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Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan


Operation Anaconda was conducted in Shaikot Valley, Afghanistan, in March 2002. It was fought in difficult mountain conditions and ended up with an American victory. More than 50 U.S. combatants were wounded, and eight were killed. The battle can be analyzed from the point of view of mission command principles, such as mutual trust, competence, shared understanding, and clearance of the commander’s intent. Exercising disciplined initiative and the level of risk acceptance is also important. At some points, operation Anaconda was successful, despite the lack of mutual trust and shared understanding between the troops.

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There are several principles of mission command which allow overcoming the difficulties occurring during combat. The first one is competence because, without it, soldiers cannot apply their skills adequately to the situation. According to a senior USAF officer, during the battle of Shah-i-Khot, the U.S. troops could have used more efficient tactics. He supposed that they should have used airstrikes for several days or even weeks, which would allow the howitzers and bombs to pummel the caves (Geibel, 2002). However, it does not fully reflect the lack of competence of the U.S. troops because, as another officer argued, there are no tactical plans that could survive the first encounter with an enemy. The plan changed, and the fact that something had gone wrong does not prove that the U.S. troops lacked competence (Geibel, 2002). The fact that in the beginning, the Americans had severe losses can be partially explained by the fact of the mountain landscape, by the well-developed skills of the enemies who were using mortars, and by their willingness to fight to the death for the glory of Islam. According to Kugler et al. (2009), the U.S. troops were not mature enough for ground operations in Afghanistan. Besides, there were problems in initial intelligence estimates, which resulted in failures on the battlefield.

Mutual Trust

The troops fighting with Taliban and Al Qaeda included not only the U.S. soldiers but also Afghan allies. As long as the Afghan culture and mentality are different from the American ones, there was some lack of trust in the Afghan allies. It is supported by the information provided in the Military Review (2002) journal, which stated that a U.S. officer supposed that Afghan allies were communicating with the enemy. It seemed that someone “leaked the plan of attack” to Taliban troops (Geibel, 2002). Zia Lodin, an Afghan commander, was believed to “punk out”, as he was supposed to attack the first day, but he “didn’t perform” (Geibel, 2002). However, some officers considered the Afghan soldiers “no less noble, no less brave” than the U.S. ones.

Shared Understanding

The communication between the troops provided an understanding of the situation. As for the tactic applied during the battle, it had to be changed and adapted according to the current situation. Geibel (2002) mentioned that initial reports made by the wire services were confusing and vague. It was explained by the fact that very few reporters accompanied the U.S. troops on the battlefield. Besides, the air and ground components interpreted the situation differently and had a different understanding of issues referring to time-sensitive targeting, close air support, and interdiction (Kugler et al., 2009). In order to provide timely effectiveness, the commanders had to coordinate with CENTCOM, which would have ensured ROE enforcement.

Commander’s Intent

The commanders’ intent was clear, as long as it was communicated to the troops during the previous discussion of the tactics. However, on the battlefield, the troops faced severe mortar fire, and the tactics had to be changed and adapted to the current situation. Despite this fact, the intent of the commander was still clear to the subordinates,

Mission Orders

The Anaconda operation has demonstrated that the U.S. troops need mission orders, fire restrictions, and rules of engagement. It can be provided by clear guidance and control by the experts. However, mission orders have a drawback since they allocate too much discretionary authority to the low levels, which results in sacrificing the high-level control and command. Thus, in theory, a clear commander’s intent and mission orders can clarify the actions that should be done on the battlefield. During the operation, SEZs were created in order to provide flexible communication between the commanders and the subordinates.

Disciplined Initiative

The discipline in the U.S. troops was highly developed, and the soldiers were executing commanders’ orders without any delays. Subordination between the leaders and the soldiers had been safe throughout the whole operation. The morale in the troops was high, and despite the fear that the combatants experienced during the intensive mortar shrapnel attacks, they still fought and did not leave the battlefield without an order.

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Risk Acceptance

Throughout the Anaconda operation, commanders and subordinates of the U.S. troops demonstrated their bravery many times. For example, captain Kevin Butler exposed himself to the enemy fire, running up the hill several times in order to define the location of Afghan troops and to call an airstrike. At night, the U.S. troops attempted to establish a new post to observe the enemy supply and find their escape routes. Besides, helicopters were sent to extract the Special forces and their comrades who were killed. It was made at night before the moon rose, and it was a risky operation. Thus, during the operation, the U.S. troops took many risky actions in order to win.


Kugler R., Baranick M., Binnendijk H (2009). Operation Anaconda. Lessons for joint operations. Center for Technology and National Security Policy National Defense University.

Geibel A. Operation Anaconda, Shah-i-Khot Valley, Afghanistan, 2002. Military Review.

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