The Principles of Mission Command of Operation Anaconda


Operation Anaconda is a military operation that was conducted by the US forces and allies in Easter Afghanistan in March of 2002. The operation took place within the Global War on Terror, and the main aim of it was to defeat the remaining Taliban and al Qaeda forces. The ultimate success of Operation Anaconda is commonly considered to have been achieved due to the accurately coalited efforts of the coalition units, as well as the application of some of the Mission Command principles.

Mission command is simultaneously a philosophy of the Army and the function of warcraft, the emphasis of which is put onto a balanced combination of command and control. The basis of mission command is constituted by six main principles. These are building cohesive teams, creating shared understanding, providing a clear commander’s intent, exercising disciplined initiative, using mission orders, and accepting prudent risks. Operation Anaconda is an example of how the application of these principles raises the chances of success of a military operation by a substantial amount (Ploums, 2020). Further is the analysis of the application of each of the six principles of mission command in Operation Anaconda.

Building Cohesive Teams

Overall, allied forces from seven countries fought alongside with the United States in Operation Anaconda. In total, 200 Special Operation Troops were sent from the seven following countries: Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, France, Norway, New Zealand, and the allies from Afghanistan who had been fighting the Taliban (Kugler, 2009). Cohesiveness built within the allied forces allowed them to withstand attacks and push the Taliban out of the Shahikot Valley.

Within the Northern Alliance (all the listed allies, excluding allies from Afghanistan), cohesiveness was already established, as their support had already been battle-tested before. However, teamwork with the allies from the Afghan side did not show much effectiveness. According to some estimates, the US may have made a mistake when they relied on a few selected Afghan commanders who could not estimate the enemy’s troop numbers correctly (Giebel, 2002). The main critique if the US policy regarding this case was that the US was not acquainted enough with the allied group and, due to the misperception of the new ally, underwent losses. As a result, effective cohesiveness between the Northern Alliance and the Afghan allies was not established on a profound level.

Creating Shared Understanding

Shared understanding is crucial in any military operation, as it provides the team with the same vision and perception of the mission’s goal and the same perception of the environment, risks, problems, tasks, and the ways of tackling them. If this shared understanding had been established within the American forces and the Northern Alliance, a clear comprehension of the bigger picture was not shared among the members of the Pashtun allied forces.

Clear Commander’s Intent

Despite the allied forces not having a joint commander at the start, the teamwork between the commanders of all the agencies participating in the mission was well-coordinated. Separated commander structure facilitated special emphasis on highly disciplined coordination between all of the agencies: Coalition Special Operational Forces (SOF), Close Air Support (CAS), Light Infantry Troops, Central Command (CENTCOM), Coalition Forces Air Component Command (CFACC), and Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) (Kugler, 2009). However, the lack of cohesiveness between the American and the Afghan forces resulted in excessive losses for the Afghan troops at the beginning of the operation, which was quickly learnt and fixed further on in the mission.

Exercise of Disciplined Initiative

This principle implies strict implementation of a combination of initiatives aimed at reaching the ultimate goal of the mission. These initiatives include a certain chain of actions that need to be followed in the exact sequence as they were initially planned or altered by the commanders in the course of the events. In this sense, Operation Anaconda demonstrated a high standard of this principle, as the tactics of the operation were flexibly modified by the commanders when analyzing the current state of affairs and then irreproachably followed by the subordinates. For example, the Allies sent backup forces with spare equipment to the Afghan troops when they suffered severe losses.

Use of Mission Orders

Mission orders guide what needs to be achieved without limiting the options of how to achieve the set goals. This principle implies certain freedom of action and creativity of thinking within the subordinates to be able to observe the situation, analyze it, and make decisions about the most effective ways of achieving the initial goals. For instance, initially, CAS was not planned to act as a big asset in operation, but further analysis of the enemy troops’ numbers on the spot showed the necessity to switch the distribution and use of forces, and CAS was involved in the operation.

Accepting Prudent Risks

Taking risks is integral in the military situation and are impossible to avoid, especially in critical circumstances. This principle is about deliberate exposure to potentially dangerous situations and outcomes, when it is necessary for the success of the mission. As in the majority of military operations, Operation Anaconda resulted in losses and casualties. Case in point, the Hammer and Anvil tasking implies a risk of friendly fire if there are any inaccuracies in the coordination or timing (Kugler, 2009).


Mission Command principles showed that adherence to them significantly raises the chances of a military operation to result in success. Despite the lack of cohesiveness with the Afghan friendly forces, the mission of the allies was achieved due to compliance with the analyzed principles. Thus, commitment to the Mission Command principles can smooth out some mistakes and flaws of the operation.


Giebel, A. (2002). Operation Anaconda, Shah-i-Khot Valley, Afghanistan. The professional journal of the U.S. Army, 72-77.

Kugler, R. (2009). Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan: A case study of adaptation in battle. Case studies in National Security transformation, 5(1), 103–108.

Ploums, M. (2020). Mission command and philosophy for the 21st century. Comparative Strategy, 39(2), 209-2018. doi:10.1080/01495933.2020.1718995

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