their observation post, they had to climb to higher ground in thin air.
From there, they could see the Milawa Valley. O’Keefe thought there were at the very least hundred to thousands of Al Queda there, to their four. O’Keefe and his team had the element of surprise plus dozens of excellent pilots who were available at the drop of a hat.
“I’m always thankful I was on this team and not their team. Because the advantage was severely tilted in our favor.”Joe O’Keefe
They dropped as many bombs as they could, killing thousands of Al Queda fighters by December 8.