Table of Contents
- The Battle of Roberts’ Ridge
- The Plan Unravels
- End State
In early March 2002, the United States Military established an operational plan to uproot enemy Taliban and al Qaeda fighters that had gathered and embedded themselves in the Shahikot Valley of Eastern Afghanistan. This battle plan involving a “hammer and anvil” style approach proved unsuccessful within the first day, when enemy forces proved to be fiercer then previous intelligence had indicated. Originally planned as a three-day battle, Operation Anaconda turned out to be a seven-day excursion with intense fire fights and multiple U.S. casualties to include eight Killed in Action and over 50 wounded in combat. The operation was terminated on March 18, 2002 17 days after the initial plan was set into motion by United States Military forces. Operation Anaconda was deemed an “absolute and unqualified success,” by Commander General Tommy Franks, USA, (Ret.) (Franks 2004) Many of the problems encountered during Operation Anaconda were corrected so that this issue would not appear during the invasion of Iraq in early 2003.
The Battle of Roberts’ Ridge
In mid-January 2002, U.S. forces received intel reports suggesting the enemy was assembling in the Shahikot Valley. Using the natural features provided by the surrounding mountains, the enemy began to regroup its forces after its earlier defeat against the U.S. military. As military officials contemplated an assault on the valley, they faced major setbacks due to lack of intel on the number of enemy fighters and weaponry located within the mountainous terrain and valley. After SOFs conducted reconnaissance missions for teams to get a better understanding of the valley, early reports indicated there were likely 200-300 enemy fighters using light weaponry, this report would later prove to be inaccurate, as the number of fighters would total between 700-1000. Officials used this information to generate a battle plan needed to secure the Shahikot Valley, they contemplated that the enemy already defeated from past conflicts with military forces, would not put up much resistance when faced with overwhelming fire power once more.
Hammer and Anvil
Three weeks prior to the assault on the Shahikot Valley. Task Force Mountain and subordinate units carefully developed a battle plan necessary to secure the valley from opposing enemy fighters. Attention to detail was needed in order to successfully accomplish Operation Anaconda as this battle involved a multitude of moving pieces. The operation itself would end up being the biggest operational battle of the Afghanistan war. It was stated in the Operation Anaconda case study as, “U.S. military planners conceived the idea of surrounding the Shahikot Valley with several concentric rings that would block enemy entrance to and exit from the valley. The outer rings were to be composed of U.S. SOF, friendly Afghan troops, and Special forces from Australia and several other participating nations.” (Kugler 12) The day prior, several SOF teams were to establish themselves on the high ground at the northern and southern ends of the valley, enabling them to see the valley’s entirety. There, they were to observe the arrival of U.S. and friendly Afghan troops and provide visual identification of targets for air strikes. On the day the plan was to be executed, SOFs were to drive along the road and enter the valley from the south, Task Force Hammer was to advance across the valley floor to engage and destroy or capture the enemy, while Task Force Rakkasans was to act as an “anvil” by establishing seven blocking positions on the eastern mountain bordering Pakistan. Military planners would regard this successful interaction of both the hammer and anvil as, “critical to a victorious outcome.” (Kugler 13)
The Plan Unravels
Operation Anaconda began unraveling the moment it was set into motion on March 2nd when Afghan fighters and SOFs were scheduled to arrive at the Shahikot Valley. Prior to troops arrive to the valley, bombers were scheduled to attack at least 13 targets. However, as they began their bombings, they received a message to cease fire due to friendly troop endangerment. This cease fire meant only one-half of the targets would be bombed. Afghan troops who were escorted by SOFs that were supposed to enter the valley and engage the enemy in order to gain control of the battle field maneuvered toward the valley and began taking contact from the enemy, this firefight proved to much for the Afghan troops and they retreated to their original base located 18 miles from the Valley where they were supposed to assist the U.S. Coalition forces. As the fight raged on problems continued to rise for the U.S. Troops as the bombings conducted earlier were not enough to subdue the Taliban and al Qaeda forces located within the mountain. As the battle pressed on U.S. Troops encountered mass enemy fighters, hell bent on preventing coalition forces from gaining control of Shahikot Valley. As Task Force Mountain rejected abandoning the valley, they switched to a new plan of massing air fires and support of the allied positions. With the help of the U.S. air force and close air support, the coalition forces were able to turn the tides of the battle using sheer aerial fire power. within the valley’s eastern side. This adaptation would later prove to be the key to winning the battle.
As General Franks stated, “Operation Anaconda was a success. Although its initial battle plan failed to survive contact with the enemy, it achieved success by performing tactical adaptation under fire.” (Kugler 20) This operation showed the importance and value of joint planning with the air force, and that in the future, ground forces would need to be well-armed when conducting a wide array of operations.