14 Oct 2022


Task Organization for Operation Anaconda

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Academic level: College

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Operation Anaconda was an intense battle conducted in Shahikot Valley, Afghanistan, in March of 2002. One of the reasons that made the battle difficult was the fact that it was fought in mountainous terrain. Although America won the battle, it did not come without a cost of 8 soldiers died with another 50 getting wounded (Kelly et al. 2014). However, the difficult conditions experienced in the war provide a framework for future insights into organization, training, and equipment of the United States forces for prospective joint expeditionary operations. The command center for the US forces was known as the Task Force (TF) MOUNTAIN formed by the 10 th Mountain Division. Some of the problems experienced in operation were attributable to the breakdown of the battle plan created by TF MOUNTAIN and the ineffective preparedness scheme. Important to note is that Operation Anaconda was the first test on the nation’s readiness to apply joint operations in facing willing and hardened enemies. Some of the units participating included the Special Operations Forces (SOF), 10 th Mountain Division, and 101st Airborne Division, amongst other Coalition forces from different countries. The fight involved the country's military forces in conjunction with forces from other nations. As such, the through mistakes and errors in task organization, the nation received valuable lessons that could guide it to future battles. 

The first important aspect to note is that the Operation Anaconda fulfilled its mission of capturing or killing al Qaeda and Taliban forces located in Shahikot Valley. Although the mission succeeded when it killed almost 800 al Qaeda forces, 8 Americans died in the task. The joint military forces showed systemic and systematic mistakes and errors that came as a result of poor task organization. The problems in the organization began long before the war even started. Part of the poor task organization was as a result of massive underestimations of the opponents done by the US Central Command (USCENTCOM). Cassidy, (2012) noted that the initial estimates put the enemy combatants at a paltry 1,500 and 2000, and thus, the joint forces hoped to battle the war for only three days. As such, this led to lackluster preparations especially in the areas of coordination and organization. Furthermore, the Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) made several errors that implicated in the entire mission ability to succeed in the war. One of its major mistakes was its failure to include the Combined Forces Air Component Commander (CFACC) in the process of planning. CJTF solely conducted the planning process and sought the help of CFACC only two days before the material day of the combat. As such, this was a poor task organization that served as a recipe for disorganization during the war. 

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Institutional problems also led to the massive lack of task organization in the course of the war. The United States has for a long time shown inadequate jointness, and the failure of CJFT Mountain to include air planners in their mission was a manifestation of the broader problems facing the institution. During the battle, one of the major flaws was the inadequate coordination between air and land components. The combined joint task force (CJTF) also made wrong decisions such as their failure to include experienced air component planners and their choice to utilize airpower. As such, the airpower was poorly integrated into the entire plan thereby directly contributing to near failure on the first day of combat. The forces underestimated their opponents as the coalition troops initially expected only a 3-day battle. However, to their utter surprise, they met a Taliban and al Qaeda force almost ten times larger than what they had expected thereby showing poor planning on the America side (Fleri, Howard, Hukill, & Searle, 2003). Thomsen (2013) noted that another significant point of contention in the planning process was the failure of CJTF to involve the Combined Forces Air Component Commander (CFACC). 

Major flaws manifested as a result of operational and strategic coordination in the initial stages of the mission. For instance, during the battle, coordination between the air and land was a major problem. As the war progressed, CJTF Mountain experienced coordination challenges with the air component. Another prime example of poor coordination manifested when the carrier strike group commanders, a group that solely oversaw the strike-fighter missions, did not know of the initial plans. The climax of the coordination problems came when AC-130 began firing upon the Afghanistan forces accidentally (Fleri, Howard, Hukill, & Searle, 2003).  As confusion ensued, it ultimately caused the abortion of the much-needed strikes thus exposing the ground forces to attacks by enemies. 

Task organization was also implicated by the failure to adhere to the proper command structure. There was a clear lack of a distinct source of authority which essentially meant that the forces from different units and countries would face challenges in their unity of purpose. One of the essential lessons learned from the Operation Anaconda is that joint forces must always work to enhance unity of command and further create joint command structures. The CENTCOM failed to adhere to critical war principles that call for unity of effort and unity of command. Franklin Hagenbeck was named the lead joint task force commander. However, he was unable to direct several special operation forces just three days into the battle. Therefore, the Operation Anaconda required a joint Command and control (C2) structure which would ensure proper deployment of resources, situational awareness, and effective tactical operations, Commanders, must, therefore, depict authority over the joint forces in the battle. In emphasizing joint operations in combat such as that experienced in Operation Anaconda where multiple nations participated, several command structures can be formed. 

The Operation Anaconda raised significant questions as to whether the command structure utilized enhanced jointness in the planning and execution processes. One of the major principals of war is the creation of clear lines of responsibility and authority all which improve joint functions of different units. One of the major weaknesses seen in the area of joint functions was the poor coordination between the air and the land. Conceiving, modifying, and executing a joint operation requires proper planning to ensure that the forces can better deal with any surprises that come along. Cassidy (2012) noted that the joint commanders must also receive appropriate training in integration and they must also show skills in incorporating all the essential components required in the battle. In enhancing joint operations, the first aspect is to ensure proper functions of the C2 components including joint operation planning, strategic, operational direction, and tactical direction. However, critical to note is that achieving these requires enough workforce, skills acquired through joint training and education, and experience. Joint functions can only be realized through proper communication and coordination between different units. 

One of the major problems that faced the 10 th Mountain was the fact that it was not adequately trained and equipped to handle the demands of the Joint Task Force (JTF). As such, problems in the area of planning and coordination became increasingly apparent. The C2 structure was flawed as General Hagenbeck required approval from a higher ranked general Admiral Calland before organizing, tasking, or directing the forces (Fleri, Howard, Hukill, & Searle, 2003).  As such, the biggest lesson that the Operation Anaconda provided the nation was that a JTF should have significant elements attached two several Military Departments operating under a unitary CJTF. Furthermore, confusion and frustration had an immense effect on the operation of CJTF due to various competing command structures. 

In conclusion, Anaconda was successful in achieving its objective of getting rid of the al Qaeda and Taliban enemies. However, it was marred with systemic and systematic errors in its initial stages, something that has provided the US with valuable lessons on how to undertake a joint military operation. Task organizational problems existed in almost all the stages of the mission. It has provided the nation with a basis for tackling future problems facing the combat mission involving different units and multinational forces. The organization remains a key aspect in planning and execution of the course of actions. Creation of a designated command point or authority also plays a significant role in enhancing organization. Furthermore, trust and collaboration in such a mission are essential because it improves communication, coordination, and synergy among the units. 


Cassidy, R. M. (2012). Operation Anaconda: America's First Major Battle in Afghanistan.  Parameters 42 (4/1), 82. 

Fleri, E., Howard, E., Hukill, J., & Searle, T. R. (2003).  Operation Anaconda Case Study . College of Aerospace Doctrine, Research, and Education. 

Kelly, M. A., Comberiate, J. M., Miller, E. S., & Paxton, L. J. (2014). Progress toward forecasting of space weather effects on UHF SATCOM after Operation Anaconda.  Space Weather 12 (10), 601-611. 

Thomsen, P. A. (2013). Operation Anaconda: America's First Major Battle in Afghanistan. By Lester W. Grau and Dodge Billingsley. (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2012. Pp. 459. $39.95.).  Historian 75 (1), 152-153. 

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