Operation Anaconda Joint functions

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Operation Anaconda Joint functions

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Operation Anaconda took place in the early months of 2002.  The operation was a fourteen-day fight among Taliban and al Qaeda fights in the Shah-i-Kot Valley (Midla, 2004). This is after it was reported that the largest concentration of Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan were located in the region between the Kowst and Gardez towns in the southeastern part of the country. The Shah-i-Kot Valley, an area roughly 9 km long and 5 km wide and located between the two towns, was the central location for hardcore enemy fighters (Geibel, 2002). The operation was the greatest combat operation in the country on the terrorism war which had begun after the September 11 attacks in 2001. Major General F.L. Hagenbeck, a commander of the U.S. Army, was in charge of the operation to wipe out the Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters who remained in the Shah-i-Khot Valley in Afghanistan. Operation Anaconda kicked off early on the 2nd of March 2002 and involved approximately two thousand combined troops, which included more than two hundred U.S. Special Forces and other troops, and more than nine hundred Americans (Geibel, 2002).

The operation also involved Special Operations Troops from countries such as Canada, Denmark, Australia, France, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, and Afghan allies. The area of battle was approximately 60 square miles, with a rugged terrain having numerous ridges and spurs. Even though the operation was successful, there were a number of lessons learned from the operation. The level of success and the time period that it took to complete the mission could have been improved with better coordination and understanding of the capabilities of the various joint functions involved in the operation. In this paper, the various lessons learned from the operation are discussed, with various ways through which the operation could have been improved being discussed. The joint functions of Operation Anaconda needed to understand the capabilities of the Air Force, integrating air-ground operations, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance to better prepare for the operation.

Failure to Understand the Capabilities of the Air Force

Operation Anaconda’s preparation could have been better if the Air Force capabilities were evaluated and better understood. There are several joint functions associated with the Air Force that were vital and there was a need to understand them fully in order to accomplish the operation. Initially, the Special Forces Soldiers thought that they were capable of handling the entire operation by themselves (Midla, 2004). However, intelligence and estimates of the enemy force kept increasing, which resulted in the conclusion that the operation required assistance from conventional troops. The operational command and control were ran from the 10th Mountain Division headquarters at Bagram Air Base (Naylor, 2003). The military commanders in charge then reached a decision to utilize about three light-infantry battalions. During the planning of the Operation Anaconda, the CJTF decided not to include the CFACC in the operation planning. This was a huge error.

After numerous attempts to add a TACP to the 10th Mountain Division, which had been declined several times from the division, the CTJT brought in CFACC into the planning process two days before the D-Day. Operation Anaconda started out with a total of eight AH-64s. However, by the end of the first day, only two AH-64s were operational and could assist with the operation (Fleri et al., 2003). This posed a great hindrance to the support and mission capabilities. CENTCOM and its various components sent reinforcements quickly, re-deploying AH-1 Cobra to assist in the operation. The mistaken assumption that the right amount of air power would find its way to the battlefield just in time was a huge failure, right from the moment when the air planners were not incorporated in the planning.

In addition, the air support center was based in Bagram. This resulted in issues and challenges during the first two days of fighting. The aircraft required refueling, necessitating Air Force refueling tankers for the operation to proceed. The lack of fuel tankers would have resulted in the air support not being able to sustain flight operations for the entire time needed to complete the battle. During Operation Anaconda, the fuel tankers that supported the operation were expected to schedule refueling without any combat support. This required additional setup time. These challenges and inconveniences resulted from the strategic guidance failing to incorporate the air assets in the development of the operations plan and plan devolvement.

Integrated Air-Ground Operations

The coordination between the air and ground operations and support had failed greatly during Operation Anaconda. Integrated air-ground operations could have played a great role in the achievement of victory during the operation. As a result of the limited amount of time used for planning with the incorporation of the Air Force, the operation lacked tactic coordination for CAS (Fleri et al., 2003). A misunderstanding for the fix wings CAS arose between the forces and the Air Force failed to understand the difference between CAS targets and TST/National Mission targets. Even though the troops on the ground did not go without CAS, having fix wings CAS as an asset would have greatly improved efficiency and influenced the operation positively. After Operation Anaconda, the military realized that there is always a need for a good air-ground integration plan. In other words, battalion-size elements benefitted from the outcome of Operation Anaconda. Due to some of the joint function failures identified during the operation in Afghanistan, the leadership of the military refined plans in order to incorporate joint functions into the plan.


Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR)

Operation Anaconda could have been better prepared with the provision of accurate ISR reports. During the planning for the operation, the CJTF mismanaged the ISR and failed to make the best use of the air and space-time. By the year 2002, there were capabilities to predict weather and see objects within inches. However, the mismanagement of the ISR rendered the CJTF unable to predict the weather (Fleri et al., 2003). As a result, the operation was delayed by weather, with the attack being delayed for 24 hours as a result of ground units being unable to reach the desired location as planned. Moreover, the CJTF was not able to get a clear picture of the enemy situation on the ground. As a result of the ISR inaccuracy, the CJTF estimated that the enemy size would be around 200. As the operation started, they quickly realized that the enemy size was more than 1000 and that the enemy was more tactical than expected.

Contrary to the assumption of the CJTF, the al-Qaeda fighters was not gathered in the villages. The fighters were spread out in the entire valley and were well-equipped with artillery and mortars (Grau, 2009). Intelligence had failed to identify the level of preparedness and organization of the enemy. Rather than hiding and afterward attacking, the enemy fighters stood ground and attacked the forces. Moreover, the Shah-i-Kot Valley was absent of civilians, a fact that the ISR failed to identify. The convoy of Afghan fighters and Special Forces advisers came under fire even before it got to the valley (Naylor, 2003). They had to spend the whole day sheltering from rocket-propelled grenades and mortars before they could withdraw to Gardez. Al- Qaeda fighters attacked the initial wave of air-attack troops in the east and south of the valley and pinned down more than eighty Special Forces soldiers using heavy machine-gun fire and mortar fire.

The soldiers survived the attack as a result of their bravery, proper training, and because the commanders remained calm and composed as the bullets continued to rain down on them from the mountains (Naylor, 2003). The CJTF did not have adequate manpower for the enemy size. This would have been prevented with the proper use of air and space-time for the ISR. Senior officials from the 101st Airborne’s Third Brigade had flown into the battle area sing two Black Hawk helicopters with the intention of staying for about an hour to understand the battleground better. The officers found themselves grounded on a ridge for the entire day, shielding themselves from al-Qaeda bullets. At Bagram, the commander of the 10th Mountain Division was considering pulling all the troops out, but eventually arrived at a conclusion to withdraw the troops that were situated in the south and send backup to the northern part of the valley. Contrary to the expectation, the enemy consolidated reinforcements and fiercely resisted instead of trying to run.


Eventually, the American troops, using heavy air bombardment and a huge effort, started grinding down the enemy forces. Hundreds of enemy fighters were killed, even though some got away, including senior enemy leaders such as Tohir Yuldeshev, the head of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. The fact that the operation did not go as planned is not a disgrace since no plan survives the initial shots fired. However, there are a number of lessons that the military learned from the planning and execution of Operation Anaconda. Even though commanders had assured their troops that they would invest all the available national assets in the battle, the intelligence estimates failed to portray the enemy size, weapon capabilities, location, and formation (Grau, 2009). There was a failure of coordination between air and ground operations and the Air Force was not adequately involved in planning. Indeed, while the initial operation was successful, Operation Anaconda could have been a greater victory with fewer casualties with the understanding of the capabilities of the Air Force, integrating air-ground operations, and understanding the battle space.


Fleri, E., Howard, E., Hukill, J., & Searle, T. R. (2003). Operation Anaconda Case Study. College of Aerospace Doctrine, Research and Education.

Geibel, A. (2002). Operation Anaconda, Shah-i-Khot Valley, Afghanistan, 2-10 March 2002. Military Review, 82(3), 72.

Grau, L. (2009). The Coils of the Anaconda: America’s First Conventional Battle in Afghanistan (Doctoral dissertation, University of Kansas).

Midla, G. S. (2004). Lessons learned: operation Anaconda. Military medicine, 169(10), 810-813.

Naylor, S. (2003, March 02). The Lessons of Anaconda. Retrieved January 14, 2019, from https://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/02/opinion/the-lessons-of-anaconda.html

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