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Operation Anaconda provides multiple examples and insights into the effects of an organization’s command structure. It also demonstrates the importance of unity in a command structure for the accomplishment of the mission. The command structure for Operation Anaconda failed the mission command warfighting function because it did not build cohesive teams through mutual trust, create shared understanding, or exercise disciplined initiative.
MG Franklin L. Hagenbeck, 10th Mountain Division commander, commanded Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) MOUNTAIN. MG Hagenbeck had tactical control (TACON) of Joint Special Operations Task Forces (JSOTF) DAGGER, JSOTF KBAR, and Task Force 64.
He had operational control (OPCON) of Task Force (TF) RAKKASAN, which arrived in Afghanistan during the “first three weeks of 2002” (Naylor, 2006). Soldiers from 1-87 Infantry (IN), 1-187 IN, 2-187 IN, and 7-101 Aviation (AVN) composed TF RAKKASAN with 1-87 IN, 1-187 IN, and 2-187 IN operating as TF ANVIL. Black Special Operations Forces (SOF) from TF 11, known as Advanced Force Operations (AFO), fell outside of MG Hagenbeck’s command (Blaber, 2017), but AFO conducted the primary reconnaissance on the Shahi Kot valley.
In addition to AFO, elements from the Central Intelligence Agency and other Black SOF forces fell outside of MG Hagenbeck’s command and operated under different mission priorities. Afghan Militia Forces (AMF) fell under the direction of JSOTF DAGGER and provided the bulk of the manpower for TF HAMMER. Air assets from the United States Air Force, the United States Navy, and the French Air Force provided fixed-wing fire support. AC-130s and several other assets fell under the control of both CJTF MOUNTAIN and Black SOF.
According to Fleri, Howard, Hukill, & Searle (2003), “the ANACONDA task organization chart did not reflect which commander, either JSOTF or CJTF MOUNTAIN, retained TACON execution authority of the Joint Special Operations Air Component (JSOAC).” The planning phase for this operation began on February 14 with a planned execution for February 28 of the largest employment of conventional forces in Afghanistan up to that point. During this time, CJTF Mountain headquarters moved from Uzbekistan to Bagram, Afghanistan. According to Fleri, et al. (2003), on February 20, the headquarters completed its move and published the operation order for Anaconda. Several organizations across the spectrum of service branches, nations, and doctrines received a mission with extremely limited time to develop mutual trust and to come together as cohesive teams. The command structure for the operation did not provide for unity of command or unity of effort because it had no single commander. The absence of a clearly defined framework of leadership created barriers for communication and the group consolidation of information.
The AFO, acting as the primary reconnaissance effort, assumed key terrain early in the execution phase of Operation Anaconda. The key terrain around the Shahi Kot valley allowed the AFO to have the clearest picture of the battlefield. This allowed the AFO to evolve many of the assumptions from the plan into facts. The lack of a clearly defined command structure prevented those changes from affecting the plan. The command structure that was in a place prohibited the creation of a shared understanding, as assumptions became facts. The amount of moving pieces without a unilateral command made changing any one aspect of the plan extremely difficult. In addition to this problem, this command structure created disorganized lines of communication. According to Blaber (2017), the limited satellite communications available to a nonhierarchical command, over 100 miles away, almost caused an unplanned withdrawal of coalition forces. TF HAMMER, who had suffered early casualties due to vehicle accidents and a friendly fire incident, was demoralized and unable to enter the valley. TF ANVIL pinned down and out of position, recommended that all forces withdraw from the valley floor. These two elements were not able to realize that their apparently weak positions created extremely favorable conditions for the AFO to decimate the enemy with close air support. Fortunately, AFO reached outside of the command structure to communicate knowledge and create a shared understanding. The command structure also limited ground forces commanders from their power to act.
According to Naylor (2006), on the evening of March 2, the TF 11 deputy commander called the AFO commander with plans to replace the AFO teams on the key terrain with teams of Navy SEALs from Bagram. During this event, tactical operations centers in Bagram, 100 miles away, and Masirah, 1100 miles away, make the decisions to change the satellite radio frequency and cancel the AC-130 support shortly before quick-reaction forces arrive on the scene. These decisions ultimately lead to the deaths of six service members and the loss of the initiative for approximately seventeen hours. During those seventeen hours, one of the AFO teams lost its ability to press the initiative so that it could support rescue efforts. The command structure placed leaders, without a shared reality, in charge of decisions that would rob ground forces commanders of their ability to exercise disciplined initiative. Operation Anaconda suffered many setbacks. “CENTCOM’s decision to treat the operation as a pickup game and its failure to establish a clear, tight chain of command for the operation,” is one of the key problems according to Naylor (2006). Fortunately, the innovativeness, adaptability, and audaciousness of the soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
The command structure for Operation Anaconda failed the mission command warfighting function because it did not build cohesive teams through mutual trust, create shared understanding, or exercise disciplined initiative. Operation Anaconda provides an example of how to command structure can influence the success or failure of completing objectives. The command structure of an organization forms the foundation for the successful development of cohesive teams by creating a framework for mutual trust. Effective command structures allow for the sharing of information through clear lines of communication to create a shared understanding, and they allow commanders at all levels to exercise disciplined initiative.
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