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Lessons Learned in Operation Anaconda

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Operation Anaconda took place in Afghanistan in March of 2002; the goal was to eliminate the Taliban and Al-Qaeda who were in the Shahikot Valley. The operation involved two separated offensives that were ‘Hammer and Anvil,’ in which the Task Force Hammers’ objective was to ‘advance across the valley floor—called ‘Objective Remington”—and engage enemy forces and destroy or capture them” (Kugler, 2007, p. 12). Also, the Task Force Anvil’s objectives were to establish blocking positions to stop the Taliban and Al-Qaeda from fleeing. The Operation was supposed to span a total of three days; however, due to mishaps, it increased to sixteen days. The mission inevitably was a success and lessons would be learned to prevent future mishaps from occurring. In this paper, I will discuss all six principles of mission command and how they relate to Operation Anaconda, and if they were or were not successfully implemented. The six principles of mission command are to build cohesive teams through mutual trust, create shared understanding, provide a clear commander’s intent, exercise disciplined initiative, use mission orders, and accept prudent risk.

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Army Doctrine Reference Publication (ADRP) 6-0 states, “There are few shortcuts to gaining the trust of others. Developing trust takes time, and it must be earned” (‘Mission Command,’ 2012, p. 19). In any operation, building cohesive teams through mutual trust is essential to the accomplishment of a mission, yet building trust in a team takes time and effort. Nevertheless, according to our case study, the building of a cohesive team did not occur for two reasons, which include a lack of time to fully train and build the trust with the Pushtun militia—who were under the command of a warlord named Zia Lodin—and the armed forces were not at a hundred percent. In regards to my first reason, special operation forces (SOF) had limited time to train the militia as it was stated within this quote: “normally, a period of two or three months is required to train such units to the point where they can perform complex combat operations. The time available for training was less than that: only a month or so” (Kugler, 2007, p. 11). Therefore, this resulted in Zia Lodin and the Pushtun militia to retreat when combat intensified due to time constraints given to SOF to train up the militia and to build a solid relationship. In addition, as stated within ‘ADRP 6-22: Army Leadership’ (2012), training of the militia requires additional time due to cultural differences as it is presented within the quote: “Forming effective, cohesive teams is often the first challenge of a leader working outside a traditional command structure. These teams usually form from disparate groups unfamiliar with military customs and culture” (p. 46). Relevant to my second reason, lacking full troop strength hinders any combat operation from developing a strong relationship and, according to our case study, ‘General Hagenbeck with only one-half of his normal division headquarters, neither of his assistant division commanders, and only a single infantry battalion for operations in Afghanistan” (Kugler, 2007, pg. 8).

According to ‘ADRP 6-0: Mission Command’ (2012), to “create shared understanding” is defined as a “shared understanding of their operational environment, the operation’s purpose, problems, and approaches to solving them’ (p. 20). In this operation, “create shared understanding” was not established early on because Operation Anaconda was only expected to initially last three days but instead ended up lasting sixteen days. The lack of shared understanding also involved views on how the politicians in Washington perceived Operation Anaconda playing out, which was quite swiftly. This quote outlines their perspective by stating, ‘…the buildup was constrained by Washington’s desire to keep a relatively low military profile to prevent the appearance that a massive, Soviet style occupation was taking place’ (Kugler, 2007, pg. 9). Trying to keep a “low profile,” as well as a lack of reliable intelligence and past successful offenses in Afghanistan, was likely the cause of the overconfidence within the leadership and the politicians.

‘ADRP 6-0: Mission Command’ (2012) states, “The commander’s intent is a clear and concise expression of the purpose of the operation and the desired military end state that supports mission command” (p. 21). During the initial planning phases of planning Operation Anaconda, we are aware that there were going to be many moving pieces and possible involvement with forces from Afghanistan. In preparation for the event of facing those forces, there was clear guidance on how the operations were to play out in defeating the remaining Taliban and Al-Qaeda located in the Shahikot Valley. The roles of U.S. Forces were stated by Kugler (2007): “…rely upon friendly Afghan soldiers to enter the valley floor and perform the arresting: they were judged better able than U.S. troops to separate al Qaeda fighters from innocent civilians. The role of U.S. ground troops was to block escape routes created by narrow passageways through the mountains on the valley’s eastern side” (p. 12).

As stated by ‘ADRP 6-0: Mission Command’ (2012), Exercise disciplined initiative is “…action in the absence of orders, when existing orders no longer fit the situation, or when unforeseen opportunities or threats arise’ (p. 22). Exercising disciplined initiative was accomplished in this operation due to, as stated within this quote, ‘were also reinforced by the two Apaches that previously had not been committed. During the first day of Anaconda, they repeated this pattern several times, continuously returning to the battle to fire several hundred cannon rounds and rockets, plus a Hellfire missile. Their presence helped save many American lives” (Kugler, 2007, p. 16). The main point was that additional Apaches were allocated without direct orders to provide close air support.

According to ADRP 6-0 Missions orders, ‘Commanders use mission orders to assign tasks, allocate resources, and issue broad guidance. Mission orders are directives that emphasize to subordinates the results be attained, not how they are to achieve them” (DA, 2012a, para 2-20). This facet of mission command was exercised by the allocation of vehicles outlined in this quote: ‘U.S. SOF forces trained Zia troops for the battle, assembled sufficient trucks and vehicles to drive them to the valley” (Kugler, 2007, pg. 15). As well as establishing activities assigned for helicopters in Operation Anaconda as stated in this quote: “Meanwhile, U.S. forces practiced helicopter lift and transit operations, established helicopter landing zones and refueling points, and flew in large amounts of fuel, ammo, and other stocks in order to keep Operation Anaconda properly supplied” (Kugler, 2007, pg. 17).

During Operation Anaconda, the prudent risk was exercised, and on many occasions, it was used. A prudent risk is as stated: “a deliberate exposure to potential injury or loss when the commander judges the outcome in terms of mission accomplishment as worth the cost’ (DA, 2012a, para 2-24). The Apache was vital in saving many soldiers lives and as stated received large amount of small arms fire stated in this quote: “where inspection showed that all of them had been hit by multiple enemy bullets” (Kugler, 2007, pg. 16). Also, another example is the Zia militia was not experienced in dealing with the fierce experienced combat faced in Operation Anaconda and still were sent on the mission as stated in this quote: “lacked experience in big battles. Individually, the Afghan fighters were familiar with infantry weapons, and many had seen guerilla combat before” (Kugler, 2007, pg. 11).

In closing, Operation Anaconda was an operation where our politics had an impact on properly equipping our soldiers with the adequate gear and support needed to accomplish their mission. Despite the deficiencies, the mission was a success, but there is much to learn from this Operation Anaconda. What we can take from Operation Anaconda is the importance of implementing all six principles of mission command, which are: Build cohesive teams through mutual trust, create shared understanding, Provide a clear commander’s intent, Exercise disciplined initiative, Use mission orders, Accept prudent risk. Following all six principles of mission command is essential to mission success, in the cases the operations does not go as planned, we can learn from our mishaps and teach others to prevent this from occurring in the future.

References

  1. U.S. Department of the Army. (2012a). ADRP 6-0, Mission command. Retrieved from https://armypubs.army.mil/epubs/DR_pubs/DR_a/pdf/web/adrp6_0.pdf
  2. U.S. Department of the Army. (2012b). ADRP 6-22, Army leadership. Retrieved from
  3. https://armypubs.army.mil/epubs/DR_pubs/DR_a/pdf/web/adrp6_22.pdf
  4. Kugler, R. (2007). Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan. A case study of adaptation in battle. Retrieved from https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a463075.pdf
  5. Notes:
  6. *For the introduction, be sure to write a new sentence at the end to help conclude the paragraph well.
  7. *According to the article written by Kugler, Zia Lodin was the name of a warlord who commanded the Pushtun militia. Be careful when you are writing about him because that wasn’t the name of the militia.
  8. *In ‘Build Cohesive Teams through Mutual Trust’ and ‘Provide a Commander’s Clear Intent,’ a new sentence should be added at the end of both sections to help conclude the paragraphs well.
  9. *In ‘Exercise Disciplined Initiative,’ be sure to also write a new sentence at the end to help conclude the paragraph well.   

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