Operation ANACONDA was the last major stand-up battle between al Qaeda fighters and conventional Coalition military might in Afghanistan. It was a classic example of the need to change American war fighting strategy and doctrine to meet the demands of current conflicts. Operation ANACONDA was the name for the operation that took place between the 2nd and the 19th of March 2002 in the Shah-i-Kowt Valley. The operation is well documented as a major American and Coalition victory despite the challenges faced with gathering intelligence, command and control issues, initial planning flaws, and negative actions that took place both on the ground and in the air.
Although initial operations against al Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan met with success, there was frustration felt by many caused by missing key high profile targets that fled an earlier battle at Tora Bora. Thus, in planning Operation ANACONDA, it was anticipated that the enemy would flee from the assault and could be attacked by a blocking force. Initial intelligence, both electronic and high altitude surveillance, indicated a strong presence of Taliban and al Qaeda fighters in the Shah-i-kot valley in eastern Afghanistan. It was believed that anywhere between 100 and 1,000 fighters were wintering there and preparing for a spring offensive in the valley (Experiencing the Fog of War, n.d.).
A big challenge faced by those planning the operation, was that no one had the full picture. The command and control of units in Afghanistan were split into three separate entities; each had their own assets and intelligence sources. The U.S. ground forces under United States Central Command (CENTCOM) were lead by Lieutenant General (LG) Paul Mikolashek out of Kuwait. However, all air operations were under an “air component commander”, LG Michael Moseley,
who reported to the CENTCOM chief General (GEN) Tommy Franks in Tampa, Florida. Requests for air assets had to be passed through LG Mikolashek to GEN Franks and then back to LG Moseley. Lastly, the special operations forces of TF DAGGER were lead by Colonel (COL) John Mulholland, with each special forces “A Team” operating mostly on their own. This dispersed command and control would have required a “unity of effort” (since there was not a single commander to command the entire operation), however, in the end the organizing principle was nicknamed “ad-hocracy” by the Operation ANACONDA command staff of Major General Hagenbeck (Franklin Hagenbeck Biography, n.d.).
Initial plans to assault the Shah-i-kot valley were drawn up between late January and early February of 2002. They relied heavily on intelligence assessments that enemy forces on the ground comprised 100-200 fighters, that only the low ground around villages was occupied, and that the enemy was only armed with small and light weapons. This led planners to believe the terrain could be exploited to gain the upper hand. The assault plan consisted of four phases. Special...