This case study details how the U.S. operations in Afghanistan developed under the changing circumstances that prompted American forces to adapt to the new scenario. Initially, Operation Anaconda was scheduled to last for three days, but it took ten days and was only called off after on the seventeenth day. Moreover, the battle plan that the U.S. commanders had anticipated to use in the battle failed to achieve its target as the enemy forces proved to be more lethal than had previously been expected. Furthermore, the allied forces that the U.S. relied on to help them march into the Valley failed to meet the expectations. All these factors put the U.S. forces in a precarious position that required an immediate change of strategy. Ultimately, the outcome of the mission was determined by the adaptability potential of the units and commanders who had to improvise under the presented circumstances.
The success of Operation Anaconda was attributed to the immediate change of tactics by the U.S. forces against the prevailing circumstances. More specifically, the American military adapted swiftly and employed modern information networks and joint operations to overcome an otherwise dire situation (Kugler & Kugler, 2007). However, despite its success, Operation Anaconda revealed certain controversial issues within the command structure of the U.S. Army.
The light infantry forces’ armament, original intelligence estimates, coordination of network air-ground as well as the initial reliance upon allied Afghan forces ignited a considerable concern. Operation Anaconda also provided vital lessons to the U.S. military (Kugler & Kugler, 2007). The mistakes made in Afghanistan and the challenges encountered provided the command center with valuable insight that prevented the repetition of a similar development in the subsequent operations.
The earlier Afghanistan conflicts that saw the engagement of the U.S. Army set the stage for Operation Anaconda. For example, in Operation Enduring Freedom that had happened almost immediately after the September 11 terrorist attack, the U.S. military learned that the landlocked state of Afghanistan had its unique challenges when it came to the deployment of high numbers of ground troops. Operation Anaconda revealed that lasers, global positioning systems (GPS), and satellite radios offered were more convenient as they helped the units manage precision strikes and efficient communication networks (Department of Defense, 2018).
Operation Enduring Freedom reinforced the idea of collaborating with allied Afghanistan forces to complete ground missions. However, unlike Enduring Freedom, Operation Anaconda benefited from more time to plan and design working strategies (Department of Defense, 2018). The U.S. even managed to ensure support from neighboring friendly states, particularly Pakistan and Uzbekistan, for logistics. This implies that they secured a solid support base around a common enemy before the real battle began.
Intelligence also played a role of pivotal importance in the course and success of Operation Anaconda. The Shahikot Valley had provided a haven for the enemy forces. This area is characterized by steep ridges, crevasses, caves, and limited access routes that would have prevented the U.S. troops from reaching the location of the enemy. Indeed, the Soviet Army troops that had battled the Afghan soldiers in the early years had been forced to retreat (Kugler & Kugler, 2007). For the Operation Anaconda soldiers, there was a strong lack of data regarding the number of troops in the Valley, as well as their level of weaponry.
However, the intelligence collected through communication interception and overhead reconnaissance provided the Operation Anaconda commanders with the necessary information regarding the actual situation. They utilized this intelligence to precision their strikes and blocked all the possible escape routes that the enemy would have used to flee (Kugler & Kugler, 2007). Nonetheless, the intelligence gathered for this sake was not sufficient as it did not provide the exact number of fighters in there. This left the U.S. troops with the option of estimating the possible number of fighters, an exercise that they did erroneously. They underestimated the number and the sophistication of weaponry that the enemy forces possessed.
In all military campaigns worldwide, there is always a single command center. Unfortunately, Operation Anaconda did not have this in its ranks. There had not been a central command center in earlier phases of the war. Different Generals reported to various centers of command, which led to more confusion in earlier battles. However, they were successful in some cases, and this prompted Operation Anaconda to return to the concept of a single command center (U.S. Military, 2018). Having multiple forces report to numerous commanders can be counterproductive, especially when dealing with a common enemy like it was with the Taliban and al-Qaeda forces.
Having a sufficient number of forces who are well equipped can work in favor of an entity. In their incursion in Afghanistan, the Soviet Union used a prevailing number of troops. The U.S. commanders did not intend to pursue a similar approach to the conflict. However, they soon came to realize that having a large army was instrumental in winning. Moreover, Operation Anaconda left out heavy artillery and tanks because of the need to keep the scale of warfare from expanding beyond control (Department of Defense, 2018).
The enemy portrayed resilience and heavy firepower that prompted Operation Anaconda leaders to reconsider their approach. It was at this point that they considered the inclusion of the friendly Afghan troops (U.S. Military, 2018). However, the friendly troops were largely deficient in several ways, including lacking in training and sufficient arms. Forming a coalition with friendly troops is a welcome idea. However, it is instrumental in forming alliances with soldiers who are battle-hardened and prepared to support your course. This will prevent the time and resources required to train and arm such troops.
The Operation Anaconda battle plan was developed around a concept referred to as Hammer and Anvil. As has been discussed above, the Shahikot Valley was the epicenter of the war. Using the concept of an anaconda snake that coils itself around its victim and then constricts and kills it, Operation Anaconda aimed to surround the Valley in a similar manner (U. S. Military, 2018). Further, the hammer and the anvil would allow the U.S. forces to approach from the high ground at the Valley’s southern and northern ends. This would have provided them with complete control of the Valley. This plan implied that the U.S. troops were to divide the forces into two major groups: The Task Force Harmer and the Task Force Rakkasans.
Each of the forces was to approach the Valley from the north and south immediately and sandwich the enemies in between. The hammer and the anvil concept, however, did not live up to its billing. The Sahikot Valley situation proved to be a major concern for the U.S. forces. The friendly troops that they had relied on to access the Valley became endangered by their bombings. This meant that they had to abandon the plan and devise a different approach that could work under such circumstances. Hence, they adopted a new strategy of withdrawal and abandoning the offensive tactics at the Valley. Ultimately, the outcome of the operation was determined by the ability of the U.S. forces and commanders to adapt to the new operational environment.
Department of Defense. (2018). Operation anaconda: An air power perspective – unique case study in application of force, lessons on joint warfare in Afghanistan, planning for operations, persistent close air support (CAS). Independently Published.
Kugler, R., & Kugler, R. L. (2007). Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan: A case study of adaptation in battle. Center for Technology and National Security Policy.
U. S. Military. (2018). Operation anaconda: Lessons for joint operations – analysis of complex Afghanistan war battle, problems in first days, intelligence estimates, integrating air-ground operations, rules of engagement. Amazon Digital Services LLC – KDP Print U.S.