Training Management in Operation Anaconda
Armies are a vital arm of a country. They exist to serve and defend a nation and its interest mainly by engaging in battles. Additionally, they should be committed to proper planning, preparation, and execution of a war (“Training Units and Developing Leaders”, 2012). However, at times, armies are prudent enough, which leads to catastrophic mistakes sometimes. Such was the case for the Operation Anaconda war.
Operation Anaconda was one of the largest combat in history. It was conducted in Shahikot Valley in Afghanistan in March 2002. The aim of the mission was to drive out the Al Qaeda and Taliban troops, which had camped in the Shahikot valley after their earlier defeats in the previous war in Afghanistan. The United States army commanders came up with a complex and sophisticated war plan meant to employ a “hammer and anvil” attack to achieve the mentioned objective.
The plan visualized two major units, TF hammer, and TF anvil. The former was composed of a special operations team that was to attack the valley and its tactic was to enter the valley where the enemy was concentrated. The latter consisted of TF Rakkasan whose aim was to block and prevent the enemy from escaping the special operation team. However, on the first day of the attack, the Al Qaeda and Taliban forces proved to be fierce than anticipated. The friendly Afghan also withdrew from the war and left the U.S. to face the enemies alone. The war was initially meant to last for three days but it took seventeen days instead, from March 2- March 18. Consequently, the United States army and Al Qaeda killed hundreds of both the fighters and the army and the rest of the enemies fled the valley. In his memoirs, Tommy Franks, a former U.S. central command portrayed Operation Anaconda as successful but one that failed during its initial contact with the enemy.
The operation was named Anaconda in reference to the snake of the boa family which coils around its victims and crushes them to death. An earlier combat operation of December 2001, the Tora battle, had disappointed the US army when many Al Qaeda fighters and their leaders escaped to Pakistan. That escape inspired the battle planners to adopt the Anaconda style. Essentially, the idea of the combat planners was to surround Shahikot valley with numerous concentric troops that would prevent the enemies from either entering or exiting the valley. Inside the valley, the inner troop took the form of a simple hammer and anvil operation to battle Al Qaeda enemies out of the valley. TF Hammer was to attack the Al Qaeda fighters and TF anvil to prevent the fighters from escaping.
Before the battle started, the US army used ambiguous information for the planning and extremely underestimated the number of Al Qaeda fighters in the valley. As a result, the army ended up miscalculating its tactics (Caruso, 2012). TF hammer consisted of a huge task force of Afghan forces which was led by Zia Lodin. When the battle started, the friendly Afghan forces, quit from the battle and that forced the US army to abandon the hammer and anvil tactic because the hammer was no more. The retraction of the friendly Afghan forces also removed almost half of the Anaconda forces from the valley and that exposed the Us army to the full wrath of the enemy. Al Qaeda declared jihad (a Muslim religious war) on the first day of the battle and its army was strengthened further by fighters from outside Shahikot valley.
In addition, the battle planners had initially conceived Anaconda to be mainly a ground operation. When TF Rakassan, part of TF Antil landed, they came under fire immediately therefore and remained pinned down by heavy mortar fire from the Al Qaeda troops. The bad weather worsened the situation by preventing the US army from inserting almost half of their foot soldiers on the first day of the battle. The US army had also called on air forces to conduct limited boycotts against the Al Qaeda forces. They ended up receiving a blow when the planned boycott was stopped because of the presence of special operation forces. All those challenges led to the failure of the US army’s initial plans.
One of the things that showed a lack of preparedness by the US army was the multi-headed command. A major principle of war is unity of command which means that all military operations should be commanded by one senior officer. At the time of Operation Anaconda, the US military had not established unity of command in Afghanistan. Instead, a central commander, general Frank the US led the combat operations. He worked with two major ancillary commands; Coalition Force Air Component Command (CFACC) and Central Forces Air Component Command (CFLCC). The combined Joint task force mountain, led by General Frank Hagenbeck commanded most of the US ground forces and several other command units including TF hammer and TF Antil. While this multi-headed command structure was not deemed a problem during the battle planning stage, it did become a problem when the initial plans failed and the army had to develop new plans. Multiple forces had to report to multiple commanders and this just caused the coordination process and slowed down the plan making process.
Another guiding principle for a battle is mass. An army needs to have an adequate and well-equipped force for a battle. A few weeks prior to the war, the US army sent ground forces to inspect Afghanistan to survey the area and acquire information in readiness for the war. The forces tried to acquire as much information as they could from multiples sources such as human intelligence, overhead reconnaissance and communication intercepts. Even so, they could not get reliable information which could have been attributed partly to inaccessible lands and the enemy’s ability to camouflage. From the information obtained they estimated that almost 1000 enemy troops were in the valley and that they had light weapons. When the TF Hammer and TF Antil units arrived at the valley, they realized that it was a faulty estimate, the numbers were much higher, and Al Qaeda fighters were ready for war contrary to what they had prepared for (HASTERT, 2005). The lack of proper preparations and the withdrawal of the friendly Afghan troops from TF Hammer significantly reduced the ratio of the US army to the Al Qaeda fighters and led to the initial failure of the US army.
The initial execution of the combat mission by TF Hammer/ TF Antil went horribly wrong. It was intended to last for only three days but it extended to seventeen days, it was meant to be a minor combat with the use of only light weapons but it turned violent and caused several casualties and deaths. The army had also intended the war to be a ground battle but it ended up involving the air force too. Also, the number of Al Qaeda, the enemy fighters and their readiness was not what the TF Hammer and TF Antil expected. These challenges made Operation Anaconda fail terribly during the initial contact with the enemy.
The above challenges and troubles started when the army’s tactical plan had to be changed because the combat unfolded in unforeseen and unexpected ways. The enemy resisted with greater fierceness than was expected. Since the battle that actually unfolded was different from the vision of the original plan, the army had to change tactics of the Hammer and the Antil. The lack of a handy second back up plan that would have quickly stabilized the operation resulted into an improvisation of another plan that unfolded unpleasantly. This was due to communication challenges, coordination breakdowns, and lack of a common operational ground for the US army. Due to these challenges, a functional and an easily adaptive plan took a longer time than it should have taken to become effective and this greatly contributed to execution failure at the initial stages of the operation.
The geographic features of the area also gave the TF Hammer and TF Antil forces difficulties in executing the initial plan. First, the weather was bad and since it was a ground operation, it reduced the effectiveness of the operation – the army commanders deployed only half of the infantry to the battlefield. Air force attacks by Task Force Rakkasan could not be effective too due to altitude restrictions in the area that prevented the helicopters from hovering for long. This was coupled up with damages caused by enemy fires that forced the helicopters to be withdrawn. These factors and several other factors caused trouble to the Task Force Hammer and Antil during the initial execution of the operation.
Although Operation Anaconda was an overall success, it was a failure under the Operations process, to include planning, preparing, and execution of the initial battle by TF Hammer/ TF Antil. The US military can draw lots of lessons from Operation Anaconda to avoid similar mistakes while preparing for future battles (Naylor, 2003). First, they should create a unit of command to enable easy planning and coordination of battles. Battle commanders should also make accurate intelligence estimates to help them construct effective battle plans and finally, army forces should prepare adequately for any battle by training properly and going to battles when they are fully equipped.
Caruso, D. (2012). Operation Anaconda: America’s First Major Battle in Afghanistan. Oral History Review, 39(2), 334-336. doi: 10.1093/ohr/ohs065
HASTERT, P. (2005). Operation Anaconda: Perception Meets Reality in the Hills of Afghanistan. Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, 28(1), 11-20. doi: 10.1080/10576100590524294
Naylor, S. (2003). The Lessons of Anaconda. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/02/opinion/the-lessons-of-Anaconda.html
TRAINING UNITS AND DEVELOPING LEADERS. (2012). ADRP 7-0 TRAINING UNITS AND DEVELOPING LEADERS, 3-1 – 3-11. Retrieved from https://armypubs.us.army.mil/doctrine/index.html