Table of Contents
Operation Anaconda was an excellent example of the ability to adapt to changing situations with limited personnel, resources and talent by U.S. and joint forces working together in a rugged and unique battlespace to defeat an unconventional enemy in their homeland. Following the events of Tora Bora in which coalition forces were unsuccessful in capturing Osama bin Landen because they failed to properly close off exit routes. Many of the enemy forces and key commanders were able to escape. U.S. and joint forces were determined to not let history repeat itself. The Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) Mountain was commanded by Major General Franklin L. Hagenbeck, Commanding General of the US Army 10th Mountain Division and aimed to destroy Taliban and al-Qaida forces in the valley of Shah-i-kot within Afghanistan in response to reports of Taliban and al-Qaida massing in the area and on March 2, 2002 the operation began (Major Fleri, Ernest, Hukill, & Searle, 2003). Although operation Anaconda is generally viewed as a victory by joint forces over their adversary, there are numerous issues that arise with the overall organizational management of the operation, specifically in the areas of organizing, staffing, and directing.
An overall chain of command for operations throughout Afghanistan was established. Central Command (CENTCOM) commanded by General Tommy Franks served as the designated supported commander for all operation that were occurring in Afghanistan however, the headquarters was kept located at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida. CENTCOM did have a forward deployed Air Force component headquarters established at Prince Sultan Airbase, Suadi Arabia commanded by Lieutenant General Michael T. Mosley the Combined Force Air Component Commander. CENTCOM’s naval component was stationed in Bahrain. The Combined Force Land Component Commander (CFLCC) Lieutenant General Paul Mikolashek and headquarters was located in Camp Doha, Kuwait. The Combined Forces Land Component Commander (CFLCC) Major General Hagenbeck and headquarters was located at Bargram Airbase, Afghanistan (Major Fleri e. a., 2003). The physical dispersion of commands as well as the delegation of responsibilities and ultimately who command authorities had to answer to would play a pivotal role in Operation Anacondas organizational management. CJTF Mountain had Tactical Control (TACON) of some but not all special operations forces, they were Joint Special Operations Task Force (JSOTF) North Dagger and South K-Bar as well as Australian Special Operations Force, Task Force (TF) 64 and Operational Control of TF Rakkasan but had no control over the air component (Major Fleri e. a., 2003). Further highlighting the difficulties being encountered from the inception of Operation Anaconda was that initial planning efforts for dealing with the enemy forces went to TF Dagger however, eleven days prior to execution those responsibilities were handed over to CJTF Mountain (Major Lyle, 2009). Organizational efforts for Operation Anaconda were numerous and at critical moments before during and throughout the operation were unclear, and poorly communicated. Changing the planners of Operation Anaconda with so few days until the execution put strain on an already dispersed and undermanned staff.
Prior to Operation Anaconda CJTF Mountain was already conducting operations in three other areas of responsibility. CJTF Mountain had only about fifty percent of the personnel normally assigned to their headquarters staff (Kugler, Baranick, & Binnendijk, 2009). The staff that TF Mountain did deploy had a myriad of issues, key personnel were rotated out of position which brought in inexperienced staff. It failed to do deploy with capabilities that let them effectively communicate with higher headquarters. The intelligence collection was poor which led to inaccurate assumptions and threat models. CJTF Mountain did not initially have an Air Support Operations Center (ASOC). The three person ASOC cell did not arrive until the day the operation order was published. However, it was too late to offer the air component’s expertise to the plan. Additionally, the ASOC deployed without their communications equipment (Isherwood, 2007). All of these factors translated into unfavorable conditions on various objectives for Operation Anaconda. Pre-planned fires that were to soften targets and allow air assaults were supposed to last for forty minutes on over twenty targets, yet those fires only lasted for roughly one minute and hit approximately twelve targets, this placed maneuver elements under excessive risk as they entered into the Shahi-kot Valley. The enemy’s assumed actions on contact of not going full force on force were inaccurate, instead of running the enemy fired on friendly forces from the tunnel system in the mountains with not only small arms fire but indirect capabilities as well. Ground Force Commanders had a hard time calling for close air support because of the ambiguous explanation for the rules of engagement for its use. The undermanned staffing and the constraints of information inflow from on scene elements to higher command would also have an adverse effect on directing as well.
CJTF Mountain leaders and staff initially had a difficult time with the directing function of management as it relates to communicating during Operation Anaconda. During the initial bombing a JSOTF called that had not called up its presence with CJTF Mountain radioed for the bombardment to stop because of proximity to the impacts. Additionally, an AC-130 gunship that was supporting Operation Anaconda was ignorant of the plan and fired on the main attack force of 200 hundred friendly Afghan fighters that were being brought in with another JSOTF (Andres & Hukill, 2007). The Afghan fighter who had only been brought in on the mission at the last possible moment retreated and gaining communications with and bringing them back into the fight proved to be difficult for leaders. Another example of difficulties that CJTF Mountain faced in the communications and directing of Operation Anaconda was the numerous Black Special Operations Forces (SOF), Other Government Agencies (OGA), and Non-Government Agencies (NGA) that were operating within CJTF Mountain’s area of responsibility. CJTF Mountain had no control or communication with these elements and they had no reporting requirements to CJTF Mountain however, these Black SOF, OGA, and NGA elements commonly used the same aviation assets that the conventional elements were using during Operation Anaconda.
Operation Anaconda was the largest and final battle of the initial phase of operations in Afghanistan. Marred by a flawed organizational management process. Specifically in the areas of organizing, staffing, and directing. Which led to difficulties that occurred over the first few days of the battle. Despite these considerations CJTF Mountain was still able to neutralize approximately 800 enemy combatants and disrupt Taliban and al-Qaida forces within the region.