Operation Rhino was a raid led by the United States Army’s 3rd Battalion 75th Ranger Regiment against several Taliban targets in and around Kandahar, Afghanistan, spearheading Operation Enduring Freedom. On the night of October 19, 2001, a company-sized element of approximately 200 Rangers from the 3/75 Ranger Regiment departed from four Lockheed MC-130 aircraft towards a desert landing strip south of the city on an “objective Rhino.”
Before the Rangers dropped, several targets on and around the objective were targeted by U.S. air power, first by bombs dropped from B-2 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, the 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 (to become Camp Rhino)
- 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
- Destroy major weapons and utilities
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 from JSOCs JMAU 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 (see: Camp Rhino). 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.
As a result to the raid, a base was set up over the airstrip and named Camp Rhino. It was then handed off to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, who began leading leading forward operations throughout Kandahar along with the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division.