Mission Command Principles in Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan


In its classical sense, war is an armed confrontation where each side wants to gain an advantage. At the same time, during a military intervention, war, mission, or operation, each participant is attempting to survive. It is significant to observe that when an army intervention begins, its obligatory components are violence, death, chaos, disorder, and uncertainty. Accordingly, eight soldiers were killed during the Anaconda Operation, and over 80 were wounded (Carlisle, 2022, p. 43). In order to minimize army casualties, the operation’s management and the commander’s role are critical.

The operation’s commander is responsible for its progress and success and, therefore, should consider the attitude of a general understanding of the team. That is, the commander’s ability during Operation Anaconda to consolidate forces, demonstrate a clear plan, and show initiative. However, soldier competence and trust within the team are also necessary, which is why applying the principle requires detailed consideration in Operation Anaconda. It is this principle that contributes to reducing chaos and increasing military motivation. The next principle to be analyzed is risk acceptance. This is because the leader should assess the fundamental capabilities of the soldiers and management to identify weaknesses that need to be addressed. Thus, the goal of commanders is to organize mission control with the principles of commands of the operation. Hence, it is essential that the principles of shared understanding, competence, and acceptance of risk were applied in the execution of Operation Anaconda, but the joined forces did not always use them successfully.

Shared Understanding

It is significant to emphasize that the first challenge for the commander of a large-scale, troop-intensive operation is to create a common understanding within the team. Operation Anaconda is an example of a demonstration of cooperation between different nations and their militaries. A shared understanding of the operation’s objectives ensured mutual trust and data sharing during the mission. For example, in the early planning phases of the operation, General Mikolaszek, General Gagenbeck, and General Franks had problems communicating information, which is why they could not create a common understanding of the operation (Carlisle, 2022). This was due to the fact that the generals did not have joint command of the Special Operations Forces, and each was responsible for their part of the assignment. This adversely affected the speed and efficiency of information exchange, and accordingly, it was decided to elect General Franks as the head of the force (Carlisle, 2022). In this way, the mission participants demonstrated the principle of shared understanding to cooperate more effectively together.

Nevertheless, the commander’s explanations had to be clear and accessible to the soldiers. Hence, during Operation Anaconda, military leaders provided an understanding of the overall objectives to the soldiers in order for them to understand the concept. This enabled the destruction of the Taliban and al-Qaeda in a few months, to ensure that they retreated to Shah-e-Kot (Carlisle, 2022). Further, the soldiers realized that their goal was to eliminate the Taliban and al Qaeda presence from Shahikot. Importantly, the soldiers’ intent was to accomplish this purpose, even if the mission did not go according to plan; because of this, they had clear instructions.

Therefore, before the Anaconda Operation, each group of soldiers received specific orders and had meetings with their commanders. Although the soldiers were not always ordered before the battle began, sometimes they were already given new orders during the standing orders, which negatively impacted their strategy. For example, Air Troops could not attack communication or infrastructure targets without CENTCOM’s permission. (Greentree, 2021). Although they were authorized in the battle, problems in changing and not communicating new orders in a timely manner affected the effectiveness of aviation. Thus, a shared understanding of the operation’s objectives permitted forces to join together to fight effectively.


Competence is a critical principle that applies directly to commanders gaining knowledge, experience, and training. Competence is critical not only to the commander but also to the soldiers who report to the commander (Vandergriff, 2019). The competence of America’s armed forces was demonstrated in Operation Anaconda. One should consider that the mission was essentially to attack an enemy stronghold in the Shah-I-Kot area maintained by the Taliban and al Qaeda. There is no consensus on the success of this operation, but General Tommy Franks stated that Operation Anaconda was “an unqualified and absolute success” (Carlisle, 2022, p. 51). It is worth noting that such a public statement by a general involved in the fighting demonstrates that the combined forces had significant competence, which had long been previously coached and developed. Moreover, the proof of competence is the constant training and combat simulations they underwent before the Anaconda Operation. This has saved the lives of many soldiers and commanders.

Moreover, there is a correlation between competence and mutual trust. This rule can be defined by the fact that mutual trust should be built on shared confidence from generals to soldiers. That is, the expression is that soldiers develop competence to gain the confidence of junior commanders, and the latter, in turn, demonstrate to them the competencies and challenges they have acquired during training, combat, or training. A case in point was the Battle of Tora Bora in 2001, when the Afghanistan Alliance, fighting alongside American soldiers, became demoralized and eventually retreated (Carlisle, 2022). U.S. troops, however, remained in the fight, relying on their skills and abilities to fight. Moreover, their morale was high because they understood that their counterparts also had the competence to continue the struggle (Carlisle, 2022). When the first soldiers returned to base with multiple wounds, they claimed that they remained alive by relying on each other’s will to fight and morale.

However, intel gathering was substandard and grossly inaccurate in addition to the fact that major threat indicators where being ignored. This is explained by the involvement of the military forces of Afghanistan, which did not have enough abilities for the war (Carlisle, 2022). Nevertheless, the fact that the enemy was organized shows that they were watching and were able to counter them. This was mainly due to the inability of untrained soldiers from Afghanistan to camouflage or conduct successful offensives.

Risk Acceptance

It should be emphasized that conducting complex operations and activities is a prerequisite for military service, which is why discipline, understanding, and risk-taking are integral to the mission. Operation Anaconda highlights the actions of Captain Slabinski, who received the Medal of Honor during the operation (Vandergriff, 2019). The captain’s mission was to climb a snow-covered mountain and watch from there as the enemy movement occurred. When the helicopter with the soldiers and Slabinski landed, though, one crewman had fallen overboard, and the helicopter made an emergency landing. Slabinski decided to change their flight’s mission and began a search operation for the crew member (Vandergriff, 2019). Thus, the commander understood the risk of falling under enemy fire but chose to help the comrade anyway, even considering the threat of death to more people.

In addition, an example can be mentioned where risk-taking was encircled at the level of generals of the Anaconda Operation. Fighting plans did not match aerial conditions or enemy fighting force. During the anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan, crews of MH-47E helicopters flew in the clouds for the first time, using only terrain-tracking radar data for piloting. Previously, pilots tried not to use this system if it was possible (Greentree, 2021). Hence, to enhance the chances of achieving their objectives, Anaconda Mission leaders considered the pilots’ limited experience and the risks of unsuccessful flights.

Moreover, due to heavy shelling of the landing areas, they were not able to deliver reinforcements in the second wave as planned. Besides, the reconnaissance data in relation to the number of enemy troops were severely underestimated. However, it was decided to use more massive aircraft, and 80 tons of bombs, including thermobaric bombs, were used on the first day of the operation (Carlisle, 2022, p. 63). The information collection was of poor quality and highly inaccurate, in addition to the fact that the leading threat indicators were ignored. Thus, there was a loss of aviation capabilities that inconsistently with the risk assessment. Consequently, leaders should assess risks objectively in order to make decisions that should minimize their negative consequences.


Hence, Operation Anaconda is one of the battles to demonstrate the application of the principles of shared understanding, competence, and risk acceptance. It is significant to mention that creating a shared understanding within the team was a condition of joint force cooperation in Operation Anaconda. At the same time, demonstrating a commander’s competence stimulates the Soldiers and vice versa. Together it provides the entire team with an understanding of their own strengths and advantages. In order to act quickly and respond to threats, commanders must assess and accept risks. Thus, the use of these command principles allows commanders to conduct large-scale operations with minimal casualties.


Carlisle, R. (2022). Afghanistan war. Infobase Holdings.

Greentree, T. (2021). Strategic failure in Afghanistan. Journal of Strategic Studies, 44(1), 117-140.

Vandergriff, D. E. (2019). Adopting mission command: Developing leaders for a superior command culture. Naval Institute Press.

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DemoEssays. "Mission Command Principles in Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan." August 19, 2023. https://demoessays.com/mission-command-principles-in-operation-anaconda-in-afghanistan/.