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Operation Anaconda: a Failed Mission of The 21st Century

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Operation Anaconda is America’s first Major conflict with the enemy since Desert Storm and the biggest Battle of the 21st century. This operation was a combined efforts between the US service Branches ranging from the Army Special Operations and Conventional forces to USAF and Navy for Fires support along with Coalition forces the Afghan National Army (ANA), with the main push from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Operation Anaconda concept is based off the Principles of Mission Command just like any other mission or approach when it comes to planning for an Operation of any size. According to the Army in ADP 6-0 it states,

“Mission command requires competent forces and an environmental mutual trust and shared understanding among commanders, staffs, and subordinates. It requires effective teams and a command climate in which subordinates are required to seize opportunities and counter threats within the Commander’s intent”.

The Seven Principles Mission Command are:

  1. Competence;
  2. Mutual Trust;
  3. Shared Understanding;
  4. Commander’s Intent;
  5. Mission Order;
  6. Discipline Initiative;
  7. Risk Acceptance.


Operation Anaconda overall was a mission failure, according to the CIA’s intent which was to capture Osama Bin Laden before he was allowed to escape into neighboring Pakistan with US mounted to eight KIA and 50 wounded in action and the mission planned for three days ended up being 17 days from 2-18 March 2002. The inception of mission was set to fail from the beginning because it did not follow the outlines in the Principles of Mission Command. General Hagenbeck, Division commander of the US Army 10th Mountain DIV did not have command authority over TF Dagger a U.S. Special Operation Force (SOF) team, friendly Afghan Forces and could only request Close Air Support (CAS) or Fire Missions with the high level of risk that his request would not be approved in time or denied completely all together. General Hagenbeck was not able to visualize and conceptualize his operation with his command staff because one, he did not have overall command authority, was at the mercy of the CIA and their agenda, as well as having too many top brass not understanding the overall mission, and lastly not having the right people in his staff sections due to the lack of timing, personnel and equipment manning.

The US had not learned from previous failures among its Inner Service Branches when it came to Joint Operations. This one Failed Operation led to the creation of International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) that gave one single Commander overall Command and Control of all US and NATO Coalition Forces on the Global War on Terror. It failed to capture Osama Bin Laden the mastermind of the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York City. Operation Anaconda failed because Leaders failed to utilize the Seven Principles of Mission Command.

In order to be successful in any operation/mission, Leaders must be Competent at their job whether that be a Team Leader all the way up to a Division/Coalition Commander. They must know the responsibilities inherit in whatever role they are assigned to, utilize all resources, personnel, information and knowledge to fully be a sound Commander. General Hagenbeck lacked the concept with TF Dagger and their intelligence that was provided to him when it came to planning the operation. Top Brass were relying too much on ISR Predator Reconnaissance and already made a decisive Battle plan based just Soley off drone intelligence and did not have secondary or tertiary battle plans. When SOF teams were sent into the region of Shah-I- Khot Valley to re affirm the Intel from the Drone footage and they were complexly taken off guard due to the only angle from above approach to RECON of 1 Dimensional. Reports were sent up right away to Higher about the deficiencies and threats from the ground and were ignored thus creating a distrust from the SOF community and Conventional forces. Current Leadership failed to realize that the Russians were too defeated in the same region by the same fighters that they were facing.

The distrust from SOF Communities and Conventional Forces eroded the second Principle of Mission Command, Mutual Trust. Intentionally or Unintentionally General Hagenbeck and his command staff created the division to an already fractured command team. Mutual trust stated in ADP 6-0,

“Mutual Trust is a shared confidence between commanders, subordinates and partners that they can be relied on and are competent in performing their assigned tasks”.

Mutual Trust is highly essential to the success of Mission Command, it must be allowed to flow throughout the Chain of Command between subordinating units so that they can make independent decision thus making them more lethal by exercising initiative on their own. This is clearly shown throughout the entire planning and execution process of the whole Operation. An example that is shown in this article where SOF teams were sent in to train the Afghan forces who were used to guerrilla tactics have never executed structured maneuvers. This train up was supposed to take up to three to four months but due to time constraints the Afghan forces were trained up for about a month or so thus creating an uncertainty of reliability for them to execute with the US structured conventional units. This left doubts in multiple commanders at different levels who all had a Shared Understanding of the mission which was to encircle and to capture Bin Laden from executing their piece of mission. In another article from Military Review Transformation May-June 2002 edition, Adam Geibel illustrates the “Misperception” of Afghan Allied Support when Commander Abdul Mateen Hassankheil, had amassed 1500 or so fighting men in the Shah-I-Kot Valley criticized

“The U.S. does not understand our local politics; it does not know whom to trust and trusts the wrong people”.

CIA and Army planners were not receptive of other intelligence and were misled about enemy numbers in the region and did not confirm the validity of the Intelligence they were receiving nor were the intelligence properly Vetted. This miscalculation in the Army’s ability to properly plan and execute a mission failed because they did not grasp one of the Principles in Mission Command.

Another aspect of Principles of Mission Command is Shared Understanding where I mentioned in the previous paragraph. Throughout the article it shows that at all levels had a Shared Understanding, an understanding of the mission set to a certain degree or level because not all commanders were in the Loop on all aspects of the operations. The last time this type of confusion happened was during the Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia where Army Rangers units and the Army Conventional Infantry Units were not on the same page when it came to secondary Courses of Actions because the top Brass did not deemed it necessary for Commanders of Conventional unit to be informed on secondary plans that was carried out by Army Rangers. General Hagenbeck approved of the name Anaconda because the over objective was to constrict the enemy in the Shah-I- Khot Valley and for Task Force Hammer which consisted of 10th Mountain was to conduct a sweeping maneuver to kill or capture any enemy towards Task Force Rakkasans 101st Airborne Air Assault which were to set up blocking positions and to act as the anvil where they would kill or capture the enemy fleeing from 10th Mountain. Each phase had to be crucially planned and executed in order for Shia’s men and Afghan force to begin their assault. Commanders at each level were able to execute and accomplish their part of mission because of the Shared Understanding of the overall objective of the mission, which was to capture Bin Laden, kill and destroy resources.

Through Shared Understanding of the Mission set all commanders and leaders at the lowest level were able to the best of their ability meet the Commander’s Intent which there were many in the big scheme of the overall objective which was to capture Osama Bin Laden. Each and every ground force, Task Force and maneuvers force understood the Commander’s Intent. At all levels they began to plan, train, rehearse and execute in order to meet the overall intent. The Commander’s Intent gave everyone a clear set of guidelines to properly train and execute their force for the upcoming operations, through this understanding Commanders are able to take and accept necessary risks.

When leaders at different level understands the Commanders intent, they then can create multiple mission orders or tasks to support and execute the Commanders intent. There can be many Mission orders within the Commanders intent or just one. It all depends on what the mission statement is and what the Commander is wanting to do in order to accomplish the mission. In Operation Anaconda there are many Mission orders being planned rehearsed and executed by many commanders because each one had their own piece of the operations to make the mission a success.

Throughout the multiple Mission Orders Commanders were able to implement Discipline Initiatives that allowed them to independently execute what was required of them and allow the Risk Acceptance without the micromanagement from higher echelon commanders. These two Principles of Mission Command allowed subordinate unit leadership to develop junior leaders, allow them the flexibility to make mistakes during the planning and rehearsal portion of the Operation which is instrumental in the growing of younger Commissioned Officer and Non-Commissioned Officers.

In closing to Operation Anaconda, even though it was an overall Mission Failure due to the escape of Bin Laden many leaders have considered this as a victory due to the destruction of the enemy forces and the withdrawal of Al Qaeda and Taliban forces from the region. Their reasoning to the “Victory” is because they were able to meet most requirements in the Principles of Mission Command. 

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