The major purpose of the unity of command is to arrange the effective operation of various forces under the authority of a single commander. In military operations, such unity is of utmost importance since people’s lives and countries’ relationships depend on the outcomes of such operations. Anaconda, the military operation conducted by the US forces in Afghanistan in February 2002, is generally considered as a successful one. However, due to long-distance leadership and the lack of trust and understanding between different services, the unity of command during Anaconda cannot be viewed as well-organized.
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The History of Operation Anaconda
The Purpose of the Operation
The final plan for Operation Anaconda was issued on February 10-13, 2002 (“Operation Anaconda,” 2005). The start of the operation was planned for the end of February 2002, but due to unfavorable weather conditions, it was shifted to March 2. Anaconda was developed as one of the elements of Operation Enduring Freedom (Fleri, Howard, Hukill, & Searle, 2003). The mission, which was conducted in Afghanistan, aimed at destroying al Qaeda fighters hiding in the Shahi-Kot Valley (Marzano, 2006). Due to the geographic location, the operation’s environment was rather challenging both for soldiers and machinery.
The Units Involved and the Unity of Command
The operation involved several elements, including Task Force (TF) Dagger, TF Rakkasan, TF Commando, TF 64, TF Bowie, and TF Sword. At the beginning of February 2002, TF Dagger started arranging planning meetings with other TFs and the Coalition Forces Land Component Command (CFLCC) (Fleri et al., 2003). The lack of the unity of command was noticed already by the end of February 2002 when it appeared that the Combined Force Air Component Command had not been informed about the operation yet.
The Main Commander in Charge of Anaconda
The main person in charge of Anaconda was Major General Franklin L. Hagenbeck, the commander of the Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) Mountain (Fleri et al., 2003). TF Mountain was located in Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan under the control of CFLCC in Kuwait (Kugler, Baranick, & Binnendijk, 2009). Although the division was appointed CJTF, it was not a formally established joint task force “with full representation from the other services” (Kugler et al., 2009, p. 2). Because initially, CJTF Mountain did not have control over other organizations, misunderstandings emerged at the earliest phases of the operation.
The Significance of the Unity of Command and the Failures of Anaconda
Issues Related to the Unity of Command
Probably the most highly criticized aspect of Operation Anaconda was that of confusing command relationships. Because of the participation of several different services in the operation, it appeared too difficult for them to communicate effectively (Grossman, 2004). The primary reason for that was the establishment of a separate command chain for interagency operations and special operations forces (Fleri et al., 2003). Also, there was confusion as to the task organization, commanders, and authorities responsible for different dimensions of actions.
The Extent to which the Issues Were Addressed
The problems related to the unity of command were not addressed appropriately. There was much criticism of the operation’s commanders due to the lack of effective coordination across various services (Grossman, 2004). What is more, there was a lack of trust between the services, which caused one of the most “enduring casualties” of the operation (Grossman, 2004, p. 16). Although some attempts were made to repair the level of trust and mitigate misunderstandings, they were not enough to save the situation.
Long-Distance Leadership as an Obstacle
The issues associated with the lack of unity of command may have appeared due to the long-distance leadership. As Marzano (2006) notes, leading such a large military operation as Anaconda was complicated by the fact that the theater of operation and headquarters were not in the same location. Although modern technologies allow for high-quality communication, their application appeared not to be enough for Anaconda’s successful implementation.
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Lessons for Future Operations
Unity of Command and Intelligence Estimates
The main lesson learned from Anaconda is that joint forces need to work harder on the unity of command since the lack of such unity put the whole operation under threat. It is necessary to establish forward-deployed joint teams and arrange joint planning processes at a higher level (Kugler et al., 2009). In fluid situations involving different forces’ participation to perform a variety of missions, it is crucial to have effective subordinate structures of joint command and control. Another important aspect to consider in the future concerns accurate intelligence estimates. Anaconda demonstrated the need for adaptive plans, backup branches, and well-built battle plans for joint operations (Kugler et al., 2009). The lesson learned during Anaconda was that without accurate intelligence estimates, there might develop the problem of unreliable data, which may lead to serious losses.
Joint Forces Integrity
Another important lesson is the need for enhanced integration between joint forces, namely, air and ground ones. As Kugler et al. (2009) report, Anaconda lacked a common perception of force employment approaches. Furthermore, the operation demonstrated that insufficient coordination and information networks could undermine the success of air-ground operations. Shortcomings in networking and communications systems had the potential to undermine the effectiveness of US joint operations (Kugler et al., 2009). Thus, the main focus should be made not on separate actions but on joint performance.
Finally, a serious issue faced during Anaconda that needs to be improved in future operations is the issue of health care. According to Midla (2004), there were problems with soldiers’ nutrition, medical evacuation, and altitude sickness. The author, who served as the battalion physician assistant for 2/187 Infantry Regiment (Raider Rakkasans) of the 101st Airborne Division in 2002, emphasizes that nutritional aspects of operation planning were not given sufficient attention. Specifically, Midla (2004) notes that because of inappropriate nutrition on the first few days of the operation, soldiers’ “operational sharpness began to dull” (p. 810). Hence, the author urges that future operations’ preparation should involve more attention to the nutrition aspect. Additionally, Midla (2004) notices that future air assault operations require more understanding of altitude sickness and consequences related to it since such measures will eliminate serious hindrances to the success of operations.
Operation Anaconda led to overall positive results on a large scale. However, the lack of unity of command, which was one of the key challenges during the operation, led to serious criticism of the US military forces. The main commander did not have enough trust from his subordinates, and it was difficult to arrange the cooperation of various task forces effectively. Confusing command relationships constituted yet another hindrance to effective communication. Operation Anaconda left several crucial lessons, learning from which future military campaigns should be more effective and successful.
Fleri, E., Howard, E., Hukill, J., & Searle, T. R. (2003). Operation Anaconda case study. Maxwell AFB, AL: College of Aerospace Doctrine, Research and Education.
Grossman, E. M. (2004). Army analyst blames Afghan battle failings on bad command set-up. Inside the Pentagon, 20(31), 1, 16-21.
Kugler, R. L., Baranick, M., & Binnendijk, H. (2009). Operation Anaconda: Lessons for joint operations. Web.
Marzano, T. (2006). Criticisms associated with operation Anaconda: Can long distance leadership be effective? Web.
Midla, G. S. (2004). Lessons learned: Operation Anaconda. Military Medicine, 169, 810-813.
Operation Anaconda: An air power perspective. (2005). Web.