Exploring Operation Anaconda’s Fail

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One of the main features of effective team building is the use of competent, cohesive leadership and the ability of each participant to work as part of a group. On integrating these two characteristics, truly successful teams are born, regardless of which area of human endeavor the work takes place. This study will show that team building is significant in military-strategic operations, where leadership, soldier dedication and determination, and having a shared vision of mission goals and objectives are essential. In particular, the military operation Anaconda is offered for discussion as a demonstration of the imperfection of teamwork — the case study will show the consequences to which a lack of basic mission management principles can lead. A set of six principles is used, each of which will be discussed in the sections below, namely having mutual trust, creating a common understanding, clear goal-setting on the part of the leader, allowing initiative and taking reasonable risks, and following leadership instructions.

Brief Background

Operation Anaconda was a strategic military mission undertaken by a team of international soldiers and commanders led by the U.S. Army against the terrorist forces in Afghanistan. Many are well aware that in 2002, in response to the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. military organized an international coalition whose goal was to eliminate the terrorist masterminds of the mass deaths and destruction of shopping malls (Caruso, 2019). This operation exemplified one of the most global wars against terrorism in human history and al-Qaida. The impetus for the offensive was information from the coalition’s intelligence forces that al-Qaida was preparing a series of new attacks, probably even more violent and massive than 9/11 was at the time. Consequently, the coalition was assembled on short notice to provide a preemptive strike against the terrorist group and ensure the national security of former al-Qaida interests.

In terms of organizational management, the coalition was assembled from the United States, Australia, Canada, and parts of Europe, including France, Germany, Norway, and Denmark, but the U.S. army represented the bulk of the armed forces. On the other side of the battlefield was the alliance of the terrorist forces of Al Qaeda in alliance with the Taliban, who are now politically dominant in the territory of Afghanistan. Thus the armed coalition team was international, multilingual, and composed of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

The initial plan for Operation Anaconda was to introduce several hundred Afghan government troops, also members of the coalition, into the valley where the terrorists were stationed as a symbol of the Asian country’s willingness to counter the domestic threat actively. The U.S. Army should have blocked all exits from the valley so that the terrorists had no escape route; the situation became much more complicated, and coalition commanders had to improvise. With the deployment of additional aircraft, coalition forces managed to destroy the enemy, but the deaths were caused by ignoring the importance of mission control and command and control. In particular, there were at least fifteen deaths on the coalition side, and more than 150 soldiers were seriously wounded. Moreover, we should not ignore the importance of developing post-traumatic syndrome and warriors, the results of which probably still plague the happy lives of those involved in the operation to this day.

Having Mutual Trust

One of the basic principles of effective teamwork is trust. However, trust is the basis not only for vertical relationships but also for horizontal ones. Thus, in Operation Anaconda, serious miscalculations were made in building trust relationships, which were the reason for the severe losses in the first days. The international coalition leadership used intelligence from Afghan government leaders who underestimated the power of the terrorist group — which is why the initial plan to encircle the perpetrators in the valley did not materialize (Douglas et al., 2017). It is unclear why the Afghan authorities did not give complete information to the coalition leadership. There was probably a lack of trust because the Afghan government probably decided not to trust the coalition completely and provided only the information that would be useful to intensify counterterrorism efforts inside the country. Afghanistan may have been pursuing strictly self-interest rather than the interest of the international alliance, which led to a severe problem when coalition forces came face to face with al-Qaida.

It is fair to say that trust existed between soldiers from different countries, which motivated them to fight. Typically, when coalitions are formed in an emergency mode, there is not enough time for the governments of different countries to conduct thorough training battles; consequently, the wars hardly know each other. Nevertheless, the coalition has fought the terrorists well, side by side, despite ethnic and geopolitical conflicts. It is the trust that a man in the uniform of the coalition armed forces is an ally that has led to the ability to rely on each other during a military operation and work as a team.

Common Understanding

Any team must understand why they are working in the first place and what the purpose is. For Operation Anaconda, the primary goal, the global fight against al-Qaida terrorist forces, was evident, and so soldiers actively joined the coalition and were willing to give their lives for the noble humanistic goal. However, the local goals were not always clear to soldiers, much less the consequences. In his address to the Senate, former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker said, “the first is to be careful about what you get into” (Crocker, 2021, para. 2). This seemingly trivial tenet reflects a fundamental problem that coalition forces were unprepared for. Fighting terrorism was only a general goal, but hardly any of the army commanders and trainers informed the soldiers of the consequences they would have to live with in the future. In particular, this applies to a post-traumatic stress disorder, which becomes an integral part of the lives of soldiers and civilians who have gone through combat. Statistics do not report how common this phenomenon was among participants in Operation Anaconda, but given the total number of soldiers and the severity of the battles fought, it seems that this must be a prevalent consequence.

Promoting a common understanding is the immediate responsibility of the leading force. Although it is reported that the commander of the entire mission was constantly sharing information with colleagues to create a communication of understanding of the entire strategy and even used evaluation techniques to measure progress and speed of operations, it seems that this data was embellished (Douglas et al., 2017). There is evidence showing severe reticence and conflicts within the leadership of the entire coalition that were not resolved (Saucedo, 2020). Such problems created a lack of shared understanding, resulting in not all missions within the operation being cohesive and many of the actions being duplicated.

Clear Goal Setting

As a result of unresolved aspects of the military mission and the need to address all issues urgently, even the leaders of Operation Anaconda may not have fully understood all areas of the military operation. The convoluted chain of command did not allow for a clear sense of purpose; a single inspirational leader who could communicate common and local goals to each soldier was absent. The inability to agree among coalition leaders and find a common strategic language led to tragic consequences and unpreparedness to confront the enemy on the ground. It must be acknowledged that when the basis for military action is improvisation, all the more so when it is carried out within a failed consensus, such a situation is not successful for a strategically planned operation and reflects a lack of clear intent and purpose on the part of the leadership.

Opportunity to Show Initiative and Take Reasonable Risk

Despite the need for careful planning, each team member should have some freedom to take the initiative. The initiative does not always succeed, but the fact that it is possible is critical, especially when it comes to improvised combat scenes. A study of the history of military operations demonstrates a large number of decisions that were based on personal initiative. This is true of Britt Slabinski, who voluntarily decided to change the course of a mission to save one of his subordinates, and John Chapman, who made his own decision to refuse to evacuate enemy territory and fought against a dozen terrorists (The Pentagon Auditorium, 2018; Szoldra, 2018). Such examples demonstrate that the initiative was spread among coalition soldiers. Such instances can hardly be called a healthy risk, as soldiers died due to such initiatives; nevertheless, they were inspiring examples of honor and courage for their fellow soldiers. Even years later, Americans remember the reliability of the American military. Their being awarded national Army decorations demonstrates that the U.S. Army leadership encourages initiative. However, there is no authentic record of how the leadership treated the initiatives of those soldiers, offered opinions that conflicted with the general idea, and spoke out against the commander. Ideas of healthy risk-taking, in general, may have been prevalent in an impromptu environment, as local leaders and soldiers were constantly required to make decisions on the spot. It is conceivable that coalition commanders used risk during the discussion of overall strategy, and relying on intelligence was the manifestation of that healthy risk, as Crocker’s monologue (2021) suggests. However, such risk does not always lead to positive results, and the coalition’s unpreparedness for heavy fighting in the early days demonstrated this.

Fulfilling the Management Instructions

Finally, a final tenet of mission management is the requirement to unconditionally execute leadership commands, even if subordinates seem to disagree. Even with all the problems the coalition faced, the army did not run away from obstacles but actively resisted terrorists on the improvised battlefield (Cordesman, 2004). On the other hand, sources report that some coalition soldiers deserted even before engaging in combat, an essential indication of the possibility of disobedience to the leadership and overall strategy. In other words, the possibility of voluntary disobedience of leadership orders was probably present in Operation Anaconda, even though the soldiers were generally disciplined.


Caruso, D. (2019). Operation Anaconda: America’s first major battle in Afghanistan [PDF document]. Web.

Cordesman, A. H. (2004). The ongoing lessons of Afghanistan [PDF document]. Web.

Crocker, R. (2021). Afghanistan 2001-2021: U.S. policy lessons learned. CEI. Web.

Douglas, C., McBride Jr., M., & Snell, R. L. (2017). Applying mission command to overcome challenges. US Army. Web.

The Pentagon Auditorium. (2018). In honor of master chief Britt K. Slabinski, United States navy, retired [PDF document]. Web.

Saucedo, Y. A. (2020). The principles of mission command in operation of Anaconda. Doctrines of God Monergistic Agora. Web.

Szoldra, P. (2018). John Chapman died alone on a mountaintop fighting Al Qaeda. Now he’s getting the medal of honor. Task and Purpose. Web.

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