Shortly after the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001; our nation unified, we mourned, and we sought answers to who would attack our nation and murder over three thousands innocent people. And before the dust had settled at Ground Zero, then President George W. Bush looked to a small group of highly trained soldiers from the US Special Operations Command, 5th Special Forces Group (SFG) to serve as the fulcrum to America’s righteous justice. Their operations and sacrifice, identified as Task Force (TF) Dagger, would lead the US military efforts in Afghanistan and as part of the Global War on Terror. It is only fitting that over time TF Dagger has had many unique challenge coins to represent the unit’s heritage, but now a unit commemorative challenge coin that also serves as tribute to the overall unit’s purpose and success.
Task Force Dagger
Deployed in 2001, Joint Special Operations TF North (JSOTF-N), also known as TF Dagger, was the first of two Special Operations task forces into Afghanistan following 9/11 (the second being TF K-Bar to the South), and led the opening salvo of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM (OEF). Based in an old Soviet-era airbase dubbed “K2” for its location close to Karshi-Khandabad, Uzbekistan; TF Dagger was built around several companies from the 5th SFG and included a number of US Air Force combat controllers from the Special Tactics Group at Hurlburt Field, Fla., along with a detachment from Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) and the elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR). Leading these men was then then-COL John F. Mulholland Jr., U.S. Army. (Afghan War News n.d.) (PBS n.d.)
Upon arrival TF Dagger’s objectives were to link up with Northern Alliance (NA) and Commanders in the North, gain their active assistance in pursuing al Qa’ida high-value targets, and support NA operations towards overthrowing the Taliban and retaking key Afghan cities. To accomplish this multi-directional assault, TF Dagger split its units into small 12-man teams called Operational Detachment-Alphas (ODA) that could work independently with the various local warlords while coordinating overall efforts with COL Mulholland. (American Special Ops n.d.) The respective Areas of Operations for each of TF Dagger’s ODAs included the following:
ODA 555 (Triple Nickel)
The first ODA team to be inserted, 555 was dropped into the Panshir Valley by airlift from the 160th SOAR on October 19th where they joined the CIA’s clandestine team JAWBREAKER already in the field. Amongst their specialized equipment, 555 were also carrying the AN/PEQ-1 SOF Laser Marker (SOFLAM) that would prove instrumental in directing the future air campaign. Working closely with NA troops under warlord Fahim Khan, 555 preceded to call in withering air strikes using up to 15,000lb BLU-28 ‘Daisy Cutter’ bombs on Taliban troop positions with devastating effect along the Shomali Plain. As the Taliban forces retreated, 555 called in even more air power in order to sweep the last of the enemy from Bagram Air Base and allowing Khan’s forces to take over the facility. On the 13th of November, with assistance from ODA 595 and JAWBREAKER, Kabul fell to Fahim Khan’s forces.
ODA 595 & ODA 534
The 2nd TF Dagger team to insert was ODA 595, which was flown across the Hindu Kush Mountains on MH-47s on the 20th of October. The team was inserted in the Dari-a-Souf Valley, south of Mazar-e-Sharif, linking up with the CIA and General Dostum, commander of the largest and most powerful NA faction. Over the next several weeks, 595 found themselves riding on horseback alongside General Dostum’s troops, a tactical movement not practiced by today’s modern military since the retirement of horse-mounted cavalry units. And while 595 and NA forces swept across Afghanistan in classic cavalry charge against Taliban positions, few of the team’s members were accomplished riders and urgently requested leather saddles be air dropped to them. Their exploits were chronicled in the book, “Horse Soldiers” that documented 595’s push with Dostrum as his forces pushed towards the city of Mazar-e-Sharif and against Taliban positions across the Dari-a-Souf Valley.
A further Special Forces team, ODA 534, inserted by SOAR helos on the night of November 2nd was tasked to support General Mohammad Atta, a NA militia leader. Eventually 534 linked up with CIA officers and Gen Dostrum outside Mazar-e-Shari where 595 and 534 assisted Northern Alliance foot soldiers, cavalry and armored units to retake the city.
ODA 585 (Team Tiger)
Inserted by helo on October 23rd, ODA 585 operated in and around the city of Konduz, in support of NA Commander, Burillah Khan. Despite initial missed air strikes that left the General Burillah unimpressed, 585’s senior enlisted member Master Sergeant Bolduc called in another wave of F-18 strikes that in four passes obliterated several Taliban command bunkers and collapsed several sections of the enemy’s trench lines. The display of coordinated airpower by 585 earned General Burillah’s respect and proved their value to the Afghans. Eventually ODA 586 joined 585 and General Burillah’s men for the final assault on the provincial city of Konduz, seizing it on November 11th.
On November 2nd, the ten-man ODA 553 team inserted into the Bamian Valley in the northern regions of Afghanistan and linked up with General Kareem Kahili and his militia. Together the men worked to flush Taliban forces from the region with a number of cities quickly falling to Kahili’s tribal forces.
Further north, in the Takhar province, ODA 586 operated in support of General Daod Khan’s forces, which took the capital city of Taloqan on November 11th. Khan’s troops, supported by airstrikes called in with withering effect by 586, eventually took the city and provincial capital of Konduz on November 26th.
ODA 574 deployed from K2 by MH-60L Blackhawks from the 160th SOAR just outside of Tarin Kowt on November 14th, along with Pashtun militia leader, Hamid Karzai. As Karazai’s forces pushed south towards Kandahar, an error by an attached USAF TACP resulted in a 2,000lb GPS-guided JDAM hitting the ODA’s position, killing and wounding several Special Forces and Afghan militiamen. Assisted by the remaining ODA 586 soldiers, with reinforcements from ODA 750 and ODA 523, Karzai was able to negotiate the surrender of Taliban forces around Kandahar and go on to become the first Afghan president.
ODA 583, supporting warlord Gul Agha Sherzai in the vicinity of the Shin Narai Valley, deployed late on November 21st on Air Force MH-53s. However, while enroute the team suffered an emergency landing due to a mechanical failure and, after switching to another helo, was deposited to the wrong Landing Zone. Despite these setbacks 583 joined the CIA team with Sherzai and pushed towards Kandahar, coming from the southeast. The 583 set up observation posts overlooking Kandahar International Airport and, over a period of several days, softened up the Taliban defenses by calling down continual air strikes. On December 7th, ODA 583 and Sherzai’s forces took the airport and soon after the city of Kandahar. The 583 team was soon joined by Karzai’s forces from the North, and his team of Special Forces advisors.
The devastating firepower leveled against the Taliban by TF Dagger caused a near continual roll-back of the enemy lines, and the speed with which the Taliban resistance dissipated outpaced the military’s overall plans to deploy significant numbers of conventional military forces on the ground. TF Dagger’s efforts paved the way for eventual ground forces to enter Afghanistan and set the stage for pursuit of al Qa’ida high value targets along the border, including Osama bin Laden himself, whom had begun to flee into the nearby Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan. The overall command of TF Dagger would remain in place until the unit’s eventual redeployment back to the United States in April 2002. (Global Security n.d.)
5th SFG “Task Force Dagger” Commemorative Challenge Coin Ver. 1-5
Task Force Dagger has had a variety of challenge coins associated to its organization over the years. So when interest was presented to the unit about a commemorative challenge coin to not only render honors to TF Dagger, but also serve as tribute to the victims of September 11th, searching for an appropriate design became extremely difficult, as only the best would do. Complicating the matter is current limitations to military commands on the amount of money that can be spent by the DoD on such awards. Thus enter artist, 5th SFG veteran, and former TF Dagger member Frank Allen. (Fallen) Allen designed the original TF Dagger emblems while serving in the military and deployed at K2 himself. Since then, his designs have continued to be incorporated into various 5th SFG coins, plaques, and even the new TF Dagger memorial stone revealed at Ft. Bragg in November 2014. The result was a 5th SFG TF Dagger coin with such detail and features that make it one of the most unique and impressive minted, while paying tribute to those who served within TF Dagger, and gave their lives on 9/11. These coins are minted in five different versions and presented to the US Army Special Operations Command, US Army Special Forces Command, US Special Operations Command, to Commanders of the 5th SFG, various VIPs, veterans, and to others who helped support the organization’s efforts while in Afghanistan or in garrison.
Version 1 – The Artist’s Proof
For the purpose of these unique TF Dagger Commemorative Challenge Coins, the first version is the Artist’s Proof coins. They, and all other four subsiquent versions, were designed to replicate the TF Dagger coins minted in 2002 similar to the CJSOTF AP artist’s original design. Only six of the first version were minted in the US under exact specifications, in full color with a total diameter of 2.65″, and with “Always Remember September 11 in red lettering over a border of 5.56 caliber bullets that surround the Reverse of the coin.
Version 2 – Collector’s Edition I
The second version of the TF Dagger coin is the Collector’s Edition I, also approximately 2.65” in overall diameter. These coins were minted here in the US with high quality and in color with an accidental matte finish. Approximately six were then presented to members of special operations, 5th SFG and other individuals in a red cherry wood box with black lining. However, only 112 total of these coins were ever minted.
Version 3 – Collector’s Edition II
The third version of the TF Dagger coin is a second run of the Collector’s Edition in a 2.65″ overall diameter. These coins were similarly minted here in the US and in full color, but in a polished finish and include a special “armor protective” gloss. Similarly, these coins are presented in a red cherry wood box with black lining. However like the second version, only 112 total of these coins were ever minted.
Version 4 – Artist Special Edition (Numbered)
A fourth version of the TF Dagger coin (Artist Special Edition) was minted with a diameter of 2.65″ total, and produced in an extremely limited number of only 30 coins in a solid matt brass finish. The Artist Special Edition version are the only coins numbered in the entire TF Dagger Commemorative series of coins. The fourth versions come in a special cherry wood box with a shiny black finish and the TF Dagger Logo on the top of the lid with the words Artist Special Edition in gold on the very bottom edge of the box to identify them as a special edition. These challenge coins are the premiere and as such will not be produced ever again.
Version 5 – Solid Copper Color (Full Metal Jacket)
The final, and fifth version of the TF Dagger coin is an offshoot of the Version 4 Artist Special Edition coin; and the result of an unexpected error that yielded an limited run of only 30 coins total. Initially as the first batch of Artist Special Edition coin, when minted and shipped to the artist, Frank Allen, the batch was accidentally unnumbered and in a solid copper color, not matt brass as intended. The solid copper coins became the fifth version of the TF Dagger coin and are exceptional in all respects except for the color and being the result of an unintended error. This alone makes them a rare collector’s item unique to the TF Dagger coin lineage. The unintended fifth version of the Full Metal Jacket coin is now an official collector’s edition coin that comes in a cherry finish presentation box. The inside lid of the presentation box is signed, but since the coin was unintended they are not numbered. These coins will never be produced ever again.
Symbolism of the TF Dagger Commemorative Coin
When asked to describe the symbolism behind the TD Dagger Commemorative Challenge Coin, Allen said
When then Col. Mulholland, TF Dagger Commander, told me in the CJSOTF K2 that he wanted a TF Dagger design made; I began to brainstorm on the different symbols of Special Operations and the History of unconventional warfare, because that is what TF Dagger would be doing in theater. I came up with the V42 fighting knife because of the OSS and Jedburg Teams Special Operations First Special Service, (death card, Black Devils ) also had the V42 in the devil’s mouth biting on the blade. The V42 knife is center and proud in the TF Dagger logo to show the lineage and history of Special Operations.
The Eagle also had to have something to reflect TF Dagger’s ability to conduct swift, powerful and precise targeting against the terrorists and oppressors. The Eagle is a powerful symbol as a bird of prey surrounding the enemy. It eyes its prey, swoops down and right before the strike, just a second before the talons strike into the neck, it tucks its tail feathers downward to act like an airbreak and surrounds the prey by bringing its wings forward. The talons strike, and the eagle has done its own form of direct action. The eagle and the dagger combine on the coin’s front face to reflect the unit’s history and connection to unconventional warfare to succeed. These features reflect our strength, history, and honor.
Allen went on to detail the Reverse of the coin,
The TF Dagger coin is a commemorative coin so this was an opportunity to also show tribute to the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Positioned and centered on the Reverse, the Twin Towers appear in 3D so you are looking up at them just as we remember the two buildings from street level. The two buildings, against a black field also to symbolize the number 11, also correspond to the date of the September 11th terrorist attacks.
The Punisher Skull, with “infidel” written in Arabic on the forehead, represents the Special Operations soldier as the Punisher. It is because of these men we are free to live our lives without oppression from radical Islamists, who in their eyes view all non-Islam believers of faith as “infidels.
The sword is Excalibur, the righteous sword of vengeance, taken from ancient folklore. The gold arrows allude to the history of Special Operations, and reference the U.S. Army Indian Scouts who served on the Western Frontier from 1860 to 1939 and are where the symbol of the crossed arrows originated. Combined, the skull, sword, and cross arrows resemble the Close Quarters Battle logo.
Taken as a whole, the Reverse of the coin shows the true nature of unconventional warfare. The arrows, tips upward, and sword reflect the capabilities of Special Operations to fight on Air, Land and Sea. The ability to strike from all three is the core principle and strength of this design. Recessed into the rim of the Reverse, and encasing the overall design, are 64 bullets of 5.56 – NATO Federal Ball rounds that were immensely difficult to manufacture, but reflect small arms or direct action. The soldier and his weapon, that’s what the Reverse’s design all means.
For versions 2 – 5, the TF Dagger Commemorative Challenge Coin comes in a unique presentation box made of stained or red cherry wood. It is emblemized on the lid with the original Task Force Dagger logo in gold leaf. The intent was the TF Dagger logo be the first thing to draw the eye’s attention when the coin is in the box and properly displayed with the Twin Towers facing up. Also when displayed in this manner you can see the bullet tips from the front of the coin.
Two other variants to the TF Dagger Commemorative Challenge Coin were also produced. These represent Allen’s initial attempts to seek designs with high detail, but overseas minters failed to meet his demanding specifications. These coins were minted from a trusted overseas minter who produced two versions. The first overseas version was a limited run of just 30 coins in a brass, copper, and silver design. After completion, the manufacturing dies were destroyed to ensure no possibility of overminting or reproduction could ever be done. These limited coins are smaller in size (approximately 2.39” in diameter) than the larger versions, made of a lighter metal alloy, and the depth of detail reflects the unique differences between overseas mints and those here in the US. These coins will not be minted ever again.
The second overseas version of the TF Dagger Commemorative Challenge Coin was from the same trusted overseas minter, except this is a full color version with only a 150 of these coins produced. As with predecessor, once the production run of the second overseas version was completed, the manufacturing dies were destroyed to protect the coin’s lineage and artists’ design. As before, the second overseas version of the coin is smaller in size (2.39” in diameter) than the collector edition coins, made of a lighter metal alloy, and less depth of detail.
Task Force Dagger Coin Lineage
Other units, some associated to Special Operations, have also utilized the initial Task Force Dagger’s “eagle” design to represent their own involvement in Iran and Afghanistan. These include four versions of 5th SFG “Task Force Legion”‘s CJSOTF-AP & West coins.
Contributions provided by Frank Allen, US Army (Ret). Coordination provided by U.S. Army Maj. Kamil Sztalkoper, Public Affairs Officer, 5th Special Forces Group.
Afghan War News. Task Force Dagger. http://www.afghanwarnews.info/units/task-force-dagger.htm (accessed August 25, 2015).
American Special Ops. Task Force Dagger – Operation Enduring Freedom. http://www.americanspecialops.com/operations/sof-afghanistan/task-force-dagger.php (accessed Aug 25, 2015).
Brooks, Drew. Former Commander of Army Special Operations Moves to CIA. Fayetteville Observer. Jan 9, 2015. http://www.military.com/daily-news/2015/01/09/former-commander-of-army-special-operations-moves-to-cia.html (accessed Sep 9, 2015).
Fallen Graphics. Artist Bio Page – Frank Allen. http://www.fallengraphics.com/index.htm. (accessed Nov 4, 2015).
Global Security. Joint Special Operations Task Force – North (JSOTF-N) (Afghanistan) “Task Force Dagger”. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/agency/dod/jsotf-n-af.htm (accessed Oct 15, 2015).
Gresham, John. Special Operation Forces and Operation Enduring Freedom. Spet 12, 2011. http://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/operation-enduring-freedom-the-first-49-days-2/ (accessed Oct 25, 2015).
PBS. Interviews – Colonel John Mulholland: Campaign Against Terror. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/campaign/interviews/mulholland.html (accessed Sep 9, 2015).