Operation Anaconda as a Key Point of War in Afghanistan

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Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Building Cohesive Teams Through Mutual Trust
  • Creating Shared Understanding
  • Providing a Clear Commander’s Intent
  • Exercise Disciplined Initiative
  • Use Mission Orders
  • Accept Prudent Risk


Even though Operation ANACONDA was declared an “absolute and unqualified success” by Commander General Tommy Franks, USA, (Ret.), the original battle plan “didn’t survive first contact with the enemy” (Kugler, 2007, p. 1). Even though the original plan fell apart on first contact, it showcased how adaptive U.S. and coalition forces could be to achieve victory. Despite Operation ANACONDA violating the mission command principle of building cohesive teams through mutual trust by lacking unity of command, it managed to achieve victory, albeit, not on the planned timeline. This paper will analyze Operation ANACONDA’s adherence to the six principles of mission command.

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Building Cohesive Teams Through Mutual Trust

Mutual trust is shared confidence amongst all parties involved and it is gained or lost through daily interaction. Effective commanders build teams within their own organization and with unified action partners through interpersonal relationships (Odierno, 2012, pp. 2-2). General Hagenback had zero command authority over the friendly Afghan force that worked with Task Force Dagger. “…was no guarantee that friendly Afghan forces would perform the roles assigned to them in the U.S. battle plan. Because they were not commanded by General Hagenback or Task Force Dagger, the friendly Afghan forces had the freedom to depart from the original plan if, in their judgement, circumstances so dictated” (Kugler, 2007, p. 9). The consequences of this lack of cohesion amongst the teams caused the Afghani forces to fail to carry out their mission of being the “hammer” in the planned “hammer and anvil” attack. When the Afghanis left the battlefield it cut the number of coalition forces in half and jeopardized the operation.

Creating Shared Understanding

A crucial obstacle for commanders staffs, and unified action partners is “creating shared understanding of their operational environment, the operation’s purpose, problems, and approaches to solving them” (Odierno, 2012, pp. 2-2). There was not enough coordination between land and air components at all levels of planning. Most of Operation ANACONDA was planned in the first half of February 2002, the air component did not have its full planning resources involved until the last week of that month (Operation Anaconda An Air Power Perspective, 2005, p. 114). General Moseley stated “if you exclude a component from the planning and you exclude a component that will provide a preponderance of support, logistic and kinetic, then you will have to live with the outcome of this not playing out very well” (Operation Anaconda An Air Power Perspective, 2005, p. 114). One of the problems that arose during Close Air Support (CAS) effort was command relationships. Task Force Mountain were the main requestors of CAS but Combined Forces Air Component Commander (CFACC) and Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) initially were in command authority for all strike sorties (Kugler, 2007, p. 18). If CFACC and CAOC were brought in on the initial stages of planning, the log jam of kinetic strike requests would have been more manageable and efficient. The Air Task Order (ATO) for 3 March 2002 listed 27 of 66 planned strike sorties not dropping ordnance. Numerous pilots recorded “did not drop” during all phases of the operation (Operation Anaconda An Air Power Perspective, 2005, p. 116).

Providing a Clear Commander’s Intent

Commander’s intent is a coherent and succinct statement of the purpose of the operation and desired military end state (Odierno, 2012, pp. 2-3). U.S. military planners hatched a plan of surrounding the Shahikot Valley with several concentric rings that would bar enemy access to and egress from the valley. The actual assault on the valley would take the form of a “hammer and anvil” plan. The goal was the root out enemy Taliban and al Qaeda forces that had gathered in the valley (Kugler, 2007, p. 1). Using this clear commander’s intent, the soldiers of Task Force Hammer adapted from taking up blocking positions and transitioned to directly engaging with the enemy. “But at every level, U.S. and coalition personnel quickly overcame their surprise and responded effectively to the new enemy challenge (Major Fleri, Colonel Howard, Hukill, & Searle, 2003, p. 22)

Exercise Disciplined Initiative

Exercising initiative create opportunities by taking action to develop a situation. Disciplined initiative is action in the absence of orders, when existing orders no longer fit the situation (Odierno, 2012, pp. 2-4). Because the plans for Operation ANACONDA did not survive first contact with the enemy, subordinates had to quickly adapt to meet the commander’s intent by taking initiative in a dynamic environment. “[T]he Anaconda battle plan underwent a major adaptation. Task Force Mountain rejected the idea of abandoning the offensive and withdrawing U.S. troops from the valley. Instead, it switched from its original hammer-and-anvil focus to embrace a new plan that emphasized the massing of air fires in support of U.S. Army positions on the valley’s eastern sides. This adaptation proved to be the key to winning the battle” (Kugler, 2007, p. 17). This initiative and adaptation while keeping the commander’s intent in mind was instrumental to winning the battle.

Use Mission Orders

The use of mission orders is to assign tasks, allocate resources, and issue broad guidance. These are directives that emphasize to subordinates the results to be attained (Odierno, 2012, pp. 2-4). The goal [of Operation ANACONDA] was the root out enemy Taliban and al Qaeda forces that had gathered in the valley (Kugler, 2007, p. 1). Task Force Hammer was to function as the “hammer” of the battleplan. Its mission was to advance across the valley floor—called “Objective Remington”—and engage enemy forces and destroy or capture them (Kugler, 2007, p. 12) . This broad guidance allowed the Special Operations Forces (SOF) the choice to use a vehicle convoy to move to an assault on the Shahikot Valley.

Accept Prudent Risk

Deliberate exposure to potential injury or loss when a commander decides the end state in terms of accomplishing the mission is worth the cost is prudent risk. Over the next two weeks, bombers, fighters, helicopters and AC-130 gunships delivered close air support (CAS) into the postage-stamp size battle area measuring about 8 nautical miles (nm) x 8 nm. Deconfliction and coordination of this “fire support” proved challenging with friendly troops and controllers in a small area. In the air, funneling the strikes in was just as intense, and strike aircraft reported several near misses as one pulled up from an attack run while another rolled onto the target (Operation Anaconda An Air Power Perspective, 2005, p. 6). With the tight airspace crowding strike aircraft closer together than ever before, many of the aircrews had hair-raising stories to tell about near misses (Operation Anaconda An Air Power Perspective, 2005, p. 67). These pilots accepted prudent risk to deliver lifesaving bombing runs to protect friendly troops from enemy fire.

Operation ANACONDA was ultimately a success. The original plan did not survive first contact with the enemy, but coalition force’s ability to adapt under fire was able to secure victory. Examining how the six principles of mission command were applied revealed shortcomings some aspects as well as success others. The six principles of mission command should be used as a touchstone in mission planning to avoid mission failure.

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