The Plan and Execution of Operation Anaconda

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Table of Contents

  • Operation Anaconda Joint Planning
  • Planning
  • Fighting Power
  • Centralized Fight
  • Execution
  • Orders
  • Communication
  • Conclusion

Operation Anaconda Joint Planning

In the spring of 2002 in Afghanistan, Operation Anacondas outcome was labeled a “success.” The conflict was a joint effort in defeating al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Later findings revealing there was a lack in communication and unreliable intelligence used for planning formulation. This “quick conflict” ended being longer than expected and exposed the issues with the joint planning process.


In Shahi Kot valley Afghanistan, the southeastern villages of Khowst and Gardez, intelligence reports provided there were serval hundred al-Qaeda and Taliban forces disguised among the civilians in the villages and hiding in caves in the surrounding mountains. To included concentration of high ranking enemy forces that had escaped Iraq. With the present information the initial planning process was formulated and this operation would now be known as Operation ANACONDA. To ensure the enemy did not get ahold of plans in regards to the operation from the local villagers or friendly Afghan forces the plan was to only let those on a “need to know.” Until time of execution they would let the friendly forces know. Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) MOUNTAIN planned for the enemy forces to escape through the mountains during the invasion. Strategically placing blocking positions and friendly forces behind to capture those that might have slipped through so there won’t be any to escape to the boarding countries (Fleri, Howard, Hukill, & Searle, 2003).” When CJTF MOUNTAIN was designated it developed for joint operations.

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Fighting Power

Operation ANACONDA utilized multiple task forces to conduct maneuvers by air and land. U.S. fighting power at this time consisted of the infantry with small arms, mortars and fixed wings but lacked artillery, armored vehicles, etc. (Fleri, Howard, Hukill, & Searle, 2003). Both Air Control Element (ACE) and Combined Force Air Component Commander (CFACC) suggested starting with airstrikes before the ground attacks which was very common during this time. CJTF MOUNTAIN Commanders focus was on ensuring the enemies could not escape this attack as they have done before, so there priority was to block passageways from all ends of the valley. Objective Remington would use small special reconnaissance (SR) teams a few days prior to the attack leaving air attacks into the bunkers in the mountains as last resort to preserve enemy documents.

Centralized Fight

Before 2002 decentralized planning and execution was used in the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) area. Operation ANACONDA was one of the first centralized fighting operations that consisted of various air and land components. Centralized as “geographically concentrated large conventional ground force operations (Fleri, Howard, Hukill, & Searle, 2003).” Numerous Task Forces (TF), Special Operations Forces (SOF), and coalition forces had to work collaboratively to make their plan come together.


The first assumption of hundred enemy forces in the Shahi Kot valley was incorrect intelligence provided by higher echelons. Only to find that the numbers were drastically exaggerated after the fight. General Zia Lodin’s in charge of the Afghan friendly forces under TF DAGGER was in charge to take his troops to attack and block a few hours prior to the assault. Afraid that information would be leaked to the enemy General Zia Lodin was briefed last minute to “enhance operational security (Fleri, Howard, Hukill, & Searle, 2003).” General Zia Lodin’s troops ran into the heavy fire, got stuck on roads acquiring casualties then eventually having to turn back. With fighting positions well placed in the mountains the enemy did not run. Al-Qaeda and other Taliban combatants showed they were staying to fight, prepared with a various weapons systems and supply of ammunition. The enemy had planned and prepared the resources to hold their ground.


TF MOUNTAIN was not formulated for joint operations. In the concept of operations (CONOPS) lacked details for the joint services (Fleri, Howard, Hukill, & Searle, 2003). Combines Air Operations Center (CAOC) received an email with the operations order (OPORD) from TF MOUNTAIN, February 20, 2002 with only four lines for the Combined Force Air Component Commander (CFACC) for air support and lift (Fleri, Howard, Hukill, & Searle, 2003). Only to be briefed five days later via telephone to execute for “D-Day” on February 28, 2002 (Fleri, Howard, Hukill, & Searle, 2003). Giving the forces a diminutive time to read and execute with less than two weeks.


With the multiple CJTF executing the mission, caused confusion with the channels of communication. Helicopters from the Army were using line-of-sight radios, who often had a hard time communicating with ground elements due to the terrain, CFTF headquarters could only communicate on satellite communications (SATCOM) with the forces in the Shahi Kot valley from Bagram and there were a high level or radio traffic due to reports (Fleri, Howard, Hukill, & Searle, 2003). The forces were not able to communicate with one another. This left plenty of room for frustration due to assets being utilized in the same space (air and land).


Planning with exaggerated intelligence rushed the planning process for operation ANACONDA. The few hundreds of al-Qaeda and Taliban hiding in the caves were nowhere to be found when the attack was over. From the time data was provided until the time of execution was less than 100 days with decentralized elements over CENTCOM. Forces identified to take the lead in this endeavor was not experienced to plan and execute in the joint environment. From the beginning operation ANACONDA had a flawed planning process that reflected in combat.

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