Operation Anaconda: Principles of Mission Command

Following the Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorist activities in Afghanistan, the United States decided to fight them. War often has many battles, but the most famous battle between the United States and the terrorists in Afghanistan was dubbed Operation Anaconda in Shahikot Valley of eastern Afghanistan in early 2000 (McBride & Snell, 2017). Operation Anaconda’s objective was to clear the valley of Taliban and al Qaeda militants that had collected here after their initial defeats in Afghanistan’s war in the first three months. Though Operation Anaconda was expected to be smooth and earn an easy victory for the United States, the reality was that the operating was tough. The United States had to devise methods that they would use to root out the enemies.

Operation Anaconda can be termed a United States Army’s mission to defeat the terrorists Taliban and al Qaeda. Although the operation was a success, it showed the United States the importance of proper planning and command in such situations. The United States started low on the operation, but they managed to defeat the enemies through effective planning and advantage in weaponry and numbers (McBride & Snell, 2017). Although other themes emerge from this campaign, implementing six principles of mission leadership stands out. These principles include mutual trust and shared knowledge, clear commander purpose, disciplined initiative, mission commands, and cautious risk acceptance (McBride & Snell, 2017). This study examines how Operation Anaconda was able to be a success because of the six mission command concepts used.

One of the fundamental premises of mission command is the concept of mutual trust. For mutual trust to exist, it must permeate every level of authority. In training, garrison, or battle, subordinates acquire their superiors’ trust by demonstrating their ability, and commanders gain their subordinates’ trust by doing the same. In Afghanistan, Operation Anaconda was the first large-scale engagement since Tora Bora in 2001 (McBride & Snell, 2017). The Afghan coalition fighting with American troops throughout Operation Enduring Freedom eventually crumbled under the weight of defeat. Because they believed in each other and had a strong sense of camaraderie and camaraderie among themselves, the Americans persisted in combat. Troops returned to base at the end of the first day of action and discovered that they had all been shot many times by the enemy. Mutual trust amongst fighters is demonstrated, and built-in situations like this.

With a large-scale operation such as Operation Anaconda, a mission commander may have issues in the principle of shared understanding. It was clear from Operation Anaconda that countries, government agencies, numerous special operations units, military components, and significant ground forces all worked together as one team (McBride & Snell, 2017). These groups must have mutual respect to exchange knowledge about the operational environment. Generals Mikolashek, Hagenbeck, and Franks, who shared information but were each in command of their generalships during the early planning stages of Operation Anaconda, for example, clashed in the planning phase. Additionally, there was the fact that they had no authority over the Special Forces (SOF), and such designs would impede the adequate flow of information between battle components. When multiple generals agreed, including SOF generals, that command and control would be more effective under General Franks’ conventional leadership with SOF as a support element, the generals demonstrated the principle of shared understanding.

The commander had a clear and concise intent for the operation. Before Operation Anaconda, the Taliban and Al Qaeda had suffered multiple setbacks and were forced to retreat to the city of Shahikot. This operation was launched to rid Shahikot of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Furthermore, the commander’s goal should not be to repeat why the mission is taking place but rather to explain the overall concept of the mission in an understandable way (McBride & Snell, 2017). Every step of the way, leaders kept their troops updated on the mission’s progress, obstacles they had to overcome, and the expected size of the enemy force they were up against. As a result of this information, Operation Anaconda could more effectively pursue the intended goals.

A mission, in particular, rarely goes according to plan, and troops are frequently forced to make difficult choices. Soldiers should use the commander’s intent as a guide when making judgments. Also, if orders are lacking, it may function as an ethical NCO practice; in circumstances where there are instructions deficiency, the commander’s purpose serves as a justification for carrying out a particular operation. (McBride & Snell, 2017). Mission orders are a common way for a leader to communicate their goals. However, the mission order clearly explains why the mission occurs, whereas the commander’s aim does not. However, the mission order does not include instructions on how soldiers should carry out the task. It is straightforward but not to the point of obstructing the decision-making process of subordinates in battle.

The fourth principle is disciplined initiative. Because the warriors were from several organizations, their leaders urged them to maintain order and sights the bigger picture. They communicated per the established command chain as soon as a problem arose. The principle of discipline governed the entire procedure. Every soldier obeyed the leaders’ command, and the group worked together to overcome the obstacles (McBride & Snell, 2017). An example of a fighter that showed disciplined initiative was Master Chief Britt Slabinski, recipient of the Medal of Honor was tasked with leading a SEAL unit to a 10,000-foot alpine peak and setting up an observation station to monitor enemy activity.

The SEAL unit’s chopper was struck by an RPG while trying to land at the top of Taku Ghar. Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts, a SEAL buddy of Slabinski’s, fell into an enemy-infested mountain from the helicopter. After that, the aircraft crashed to the ground. Slabinski decided to convert the primary objective to a rescue mission after Petty Officer Roberts. The rest of his squad followed his lead back up the mountain, where he was convinced he would not come home from this rescue attempt after calling in another chopper. He and his wounded comrades were finally rescued after 14 hours of heavy machine-gun fire in thick snow, rugged terrain, and close air assistance.

The ability to use mission orders is the fifth principle. Command members welcomed this quality throughout the drill to ensure that all soldiers and fighters responded quickly to the emphatic instructions. There were no civilians to be killed to achieve the ultimate goal of defeating our opponent (McBride & Snell, 2017). Operation Enduring Freedom in the Middle East sparked a reorganization of forces as the enemy became aware of the activities of various tactical units. This necessitated that the CAOC and CENTCOM break apart from current command arrangements in the future.

Slabinski’s situation clearly illustrates the prudent risk acceptance concept. Any military mission comes with the possibility of danger, harm, and even death. Methods for analyzing risk factors and mitigating them are taught to mission commanders. Everyone from the top commander to the soldier in the operating area recognizes and accepts the danger, regardless of mitigation measures (McBride & Snell, 2017). As far as Slabinski was concerned, returning to the first encounter was dangerous. While leading the mission, he assessed the risk to himself and his squad. He came to terms with the fact that he may not make it alive. However, saving his teammate and completing the task was worth the danger.

In conclusion, Operation Anaconda, which took place in Afghanistan in 2002, is still regarded as one of the most significant operations of Afghan freedom. The military leaders and the whole operation’s workforce gained new perspectives due to this mission. The mission in Afghanistan was a success because of the six principles of mission command invocation. The commanders and the soldiers, together with the allies, all alluded to the six principles and managed to defeat the enemy. The commanders worked together during challenging moments when enemies were winning; however, they turned the case around in their favor. The soldiers were disciplined and followed mission orders at all times while looking out for each other. The soldiers also understood that they were putting their lives at risk as they fought the terrorist. The win in Shahikot Valley for the United States troops is greatly attributed to the six mission command principles.


McBride, D. M., & Snell, R. L. (2017). Applying mission command to overcome challenges. Web.

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