After the capture of Kandahar and the overthrow of the Taliban regime, the remnants of the militants retreated to the Shah-i-Kot valley. Operation Anaconda was carried out by coalition forces in March 2002 to clear this valley. It seems reasonable to emphasize that it was the first operation in the area that involved a considerable number of conventional US military personnel who had to take part in direct combat activities. Below, a critical analysis of the operation will be provided, focusing on its essence, core principles, and results.
Operation Anaconda Essentials
There are many pieces of evidence that allow assuming that Anaconda’s success cannot be considered unconditional. The primary aim of such a mission was to demolish the enemy Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces that were assembled in the region after numerous pressing defeats during the initial stages of the war in the country. In order to attain the mentioned purpose, the command of the United States created complex battle plans that included attacks by the US and friendly local military forces, which was claimed to be the hammer and anvil approach (Kugler et al., 2009). Such a strategy, however, turned to be insufficient on the first day, when the enemies demonstrated more fierce than the command was expecting initially. Given this, the friendly forces could not break into the area and left deployed American infantry to fight the enemy on their own. Nevertheless, the success was reached after the US command decided to change its tactical methods, undertaking more airstrikes than the initial plan was suggesting.
It should be noted that initially, the US military personnel was planning to finish Anaconda in three days. However, the mission lasted seven days and was officially over seventeen days later. During Anaconda, several hundred enemy soldiers were killed, and the other ones left Shah-i-Kot so that the allies got the opportunity to take control over the area (Kugler et al., 2009). The Taliban have entrenched themselves on the Afghan-Pakistani border, where they have established their base. In military terms, success, except for the conquest of the Shah-i-Kot valley, could not be achieved. The Taliban were able to go to the mountainous area and regain their strength.
Mission Command Principles
At this point, it would be rational to mention the core framework in which the operation was conducted. Mission Command principles for the US army include the following: “competence, mutual trust, shared understanding, commander’s intent, mission orders, disciplined initiative, risk acceptance” (US Department of the Army, 2012, p. 1-6). These provisions were critical in terms of the proper organization of Anaconda, as well as for many other important operations of the American military forces. Despite the fact that during the first stages of the mission, there were some drawbacks and mistakes, the personnel followed the listed principles strictly. Such an approach contributed to the coherent, smooth, and consistent flow of orders and their implementation.
Results of the Operation
The US command declared Operation Anaconda a major success for the coalition, but this statement was ambiguously received in military circles. As a result of the Anaconda, a lively discussion ensued as to why the planning component of the coalition forces was not given due attention at the planning stage, which led to very great difficulties in the interaction of ground units with strike aircraft. The experience of this operation has led to improved mechanisms of interaction between the Air Force and the US Army.
The loss of US forces in the operation amounted to 8 people killed and about 80 wounded. 17 All the dead were servicemen of the special forces; seven out of eight were killed in the battle of Takur-Gar (Kugler et al., 2009). Al Qaeda’s casualties are unknown; according to various estimates, they amounted to 100 to 1,000 people killed. As of 2007, the battle in the Shah-i-Kot Valley is among the largest battles involving US ground forces in Afghanistan (Kugler et al., 2009). Having managed to avert the battles with the US forces and the allies, the enemy started to regain strength. The area was not controlled by the Pakistani authorities – an attempt to establish control in 2004 led to an armed conflict between the government army and the tribal army that lasted two years (Kugler et al., 2009). It was ideal for the implementation of training camps that were important for the mission.
The chain of command was restored, severely damaged during the autumn 2001 campaign, which caused a great degree of inconvenience to the forces. In 2003-2004, the Taliban restored strength, as well as intensified hostilities in southern Afghanistan. One of the first pieces of evidence of the restoration of the former power was the battle on January 27, 2003 (Kugler et al., 2009). Eighteen Taliban and Hizb-i-Islam militants were then killed, and this has been described as the biggest clash since the Anaconda. Terrorist actions have also begun in the cities: on June 7, a suicide bomber rammed a bus carrying ISAF troops into Kabul in Kabul, killing four German soldiers and one civilian (Kugler et al., 2009). By the autumn of 2003, the Taliban had become so strong in the south that they had appointed their “shadow” rulers in a number of local provinces, which was critical from the strategic perspective.
The escalation of guerrilla warfare did not go unnoticed: in October, the international community approved the expansion of ISAF’s area. Although there was the intensification of hostilities, the economic and political recovery of the region did not stop. A new constitution was adopted in January 2004, and on October 9, Hamid Karzai won the first free presidential election in the country’s history (Aljazeera, 2021). 2005 was marked by a new escalation of violence – the losses of the American contingent and ISAF forces increased. In June, a US MH-47 helicopter was shot down, killing 16 special forces personnel, the largest single casualty since the start of the war (Aljazeera, 2021). Unfortunately, the described events show that after Anaconda was conducted, the conflict in the region was not settled completely, which was desired by the command.
To conclude, the above analysis was dedicated to Operation Anaconda that was conducted in Afghanistan by the US military and local allied forces. It was found that the mission had a number of mistakes, which contributed to unnecessary losses. However, the command seemed to follow the core principles and reorganized the operation promptly and sufficiently. A lesson that can be learned from this historical event is that a military command should dedicate a significant extent of effort and time to the planning and preparing stages of such complex and important operations.
Aljazeera. (2021). Deadliest days for US troops in Afghanistan. Aljazeera. Web.
Kugler, R. L., Baranick, M., & Binnendijk, H. (2009). Operation Anaconda lessons for joint operations. National Defense University. Web.
US Department of the Army. (2012). Mission Command: Command and control of army forces. Web.