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Analysis of Mission Command: Operation Anaconda

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Table of contents

  1. Abstract
  2. Mission Command: Operation Anaconda
  3. Build Cohesive Teams Through Mutual Trust
  4. Create a Shared Understanding
  5. Provide a Clear Commander’s Intent
  6. Exercise Disciplined Initiative
  7. Use Mission Orders
  8. Accept Prudent Risk
  9. Conclusion


This persuasive essay conducts an analysis of mission command during “Operation Anaconda”, a military operation conducted in the Shahikot Valley during the very early stages of Operation Enduring Freedom. This operation followed the Battle of Tora Bora which led to the partial defeat and escape of Taliban and al Qaeda forces across the Pakistan border due to the lack of coalition blocking forces. Operation Anaconda displays how the principles of mission command are interconnected and directly linked to battlefield operations. Also portrayed during Operation Anaconda was the fractured nature of mission command principles when their acceptance and execution are not fully implemented. The successes and subsequent failures of this operation and their associated mission command principles set the stage for all future engagements in the War in Afghanistan.

Mission Command: Operation Anaconda

The Department of the Army’s Army Doctrine Publication (ADP) 6-0, defines mission command as “the Army’s approach to command and control that empowers subordinate decision-making and decentralized execution appropriate to the situation”. Mission Command in the U.S. Army consists of six principles: build cohesive teams through mutual trust, create a shared understanding, provide a clear commander’s intent, exercise disciplined initiative, use mission orders, and accept prudent risk, which all enable commanders and their staffs to initiate military battle plans with clear guidance and directive. Commanders and their staff employ mission command to maneuver forces and shape operations according to “commander’s intent” guided by mission, enemy, terrain, troops available, and civilian considerations (MET-TC). Military operations are employed via the philosophy of mission command, executed by warfighting troops, and enabled through military lines of effort. The failure of all six mission command principles during Operation Anaconda forever altered the way the U.S. conducts warfare while creating enormous challenges our forces are still dealing with.

Build Cohesive Teams Through Mutual Trust

The United States commenced warfare with select coalition forces as well as local militia from the Lion of Panjshir, Ahmad Shah Masoud’s Northern Alliance. The Northern Alliance were battle-hardened Turkmen, Uzbek, and Afghani militia that honed their fighting prowess during 20 years of warfare against the Soviet Union. However, during Operation Anaconda, the local militia troops were not associated with the Northern Alliance, but instead with Zia Lodin’s “Eastern Alliance”. To build a cohesive team, U.S. forces rushed to develop mutual trust thereby disregarding cultural norms. Ultimately, Lodin’s forces unexpectedly withdrew leaving U.S. infantry troops alone and vulnerable on the eastern slopes of the Shahikot Valley. The expanded cultivation of mutual trust would have built a more cohesive team of U.S. military and Pashtun militia. This fully developed scenario would have provided more “buy-in” regarding the Pashtuns’ vital mission essential role as the “hammer” in the hammer and anvil operation.

Create a Shared Understanding

The end state of shared understanding is all stakeholders retain a shared understanding of the battlespace and its operational environment, including its problems, alternate courses of action, and solutions inherent to the way forward. A deeply shared understanding during Operation Anaconda was the one between the Coalition Forces Land Component Command (CFLCC) U.S. Army Lieutenant General (LTG) Paul Mikolashek, Coalition Forces Air Component Command (CFACC) U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General (LTG) Michael Moseley, and U.S. Army tactical commander in Afghanistan, Major General (MG) Franklin Hagenbeck. The CFLCC and CFACC and their attached commands were stationed in the Persian Gulf while MG Hagnebeck and his units were on the ground in Afghanistan. The shared understanding of the operation was understood by all U.S. commanders although its fruits were not borne during the battle mainly due to the splintered command structure.

Provide a Clear Commander’s Intent

“Operation Anaconda sought to clear the enemy in that valley area and in those hills,” said General (GEN) Tommy R. Franks, U.S. Army, Commander, U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM). This intent was clearly conveyed from GEN Franks to component and tactical commanders, wherever they were stationed. Though this severed command structure consisted of assorted units all who had a role in the ultimate success or failure of the operation. For example, ground operations commanders could not approve airstrikes or direct certain special operations units and non-military entities such as, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). While GEN Franks was able to provide clear commanders intent, the broken command structure inhibited commanders decision making.

Exercise Disciplined Initiative

“Exercise disciplined initiative” is “action in the absence of orders, when existing orders no longer fit the situation, or when unforeseen opportunities or threats arise” per Army Doctrine Publication (ADP) 6-0. U.S. troops exercised disciplined initiative by being versatile, agile, and flexible. They also displayed great disciplined initiative as their original battle plans were discarded and replaced by different schemes of fire and maneuver, such as U.S. forces engaging in the role of both “hammer and anvil”. Due to these changes, American forces were able to overcome unforeseen obstacles and emerge relatively victorious.

Use Mission Orders

Mission orders guide the use and employment of equipment, resources, tasks, missions, and personnel. During Operation Anaconda, indirect fire weapons, helicopter gunships, and armored fire support platforms such as Infantry Fighting Vehicles or Cavalry Fighting Vehicles for infantry support were not sufficiently allotted for the operation. These deficiencies were based on flawed intelligence and lack of properly coordinated air assets. Commanders soon realized the dire circumstances of their situation and began to initiate contingencies and alternate courses of action (COA’s), such as, immediately replacing damaged Apache helicopter gunships and relying on cached fuel, ammunition, and other supplies which maximized resource allocation. Only after the mission orders were adapted was the tide of battle turned .

Accept Prudent Risk

Inaccurate intelligence assessments and faulty coordination for Operation Anaconda portrayed the scenario that the battle could be won with light weapons, no armor, and little ground-based fire support. Ultimately it was judged that Operation Anaconda would be short in duration. It was finally terminated after seventeen days. MG Hagenbeck took these factors into account and judged potential injuries, or the loss of life would be worth the cost. Another prudent risk that was accepted by the tactical commander was that without adequate U.S. infantry blocking forces, some militant fighters would escape into the mountains. Eventually, it was learned many enemy fighters escaped into the loosely guarded mountainous Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Ultimately, before battle commences adaptive plans should be developed and implemented while steps should be taken to ensure that the necessary forces and capabilities are on standby.


In conclusion, Operation Anaconda was a military operation conducted by the United States and its allies in the War in Afghanistan in 2002. The operation was an attempt to flush out Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters from the Shahi.

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Analysis of Mission Command: Operation Anaconda. (2023, February 11). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 26, 2023, from
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