SFC Matthew D. Graham
Master Leader Course 03-18
Even though military leaders and analysts
regard Operation Anaconda as a success, commanders at all levels would have
been more effective with proper joint considerations, especially in regards to
the planning process, clearly established command structure and unity command, regardless
of the fact that subordinate commanders executed excellent mission command in
the face of challenges. The battle took
place in Shahi Kot Valley in the spring of 2002 and was the first battle of its
size since coalition force began operations in Afghanistan. There was more ordnance dropped in that
valley during those two weeks than the coalition used in the previous five
months combined (Andres & Hukill, 2007). However, if Central Command (CENTCOM) had
properly considered all aspects of operating in the joint environment, the
operation would have concluded in a much shorter time.
It is a critical aspect of fighting
today’s wars and engaging today’s enemies, there cannot be mission success if
only fighting in a single domain. Given
how technology has advanced, and how the enemy has access to commercially
available tools that can be used in a military capacity, all services must come
together to pool their knowledge and expertise to ensure decisive victory. When
the U.S. first entered operations in Afghanistan, it had been several years since
the Department of Defense (DOD) was last required to think about defeating an
enemy in a joint way. This atrophied
skillset is why Operation Anaconda lasted near two weeks instead of the
anticipated few days, and why the Air Force element was not as effective as it
could have been (Fleri, Howard, Hukill, & Searle, 2003).
The U.S. fights today’s wars in a complex,
far-reaching, multi-domain operating environment (JP 3-0, 2001, p. IV-1, para.
2.a.). Today’s enemy is sophisticated,
technologically perceptive, and agile with how they operate. It is a given that
U.S. military branches each have a different skillset that they bring to the
table. If that were not the case, there
would be no valid justification for there to be more than one service. However, those capabilities do not matter,
and we lose in that multi-domain environment, when we fail consider every skill
into the joint planning process.
The air force component learned of
Operation Anaconda plan only two days before the operation began (Fleri,
Howard, Hukill, & Searle, 2003). That was a failure on the part of the
commanders. The larger the organization,
the more time you need to prepare to execute a new plan. Imagine how easy it is for a rowboat to
change from heading north to heading south, it can happen in a matter of seconds
due to its small size and only needing one or two people. Now imagine how much time it would take for a
navy destroyer to make that same change in direction. It would take ten-times as long, because the
size of the boat and the number of crew whom all have to understand the goal
and work together to make it happen.
That is similar to why the air force was not as effective as it could
have been during Operation Anaconda.
They were the destroyer, expected to make the same turn as a rowboat,
because nobody was there during the planning process to explain that they
needed significantly more time to meet the mission requirements. As a result, commanders made sacrifices regarding
communication and coordination, which kept the air force element from being as
effective as it could have been.
The Army, Air Force, and Special
Operations each had complex portions of Operation Anaconda; coming together
earlier in the planning process would have made the operation more successful. The Joint Special Operations Task Force North
(JSOTF–N) began the planning effort for Anaconda months before the execution
took place. Then the Combined Forces
Land Component Commander (CFLCC) reassigned the mission from JSOTF-N to the 10th
Mountain Division Headquarters element who continued planning for weeks. Even
though all this planning took place for months, the 10th Mountain
Division only incorporated the Combined Forces Air Component Commander (CFACC)
two days prior to the mission start date (Andres & Hukill, 2007).
Structure and Unity of Command
Operation Anaconda suffered from a
disjointed command structure; essential command nodes for the various elements
of the fight were all in different geographic locations. Without having a command and control element
present in the fight, or at least forward deployed, there are simply too many
barriers to effective communication. If
commanders made the brigade tactical command post the on scene command element,
the operation would have succeeded much sooner.
The Air Force is an incredibly valuable
force. Properly incorporating them into
the plan and making it a truly joint operation would have reduced some of the
confusion and delays when the tactical controllers on the ground called in targets. Even if the Army commander was the lead
element, involving the CFLCC in the planning process increases the likelihood of
success (Kugler, Baranick, &
Despite the challenges presented to the
commanders involved in Operation Anaconda, they had a great understanding of
“Mission command is all about empowering
subordinates to exploit the initiative versus controlling compliance with a
specific directive,” (Perkins, 2007). Mission
command is essential for commanders to adapt to the fog of war. It allows subordinate commanders and noncommissioned
officers (NCOs) to take advantage of situations as they arise and allow for the
mission to continue despite not having received guidance from higher
headquarters regarding a recent development.
This can only happen if two things occur. First, the senior commander must provide a
clear intent and end state. Second, the
subordinate commander or leader must understand that senior commander’s intent.
If both of those things have taken place, then those two commanders have
established a degree of trust that will allow for the concept of mission
command. The senior believe that the
subordinate will complete the mission while the subordinate leader believes he
has the support of his or her senior commander to make the decisions necessary to
complete that mission.
Operation Anaconda was a success because
of the fact that the U.S. forces were able to exercise mission command and make
tough calls despite the fact that the enemy forces were vastly larger than
intelligence reported and that they were in well-fortified fighting positions
and even called in reinforcements at a certain point. When the U.S. ground forces in Shahi Kot valley
realized they were facing a larger and more determined enemy than expected,
they exercised the concept of mission command and remained agile, took the
initiative, and adapted the tougher enemy than anticipated (Fleri, Howard, Hukill, & Searle, 2003).
Even though most regard Operation
Anaconda as a success, and despite subordinate commanders properly executing
mission command in the face of challenges, senior commanders should have
executed with proper joint considerations, especially in regards to the
planning process, and established a clear command structure and unity of
command. Fortunately, this was not a
costly lesson for the U.S. military to learn from, Operation Anaconda will
continue to serve as an example on how to exercise proper joint considerations.
R. B.; & Hukill, J. B. (2007).
ANACONDA: A Flawed Joint Planning
Process. Joint Force Quarterly,
for the Armed Forces of the United States. (2001). Joint
Publication 3-0). Retrieved from http://www.dtic.mil/doctrine/new_pubs/jp3_0_20170117.pdf
E., Howard, E., Hukill, J., & Searle, T. R. (2003, November 13). Operation Anaconda Case Study. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: College of Aerospace
Doctrine, Research and Education.
R. L., Baranick, M., & Binnendijk, H. (2009). Operation Anaconda, Lessons for Joint
Operations. Washington D.C.:
Center for Technology and National Security Policy.
D. G. (2017, August 17). A Story of Trust and Mission Command
Video file. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3gfcYKC7eXA