Operation Anaconda Battle Analysis

2 February 2017

Operation Anaconda, to this day, stands as the largest reported ground action in the Afghan war. This 17-day battle led to eight U. S. casualties and over 50 wounded. Operation Anaconda is viewed as a success due to coalition forces being able to kill and root out several hundred Taliban and al Qaeda fighters, which left U. S. and coalition forces in control of the Shah-i-Khot Valley.

Originally intended to be a three-day battle with light resistance, a seven-day battle ensued with intense fighting and was finally stopped on 18 March after 17 long days. The classic “Hammer and Anvil” battle approach which was utilized struggled through a number of unforeseen issues: initial intelligence reports, U. S. command structure, Afghan Forces, and ground-air coordination of air strikes/support. In the following pages, the cause and effect of these issues will be discussed as well as the impact they had on Operation Anaconda pertaining to certain principles of war.

Operation Anaconda Battle Analysis Essay Example

The intelligence reports of the Shah-i-Khot Valley were faulty not due lack of effort. Several assets were used in trying to gather intelligence: human reconnaissance, aerial reconnaissance, and communication intercepts were all widely used. Several SOF ground reconnaissance teams were also getting as close to the valley’s floor as possible without being detected. Initial estimates of the enemy ranged from 100-1000 enemy fighters, but after arduous discussions and reports filed in, it was determined that a better estimate was 200-300 fighters with a larger civilian population numbering somewhere around 1000.

This large civilian population complicated things by nullifying most attempts of heavy air strikes and support. The portrait for the upcoming battle portrayed that of a weak, demoralized fighting force armed with light weapons, however, in all actuality the enemy was heavily armed and motivated numbering close to 1000. Through the use of camouflage and knowledge of the terrain, Taliban and al Qaeda fighters were able to fool U. S. and coalition forces and lure them, in some sense, into the valley without having the element of surprise.

In retrospect, we can now see that the majority of enemy fighters were already dug deep in to the mountainous terrain and ridgelines with heavy machine guns, RPGs, and artillery in some cases. The four villages on the valley floor were primarily deserted with few enemy fighters and an even fewer civilian populous; furthermore, once fighting ensued, a ‘jihad’ was declared which flooded the valley with even more enemy fighters instead of a predicted retreatment into bordering Pakistan.

Because reconnaissance teams did not collect intelligence on the vast majority of these positions, this led to faulty intelligence reports channeling through the chain of command and thus leading to the initial problems confronting Operation Anaconda. The command structure during Operation Anaconda was detached and brought about a number of problems for U. S. and coalition forces. Unity of Command, a revered principle of war, was violated and ultimately affected the battle in a negative light. U. S. perations were being conducted by CENTCOM, led by General Franks, which had two main subordinate commands.

Coalition Forces Land Component Command (CFLCC) and Coalition Forces Air Component Command (CFACC). Both of these commands were located in the Persian Gulf as well as the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC), which coordinated with CFACC on whether and how to carry out air strikes when SOF units on the ground requested them. General Hagenbeck, Commanding General of 10th Mountain Division, was given command and control authority of Operation Anaconda; however, CFACC and CAOC remained in control of air component forces.

This break in unity of command caused much friction in the early stages of Operation Anaconda. On the initial infil of TF HAMMER, which consisted of a large force of Afghan militia led by Zia Lodin and the Special Forces A-Teams Texas 14/ODA 594 and Cobra 72/ODA 372, pre-assault positions were reached at 0615 in the Shah-i-Khot Valley. Air support had planned to bombard enemy positions for 55 minutes; however, miscommunication between Texas 14 and higher led to a short bombardment and a total of six bombs being dropped. TF HAMMER was nsuccessful in entering the valley due to a heavy amount of small arms fire and mortar attacks.

The lack of air support triggered by bad communication frustrated Afghan and Special Forces alike and led to Afghan trucks being hit heavily by pre-registered mortar fire on known choke points by Taliban and al Qaeda fighters. Unity of command is crucial in conducting a successful military operation: communication flows smoothly through a unified command, but unfortunately for a non-unified command, the reverse effect holds true.

Another principle of war that was violated several times was the element of surprise. This had to do, however, with a direct correlation to communication and unity of command. In the late hours of 3 March 2002, the SEAL team, MAKO 30 was picked up by a MH-47 heading east of the peak of Takur Ghar, which is the tallest point in the Shah-i-Khot region. A problem was encountered with the MH-47 and the team had to change aircraft. This placed them off of their suspected timeline and did not allow MAKO 30 with enough time to reach the peak before daylight.

The decision was made to infil MAKO 30 on the peak of Takur Ghar after aerial surveillances reported that it was secure with no human activity. Any hopes of surprising the enemy were lost and the outcome was U. S. casualties on the peak of Takur Ghar. In a sense, the principle of war maneuver comes to light when speaking of Takur Ghar as well. Even though it was not utilized in this battle, it would have been if MAKO 30 had been able to land east of the peak as originally planned.

This is a great of example of how the principles of war have a domino effect on one another: each has a direct correlation to one another, and if one is violated it can, and most likely does, mean the difference in life or death. Mass is another critical principle of war that was undermined in Operation Anaconda. General Frank and CENTCOM’s goal was to keep the military presence from rising above 10,000 troops. This led to SOF units being deployed and only a handful of equivalent U. S. Army size brigades. Infantry battalions of the 101st and 10th Mountain were deployed with no tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, or artillery.

It was determined that air support would make up for any lack of firepower. It became apparent after the initial push and when things took a turn for the worse that these deficiencies crippled the ground posture of U. S. forces. The only firepower the three U. S. Army battalions had, other than the lightly armed infantry personnel, were a small number of AH-64 Apaches and a few AC-130 gunships; however, one of the problems with that was, the gunships were under control of SOF forces and were only allowed to fly at night, so that further cut down on fire superiority.

The Eastern Alliance Afghan forces that were fighting amongst the U. S. were not seasoned veterans. Led by Zia Lodin, this collection of Pushtun militias were eager enough to cooperate, but they were also a light infantry force that had little to no big battle experience. By not inserting a sufficient amount of combat power in a decisive manner at a certain time, CENTCOM and Washington violated the principal of war mass. Inaccurate intelligence reports led to the misinterpretation of the enemy.

The lack of a clear, cohesive command structure caused breaks in communication which directly correlated to the absence or violation of several principles of war: surprise, maneuver, and mass. The ground to air coordination of air strikes and support, as well as the U. S. command structure are two key fallacies that came to light during Operation Anaconda. Ultimately these issues were resolved and the learning points of operations such as this better prepare our leaders for future operations. In the end, America wins. Go U. S. A.

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