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The objective for Operation Anaconda was to kill or capture Taliban and al Qaeda fighters based in the Shahi-Kot Valley. Many of the planning strategies went awry in the joint planning phase. These went awry due to a severe lack of communication between the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines, compounded by the fact that the various intelligence reports in regards to the al Qaeda fighters seemed to be inaccurate. If the joint commanders had established more effective means of communication with each other and were provided with more accurate intelligence reports of the situation on the ground, both prior to the operation and as it developed, the outcome could have been much more favorable for US forces.
There were many issues with the joint planning of Operation Anaconda. With better communication between the Joint Forces and accurate intelligence reports, Operation Anaconda’s end state may have had a different result.
The military uses joint planning to help analyze individual battle plans, identify the best use of joint assets, and any other assets needed for successful completion of joint operations. Joint planning is defined as the deliberate process of determining how (the ways) to use military capabilities (the means) in time and space to achieve objectives (the ends) while considering the associated risks (Department of the Army, 2017). The joint planning process depends on the command structure established for the operation to make decisions about when and in what capacity to apply military force in order achieve the desired results. During Operation Anaconda, the U.S. Central Command was the component which had approval authority for deciding who would be the command structure. Lieutenant General Paul Mikolashek, Combined Forces Land Component Commander (CFLCC), was tasked by the USCENTCOM commander, General Tommy Franks, to complete the plan for defeating enemy forces in that region. Task Force (TF) MOUNTAIN was in direct command of U.S. forces in Operation Anaconda.
During the planning of Anaconda, 10th Mountain headquarters staff had 50 percent of the personnel normally assigned to complete the mission. During initial planning, its authority over other elements of the growing Army presence in Afghanistan was unclear. This unclear command structure and failure to establish a concise chain of command early in the process hindered the planning process. Only after publication of CFLCC Fragmentary Order 2 to Operations Order 02–018 were formal command relationships established.
During Anaconda, the commander of TF MOUNTAIN had control over Army forces and only a portion of the Special Operations Forces (SOF) units engaged in the battle. The TF Commander did not have direct control of the remainder of the available SOF, other governmental agencies, or the air component that remained under the Combined Force Air Component Commander (CFACC). By February 20, 2002, 10 days before execution of the plan, a small U.S. Air Force (USAF) liaison team and planning cell had been established on this staff. Although it was working through the battlefield coordination detachment (BCD), TF MOUNTAIN had not yet established direct coordination with CFACC, which directed U.S. Air Forces operating in Afghanistan, but itself had no forward headquarters there (Kugler, Baranick, and Binnendijk, 2009).
Joint planning commanders analyzed the situation with al Qaeda in the Shahi Kot Valley. The analysis assumed that enemy forces in the Shahi Kot Valley consisted of around several hundred personnel hiding in the mountains and among the civilian population (Fleri, Howard, Hukill, Searle, 2003). Military planners kept information from friendly Afghan forces in fear that they would warn local population of the upcoming attack. Ultimately, the plan was designed to block all enemy entrances to and exits from the valley. Initial planning missteps meant U.S. forces went into Operation Anaconda substantially less prepared than they should have been (Grossman, 2007).
In the initial planning stages, Afghan forces would be performing most of the ground operations. The original battle plan called on air forces to provide limited strikes against enemy positions a few minutes before U.S. ground forces air assaulted into the valley and took positions along the slopes of the eastern ridgeline. The joint planning group decided to use ground troops from the 10th Mountain Division, Special Forces, coalition troops, and troops from several foreign countries. The joint command element for Operation Anaconda elected not to involve the Combined Forces Air Component Commander (CFACC) in the planning process.
Failure to integrate air planners into the effort contributed to the mistaken belief that, even without preparation, the right mix of airpower would come together at the right place and time over the battlefield (Andres and Hukill, 2007). If the joint commanders had reached across to the CFACC, they would have had airpower capabilities from the onset of the conflict. The Navy unaware of the need for aircraft carriers had relocated one of their aircraft ships to another location, leaving only one aircraft carrier in the area for the operation. The replacement aircraft carrier arrived several days after the battle started. The lack of information and communication resulted in trying to get Marine helicopters brought in after the ground conflict had started. While air and naval forces arguably can be commanded and controlled from long distances, demanding ground force operations involving complex tactical maneuvers and intimate air-ground coordination may be another matter (Kugler, Baranick, and Binnendij, 2009).
Operation Anaconda took over two months to plan and was only expected to last three days, but continued for more than two weeks. The enemy was reported to be small in force, but once the battle started, American troops encountered 10 times the original amount of reported troops. Operation Anaconda shows that the joint command structure should distribute authorities and responsibilities so that operational and tactical decisions are made effectively.
During the planning process, the initial stages of the battle were not well planned and this may have resulted from unstructured command. The need for joint command staffs is important in the early stages of a U.S. force intervention, especially where missions and operations are steadily expanding. There were many issues with the joint planning of Operation Anaconda. With better communication between the Joint Forces, proper planning, and accurate intelligence reports, Operation Anaconda’s end state may have been more favorable for US forces.
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References
Andes, R. and Hukill, J. (2007). ANACONDA: A Flawed Joint Planning Process. Retrieved from http://www.au.af.mil/au/afri/aspj/apjinternational/apj-s
Department of the Army (2017). Planning, Joint Publication 5-0
Fleri, E.; Howard, E.; Hukill, J.; Searle, T. (2003). Operation Anaconda Case Study.
Grossman, E. (2007). Inside The Pentagon. Retrieved from
Kugler, R.; Baranick, M.; Binnendij, H. (2009) Operation Anaconda Lessons for Joint Operations.

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