Operation Anaconda is the first major military theater event involving many U.S. forces. Anaconda is part of the global war on terrorism because of its impact on the outcome of hostilities. The operation’s decision followed extensive intelligence in early 2002, which determined that al-Qaeda fighters had begun to regroup. The intelligence also decided that active combat operations were planned in the Shahi Kot Valley, affecting civilians living in the same area (Kugler, 2007). After an extensive survey, which was insufficient to assess enemy actions fully, the decision was made to draw up a plan to prevent a Taliban attack. The paper looks at the major categories that contributed to the operation’s success and assesses the actions taken by the U.S. to eliminate the threat. Despite the success of Anaconda, the operation was heavily criticized by the U.S. and the world community. Among all the factors that influenced the process, the most important are the Army’s command and quick response, the relationships formed within the coalition, and adaptive capabilities.
The Problem of Unity of Command
The formation of structure in the military is the main principle of its organic existence, which allows it to act as a unified organism. Without an organized system, discipline is inevitably undermined, trust is shattered, and each other’s camaraderie suffers. Moreover, the absence of command authority has serious consequences, including the disintegration of soldiers, poor battlefield effectiveness, and the partial or total lack of leadership and subordination. Avoiding this requires the military to be wholly organized to promote unity and understanding of its responsibilities.
The U.S. military position in Afghanistan was not fully established at the operation, so the result was a lack of central command. There was no combination of air and mercenary forces, as General Franks operated through two separate orders (Kugler, 2007). Operation Anaconda was planned to involve only ground troops, worsening the coalition’s position on the war theater stage. Therefore, as intelligence on the status of Taliban combat forces increased, the decision was made to establish a single U.S. Tactical Force Command (Cook et al., 2017). The post was given to General Franklin Hagenbeck, who had the competence and experience to lead large-scale operations. Because of his earlier experience, Hagenbeck was able to act swiftly and solve combat problems as they arose with predicted outcomes.
Despite this decision, Operation Anaconda still did not gain entire leadership, which affected the security and general morale of the Army. CENTCOM gave Hagenbeck command authority and expanded his U.S. foot component of the force, but the reconnaissance unit and forward forces remained outside the head. Moreover, the Army air component continued to operate separately, and Hagenbeck could only request support. General tensions within the Army and the inability to centralize command could have led to an unsuccessful operation outcome. The divided chain of command – not to mention the separate structure of the Afghan section of the military – significantly hindered the creation of a solid internal core of the Army. By the time the operation started, it had appeared that the Anaconda plan would fail. As a result, internal rules were quickly changed, and almost all components of the original plan were revised.
Unrest within Coalition Combat Forces
The U.S., Afghan, Australian, British, German, Canadian, and other forces were involved in Operation Anaconda, totaling about 30,000 troops. Although the U.S. adhered to the principle of keeping numbers small to maintain the appearance of a small-scale operation, coalition forces still far outnumbered those on the Taliban side. Unwilling to conform to the Soviet model of the process, Washington presented only 10,000-foot soldiers. As a result, significant shortcomings were already apparent at the time of Anaconda.
First, other coalition countries met this kind of U.S. attitude toward its army negatively, which expressed resentment toward U.S. actions. It is noted that this was particularly noticeable in the German component, which perceived the actions of American soldiers negatively because of their increased aggressiveness and assertiveness that did not fit with the overall forces of the army. In addition, relations were strained with Great Britain: the U.S. Army claimed it was useless in operation and insufficiently supported. Also of concern was the insubordination of friendly units in Afghanistan, who were unwilling to be guided according to plan and stuck to their intentions.
Second, the U.S. Army’s limited combat equipment meant that it was forced to use unprepared civilian vehicles, and the coalition was repeatedly attacked and defeated by the enemy. The lack of involvement of the air component of the American forces had significantly undermined their credibility and made the situation worse. The operation was initially planned as a ground operation, so there was little or no air force tactical basis prepared (Kugler, 2007). In addition, it is believed that the U.S. operational headquarters did not regard the procedure as significant, which meant that there were no additional plans for retreat and further training of combat units. Given this, the original Anaconda plan was revised immediately after the first battle since the classic battle plan did not consider the enemy’s preparedness.
Third, information sharing within the coalition was a stretch. Each member country had its views on the conduct of combat, and the original “hammer and anvil” plan was repeatedly criticized. The actual situation was determined on March 2, when the coalition suffered three ambushes and the loss of two helicopters due to lack of support. It was at this point that tensions within the alliance became more intense. A lack of equipment delays the collection and timely exchange of intelligence, and soldiers are unwilling to act without unreliable protection and support. In addition, the disengaged command has been irrational in its handling of U.S. troop movements, resulting in the loss of much ammunition, food, and medical supplies, as well as equipment and men.
Adaptive Capacities of the Coalition
Despite the many challenges in operation, Anaconda succeeded because of all coalition forces’ quick response and cooperation. The coalition’s precarious position was clear by March 2, when sniper reconnaissance showed increased Taliban activity but did not stop the assault. The section encountered heavy fighting at all landing sites, and the retreat began almost immediately after the signal to stop the bombing (Cook et al., 2017). There was also stiff resistance to the Raksan task force, which prevented it from establishing a blockade against the Taliban. It was probably due to the priority to call in air support and the speed with which assistance could be rendered.
At the center of Anaconda’s events is the Battle of Thakur Ghar on March 3-4, when air forces were rapidly engaged in the operation. On March 3, the process underwent a review, and air forces became a crucial part of Anaconda. Task Force Mountain decided to abandon the classic plan and immediately shift to massive air fire on the eastern slopes of the valley. As a result, this change became a vital part of the operation and played an essential role in regrouping forces (Marion, 2018). Thanks to prior military training of air forces in Vietnam, air support proved far more capable than ground divisions and battalions.
After air involvement, relations within the coalition improved, and an active ground-to-air information exchange began. As a result, bombers flew more than 50 sorties per day, creating a favorable ground force environment. Most enemy forces were eliminated precisely due to the rapid transmission of information to the aircraft and their quick response to hot spots with the targeting and bomb-dropping system (Marion, 2018). Despite emerging problems in command (allocation of priority, amount of equipment, and support for certain parts of the ground), the air force accomplished its traditional task of firing from the air and replacing ground artillery. Thus, by March 9, both land and air forces had successfully advanced inside the mountains and cleared about half of the enemy camps.
Operation Anaconda was the first large-scale engagement in a rugged terrain that combined many problem areas. The critical problems of the operation were divided command, which prevented all units from operating organically, and internal strife within the army. The split chain of command left the combat power without enough air support and equipment to execute the operation. It led to internal conflicts and insubordination, as well as turf battles. Nevertheless, through quick response and revision of the original plan involving airborne troops, the operation was supported and succeeded despite the duration. Anaconda can be seen as a new round of military organization, but aspects that may have led to failure cannot be left aside.
Cook, C., Lowe, A. & Perovich, M. (2017). Afghanistan: A historical analyses of mission command and its effect on our current security environment. Landpower Essay, 17-2.
Kugler, R. (2007). Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan. A case study of adaptation in battle. Center for Technology and National Security Policy.
Marion, F. L. (2018). Beginning the Long War: Special Tactics at Home and Abroad. In Brothers in Berets: The Evolution of Air Force Special Tactics, 1953-2003 (pp. 335-382). Air University Press.