Operation Anaconda was one of the largest-scale operations conducted by the US-led international coalition against the forces of al-Qaeda and Taliban. The operation began on March, 1, 2002, and lasted for 17 days, taking place in the Shahikot Valley of eastern Afghanistan (Council on Foreign Relations, 2017). The operation’s goal was to eliminate eight hundred al-Qaeda terrorists located in the Valley by CIA officers. Although the plans of the operation originally involved a 3-day battle, the confrontation resulted in a brutal thirteen-day firefight that lasted until March 18 (Council on Foreign Relations, 2017). In spite of the numerous challenges faced by the U.S. forces and their allies, they have managed to accomplish the goals of the operation due to the application of the six principles of Mission Command.
Building Teams Through Mutual Trust
Mission Command is a philosophy and a set of guidelines that Army leaders use to give clear instructions and empower their subordinates to take the initiative. This is made possible by implementing six principles of Mission Command. Operation Anaconda and the events that preceded and followed it can offer some invaluable lessons for army leaders and their subordinates in relation to introducing these principles into their work.
The first principle of Mission Command is “building cohesive teams through mutual trust” (U.S. Army, n.d., para. 9). It can be stated that in order to achieve the goals of the operation, the U.S. had built strong relations with foreign governments and secured the support of the Northern Alliance (Council on Foreign Relations, 2017). Because mutual trust was established between the soldiers of international troops, they managed to fight together against the common enemy. Although American troops faced many challenges throughout the course of the operation, the partnerships they had established with foreign troops allowed them to gain a military advantage and inflict heavy damage on the Taliban forces.
Creating Shared Understanding
Mutual trust between Army leaders, their supervisors and subordinates, as well as members of the Allied forces, is also highly important for the second principle of Mission command, shared understanding. The goal of this principle is to ensure that all the members and parties of the unified force are aware of their common purpose and the way to fulfill it. This shared awareness and mutual trust allow the allies to share intelligence and military data in the most efficient manner. When there is a lack of shared understanding between the commanders, the risk arises that they will not be able to reach an agreement regarding their actions and operations on the battlefield. This can be exemplified by the actions of the local Pashtun militia, which was also the ally of the American forces (Council on Foreign Relations, 2017). The soldiers of the Pashtun militia did not possess an understanding of the mission or the skills required to confront the enemy, which posed certain risks and difficulties for their allies.
Providing a Clear Commander’s Intent
The third principle of Mission Command demonstrated in Operation Anaconda is providing clear intent. It can be stated that Army leaders provided their subordinates with a clear and concise intent for the operation. This intent was to eliminate the troops of Taliban and al-Qaeda forces that fled to Shahikot after facing several defeats in the battles prior to Operation Anaconda (Council on Foreign Relations, 2017). The commander’s intent should be a broad concept of the mission presented to the Soldiers to ensure their understanding of the purpose even when having to make difficult on-the-spot decisions and choices. This is particularly important because operations do not always proceed as planned, and Soldiers may be faced with situations when they have to take certain risks and make difficult decisions.
Exercising Discipline Initiatives
The fourth principle of Mission command is exercising discipline and initiative. ADP 6-0 defines exercising discipline initiative as the “action in the absence of orders, when existing orders no longer fit the situation, or when unforeseen opportunities or threats arise” (United States Government Us Army, 2019, p. 4). It can be suggested that the Pashtun militia members were unable to take the initiative in unforeseen situations. On the other hand, the U.S. forces had to modify their plans several times throughout the operation because of the changing circumstances. The ability to exercise discipline initiative is closely connected with understanding and following the commander’s clear intent, and together these two principles helped the Soldiers to adapt, making the required adjustments.
Using Mission Orders
The fifth principle of Mission Command is using mission orders. This principle is also interconnected with the ones discussed above, as it can only be applied if the other principles are followed as well. Using mission orders allowed Soldiers to adjust to the unforeseen circumstances they had to face during Operation Anaconda. This was largely based on the fact that the initial intelligence received by the American troops appeared to be inaccurate. The commanders had to quickly adapt to the new intelligence assessments, allocating resources based on the data they had gathered. If the orders had not been followed promptly and accurately, the risks for the American troops and their allies would have been increased and the number of casualties. Thus, the commanders’ mission orders have to not only provide “directives that emphasize to subordinates the results be attained”, but also say “how they are to achieve them” (United States Government Us Army, 2019, p. 7). Mission orders provide Soldiers with guidance and objectives, setting the exact priorities that should be their main focus.
Accepting Prudent Risk
The sixth principle of Mission Command is accepting prudent risk. Reasonably assessing the circumstances and accepting the risks that may arise are the fundamentals of Mission Command. Dangerous confrontations, death, as well as the risks of physical and mental injuries are inherent to all combat operations. Although the risks appeared to be higher than was expected before the beginning of the operation, the American forces changed their course of action, which helped decrease the risk level to an acceptable level. This can be confirmed by the fact that the battle was originally expected to last for 3 days, which shows that the risks were not assessed accurately before the American troops and their allies arrived at the Shahikot Valley.
It can be concluded that the six principles of Mission Command are interconnected, and their application is most effective when implemented, combined and integrated. Mutual trust, shared understanding, clear commander’s intent, discipline initiative, mission orders, and prudent risk are the concepts that all Army leaders and Soldiers have to apply in their professional work. This essay has analyzed the six principles of Mission Command realized in Operation Anaconda, which was one of the most challenging operations for the American troops and their allies during the War in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the purpose of the operation was accomplished due to the successful implementation of the six principles of Mission Command.
Council on Foreign Relations. (2017). The U.S. War in Afghanistan. Web.
United States Government Us Army. (2019). Army doctrine publication ADP 6-0 mission command: Command and control of army forces July 2019. Web.
U.S. Army. (n.d.). Applying mission command to overcome challenges. Web.