Harward, a decorated Navy SEAL who commanded the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force South during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, was faced with a complex and difficult task. Fortunately, Harward had the complete range of Allied SOF and conventional military capabilities at his disposal, and made full use of them. These included:
• Personnel and NSW platforms – All told, more than 1,000 Allied personnel were involved in the oil infrastructure assault. Key among these were U.S. Navy SEa, Air, and Land (SEAL) commandos, Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal operators, U.S. Marines, SOF from Great Britain, and members of the Polish GROM (“Thunder”) force. SEALs employed Desert Patrol Vehicles on the Al Faw peninsula and SEAL Delivery Vehicles in support of the GOPLAT assault. Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen (SWCC) operated four Mark V Special Operations Craft (MK Vs) and eight Rigid-hull Inflatable Boats (RIBs). The force also made use of a high-speed vehicle on lease to the U.S. military from Australia.
• Aircraft – Providing combat air patrol support were F-14 Tomcat and F/A-18 Hornet fighter-bombers from the USS Constellation (CV-64). Additional support was supplied by Navy P-3 ORIONs, along with Air Force AC-130 Spectre gunships, A-10 Thunderbolt fighter-bombers, and HH-53s. SEAL snipers aboard Navy HH-60 Seahawks provided sniper overwatch for the GOPLAT assault units, and HAWKLINK provided real-time video feeds back to the USS Valley Forge.
• Fleet Support – Command and control of the GOPLAT takedowns was based aboard the Aegis cruiser USS Valley Forge (CG 50).
Valley Forge and her crew had extensive experience in maritime intercept operations (MIOs) in the Persian Gulf, and were also used as a helicopter base during the assault on the platforms.
The commander of the actual GOPLAT assault units, and the commander-in-charge of the GOPLAT operation, was Navy Lt. Cmdr. (SEAL) Jay Richards.
The basic concept of seizing the two platforms was not new. Over the years, SEALS and other SOF units have trained in conducting
offshore platform takedowns and developed procedures to deal with precisely this situation. There also was practical experience from an April 1989 takedown of Iranian GOPLATs by a Marine unit. This helped prepare the SEALs for this operation, which was the first actual GOPLAT takedown they conducted.
For the OIF GOPLAT seizure, there were several key objectives:
• Rapid, simultaneous envelopment of the targets from a variety of directions (above, below, multiple points of the compass).
• Little or no warning for the defenders. This approach to the two platforms would have to look like a normal MIO or other maritime evolution, common in the northern Persian Gulf.
• Minimum use of destructive force to ensure the safety of the delicate plumbing of the rigs.