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Operation Anaconda Analytical Essay

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Operation Anaconda was a hastily planned attack on the largest concentrations of al Qaeda and Taliban fighters known to be in the Shahikot Valley. On September 12th, 2001 directly following the devastating attacks on American soil, The United States Central Command (CENTCOM) commander was designated the overall support commander and coalition/joint force commander for operation Enduring Freedom (Major Fleri, Colonel Howard, Hukill, & Searle, 2003, p. 2). A battle planned to last a duration of two or three days, U.S. forces planned tactics and procedures around earlier successes in similar areas of Afghanistan in a simple search and destroy mission. Upon early staging of battle, stronger enemy resistance was met and a combat environment with challenging terrain and obstacles resulted in major changes being made to the initial plan. Joint force air support had to be established rapidly and reactive movements enabled an overall mission success. Had proper command and control and strategical asset placement been present from the beginning, forces would have been aided in quicker response time, and wounded and casualties would have been reduced.

Operation Anaconda is the direct result of the rapid development of Operation Enduring Freedom in early March 2002. Due to its hasty development, irregular organizational structures existed with CENTCOM, Commanders were selected with headquarters operating out of MacDill Air Force Base in Florida while the rest of the coalition and joint forces were operating in the Shahikot Valley of Afghanistan. Although there are many reasons why difficulty was met, it’s important to note the complexity of the battle was attributed to the rugged mountainous area, weather conditions, military organization, misinformed intelligence, and equipment needs. Operation Anaconda was a battle that started with a tactical plan that had to be rapidly adjusted due to an adaptive enemy. Below we will analyze the shortcomings and tribulation points utilizing the six principles of mission command in the effort to identify critical fail points.

Building Cohesive Teams Through Mutual Trust

Air Force, Naval, Marine Corps, Army, Special Operation Forces, Coalition SOF, and friendly Afghan forces could all be found through the involvement. With the quick buildup into the area of operations, it’s not hard to see the importance that mutual trust holds throughout the operation. Original planning had friendly Afghan forces and U.S forces dominating the ground attacks in a commonly employed military tactic called Hammer-and-Anvil. To be successful mutual trust must be established between U.S forces and local allied ground forces. Due to local intelligence reports, it was decided to keep some of the key mission specifics such as when and where forces would be striking, and the friendly Afghan forces. This was done out of fear that sensitive information would get back to the enemy and compromise the mission. “Trust is gained or lost through everyday actions more than grand or occasional gestures” (Odierno, 2012, pp. 2-1 (2-5)). As the battle started to unfold an unanticipated and early withdrawal of friendly Afghan forces caused more U.S involvement than originally planned, “Withdrawn Afghan forces removed about 50 percent of Anaconda’s planned ground forces for the valley battle and exposed U.S. ground forces to the enemy’s full blows” (Kugler, Baranick, & Binnendijk, 2009, p. viii) This turn of events resulted in an increased need for air support in and around the valley region.

Creating Shared Understanding

Shared understanding begins when there is a clear understanding of the operational environment, this encompasses the operation’s “purpose, problems, and approaches to solving them” (Odierno, 2012, pp. 2-2 (2-9)). Operation Anaconda was thoroughly planned and coordinated from a distant headquarters while numerous key service entities began entering the theater without a clear mission understanding. Forces were consolidated under Joint Forces Special Operations Component Commanders (JFSOCC) and Combined Forces Land Component Commanders (CFLCC), making up much of the conventual ground forces. The Combined Forces Air Component Commander (CFACC) oversaw aviation support. A major downfall was the late involvement due to a naval carrier rotating out of the theater. Although channels of communication were established among the different commands, the overall authority of operations was not clearly assigned which resulted in an evident lack of command and control. Although forces were commanded by the 10th Mountain Division under the name Task Force Mountain, Anaconda showed the struggles and challenges of executing war operations with a distant headquarters and a lack of unity among joint forces.

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Providing a Clear Commander’s Intent

Providing commanders’ intent is hugely important for overall success, it’s a necessity to have a clear and concise vision of what the commander’s desires are. The intent is designed to be the “basis on which staffs and subordinate leaders develop plans and orders that transform thought into action” (Odierno, 2012, pp. 2-3 (2-14)). In the instance of Operation Anaconda, clear and concise information was directed from higher chains of command revolving around incorrect intelligence on enemy involvement in the area. Briefed as a mainly ground combat operation with a total of enemy combatants numbering 200 strong, enemy forces realistically were 800 to 1000. The original commander’s intent was to employ ground forces with little air support to push enemy forces out of hiding and prevent movement in neighboring countries. Anaconda was to utilize similar military tactics that had proven successful in earlier conflicts in Afghanistan. Joint forces were faced with a much larger and stronger enemy force resistance, resulting in the increased need to call in additional air support and alter the designation of internal force operations.

Exercise Disciplined Initiative

Exercising disciplined initiative requires leaders and subordinates to act in the absence of orders, specifically when the existing orders no longer apply to the situation at hand, or when impending threats arise. During Operation Anaconda, exercising disciplined initiative was a key aspect of overall mission success. The case study supports that the commanders of Anaconda should have adopted battle plans that could be carried out with the forces at hand in the best way possible to defeat the enemy. Originally planned as a primary ground force operation, with a foreseeable index three days after D-day. Commanders anticipated a mixture of light ground fighting and detainment of hostile personnel, “the mission was to search and destroy an estimated force of several hundred al Qaeda and Taliban troops” (Kugler, Baranick, & Binnendijk, 2009, p. 5). When the ground fighting began, it was evident that the viable plan was far more complicated than anticipated, enemy force numbers were larger than originally reported and armed with artillery, mortars, and small arms weapons. Out of the 400 U.S. Army soldiers scheduled to participate in D-day movements, only 200 were deployed due to bad weather and enemy fire preventing movement. U.S. ground forces were faced with battle immediately, fighting platoon-sized elements of enemy soldiers in predesignated landing areas reportedly clear from enemy contact. It was evident that dedicated Combat Air Support was needed, rapid reconfiguration of support assets was made, and the assistance of various F-16s, F-14s, and A-10s was flown in to support.

Use Mission Orders

The use of mission orders allows commanders to assign tasks, align resources, and issue guidance on how results are to be attained, this is not to be confused with direct guidance on how to achieve goals. “In Early January 2002, the CFLCC reported that the largest concentration of al Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan appeared to be in the area between the towns of Kowst and Gardez” (Major Fleri, Colonel Howard, Hukill, & Searle, 2003, p. 7). Operation Anaconda’s mission orders were to search and destroy identifying the largest concentration of enemy fighters that would be hiding in caves and amongst the civilian populations. Army Task Force Mountain took lead as the organization during the planning and execution of Operation Anaconda; however, joint planning didn’t happen and involvement of the CFACC wasn’t presented until seven days prior to the start of the battle. “Because such changes had not been expected or prepared for, U.S. forces initially had some difficulties integrating their service component actions into true joint operations” (Kugler, Baranick, & Binnendijk, 2009, p. vi)

Accept Prudent Risk

When accepting prudent risk, it’s understood that commanders are making decisions that have the potential for injury or loss, often referred to as the “willingness to accept prudent risk is often the key to exposing enemy weaknesses” (Odierno, 2012, pp. 2-5 (2-24)). As coalition and U.S. Forces were establishing battlefronts on the eastern ridge the immediate need for Combat Air Support was identified, during this time numerous attempts to provide support were conducted averaging approximately five minutes apart between strikes according to USAF data. Those pilots knew that there were enemy assets in the area pining down friendly forces with mortar and artillery, by assuming prudent risk they continued to provide air support regardless of the circumstances surrounding them. Forces on the valley floor continued to push forward and fight off enemy combatants, on D-day as original battle plans started to fail, this enabled al Qaeda to declare jihad, ultimately calling for reinforcements by fighters outside the Shahikot Valley. Faced with setbacks to critical missions “U.S. objectives were met: U.S. forces killed many al Qaeda fighters and drove the remainder from the Shahikot Valley” (Kugler, Baranick, & Binnendijk, 2009, p. vii).

Operation Anaconda was a military battle carried out against al Qaeda and Taliban forces. While this operation was considered an overall success, in the end, initial mission plans and the intent were far from being met. There were many factors during this operation that could have led to added failure. Key aspects directly affected overall mission progress with the initial commander’s intent not being met such as Task Force Mountain not accounting for the importance of Combat Air Support and establishing joint operations, the presence of artillery and mortar enemy assets, U.S forces lacking structured command teams and strategic placement during initial strikes, initial lack of organized logistical assets, and time spent waiting for confirmation of information was often a timely battle within itself. Operations Anaconda resulted in an American lead victory at the end of a 14-day battle, eight U.S. Military personnel were killed in action and more than 50 were accounted as wounded.


  1. Kugler, R. L., Baranick, M., & Binnendijk, H. (2009, March). Operation Anaconda Lessons for Joint Operations. Center for Technology and National Security Policy.
  2. Major Fleri, E. U., Colonel Howard, E. U., Hukill, J. D., & Searle, T. R. (2003, November 13). Operation Anaconda Case Study. College of Aerospace Doctrine, Research and Education Maxwell AFB Alabama.
  3. Odierno, R. T. (2012, September 10). ADRP 6-0. Mission Command. Headquarters, Department of The Army.

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Operation Anaconda Analytical Essay. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 4, 2023, from
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