This is the first of a five-part series examining key events in the ten-year history of America's war in Afghanistan
By CNN Pentagon Producer Larry Shaughnessy
If you read the military's official history of the start of the war in Afghanistan, it says it all began on October 7, 2001, less than four weeks after the devastating 9/11 terrorist attacks.
That day, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced details of a massive air bombardment of Taliban strongholds: 50 cruise missiles fired, bombs dropped by B-52s, B-1s and B-2 stealth bombers. The goal, Rumsfeld said, was "to make clear to the Taliban leaders and their supporters that harboring terrorists is unacceptable and carries a price."
But the high-tech air campaign was preceded by a very low-tech start to America's involvement in Afghanistan: the so-called horse soldiers.
U.S. intelligence officers, and later U.S. special operations troops, rode on horseback into Afghanistan before the bombing to link up with the Taliban's worst enemies: the Northern Alliance, a loose-knit group of warlords who clashed with the Taliban ever since it took control of Afghanistan.
CNN photojournalist Mark Biello followed in their hoof steps in those early days of the so-called war on terror. "We came down through the mountains, we picked up the Northern Alliance from Uzbekistan, because they (the Americans) massed and came in through the north from Uzbekistan," Biello said recently. "No sleep, no power, the infrastructure is shot, you're on horseback, you're coming in with the troops. It's tough to charge batteries. It was tough to keep things going."
Biello said it wasn't long before he started seeing people dressed in traditional local garb who were clearly not Afghans. "When we first got on the ground there, we saw a lot of these guys, and they were actually American military, special ops, dressed like Afghanis; they had the headdress, the hats and everything, but they were white," Biello said. "Up close and personal, you knew they were Americans or Brits, especially the red-haired ones. But they had a lot of - the U.S. and British - had a lot of people on the ground before any of the operations began. And they were probably gathering intelligence, troop strength."
At the time, CNN was asked not to report about those undercover warriors. "They were kind of embarrassed that we came across them, they started talking to us: 'Don't take any shots of us, don't report this,' " Biello said.
Biello, whose nickname is Mad Dog, remembers when the official war began.
"I remember that first day on October 7th, looking way up in the sky and seeing all these vapor trails, so I locked down the camera and put on the doubler (zoom lens), and you could see the bombs, you could see the planes flying overhead."
On that first day, the bombs landed far away from Biello and his CNN colleagues. But later, he was much closer to the target.
"You could feel them, and it was very reminiscent of when I was in Baghdad during the first Gulf War, and you could hear it. It was basically rolling thunder, and you could feel the concussions of the B-52 bombs as they walked them in," Biello said. "It's just this massive air carpet bombing. There's nothing accurate about it. They just let go of their loads from that height and decimate anything underneath them."
So what's it like to be under a squadron of massive American bombers as they unload their deadly cargo? "I'm thinking 30% of taxes from my salary are going to weapons that are trying to kill me," Biello said.
Soon after the bombing began, Kabul was liberated. Biello, correspondent Harris Whitbeck and other CNN journalists headed to the capital. "We teamed up with Ben Wedeman and Mary Rogers out of Cairo, and then we met up (with) Christiane Amanpour and the rest of them all in Kabul. All the CNN teams met in a house that was initially the first CNN bureau in Kabul. And the house was the house of the Belgian ambassador to Afghanistan."
One of his early assignments was to check out the U.S. Embassy that had been abandoned when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan two decades before. "I walked around the compound trying to get in and everything is locked up, and I ran into one of the groundskeepers and I talked to him with one of our translators, and I talked him into letting us into the compound," Biello remembers. "So we got into the compound and then the Marines show up, and they come in with helicopters and a caravan and these guys are coming down, and I'm standing there in the courtyard in front of the U.S. Embassy shooting it, and these guys are locked and loaded and they are pointing their guns at me. And one of the Marines recognized me."
The Marine had met Biello during the 1993 U.S. mission in Mogadishu, Somalia.
"He said, 'Mad Dog, what the hell are you doing here?' and I said, 'What took you so long?' He said 'How the hell does CNN get to these places before we do?' That was his comment. It was kinda funny. They were a little pissed off."
Biello said covering the war in Afghanistan was more than another assignment. "I felt from a personal point of view and a professional point of view, I wanted to follow the story all the way through since 9/11 and what was happening in Afghanistan."