"Any fool can make history, but it takes a genius to write it."
Oscar Wilde

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Operation Anaconda - Shame on the Command

In March of 2002, the eyes of the world were on America, who had recently dispatched thousands of troops into Afghanistan. Because of frustration between the military and press about the slow moving progress in Afghanistan, the Pentagon presented a new American offensive. This plan included truck convoys driving deep into the Shah-i-Kot Valley, where a large number of Taliban and AL Qaeda fighters had gathered in the previous months. The command placed in charge of the operation, CENTCOM, did not want to use Air Support to severely weaken the entrenched Taliban fighters, before sending ground forces in. After a dispute between the Marine and CENTCOM commands, CENTCOM agreed to use some small amount of air power, but not the large amount that could have been used, and needed to be used. Still, the Marine command was very anxious about landing troops on the exposed positions indicated, and desperately requested more air support. It was denied. According to Seymour M. Hersh, writer of the book Chain of Command, General Franks [leader of the operation], simply did not want to use air power. Either this man's ego was too big, or he saw some odd obstruction to air power in the valley, the former is most likely. The excuse offered by General Franks? CENTCOM didn't want to lose the element of surprise; this is simply ridiculous, as the Air Combat Command in Virginia noted, 'it was already known throughout the region that an attack was coming.'
On March 2, 2002, the 10th Mountain division and the 101st Airborne Divisions were to be landed at certain chopper landing sectors while truckloads of American trained Afghan fighters, were to head directly up the highway into the valley. The events that followed justified the caution of the Marine command. The first trucks up the highway, packed with Afghan fighters were obliterated by mortar fire at a fixed point on the road. The Al Qaeda fighters had been waiting for them. The subsequent waves refused to advance, as they knew the first wave had been completely blown away. The American joint ground and helicopter assault fared no better. The soldiers were supposed to jump from helicopters which would then proceed to provide fire support. The Taliban and Al Qaeda would then have been caught between Afghan land forces [the ones that were obliterated by mortar fire] and American troops. Instead, terrorist fighters fired on the American troops as they tumbled from the helicopters, they knew that they were going to land in the area, and there had been no American air support to wipe them out. Right at that point, there was, according to a former C.I.A. counter terrorism official, "A complete breakdown at the tactical level. It was a disaster." A Marine officer added, "The chain of command froze. Young soldiers cried and threw down their weapons. There was a total unit failure." The attack was a complete failure with the landing zones littered with weapons, backpacks, supplies, and radios as the panicked American troops fled down the mountain to safety. The result was fourteen American casualties and large numbers of wounded before helicopters and coalition troops were permitted to rescue them. Had Australian S.A.S. commandos not left their mission and driven off the Afghan troops, a former Marine officer says, "we would have lost the entire team." Not only is this operation a shame, but reports indicate that most of the soldiers in the 10th Mountain Division were not even prepared for combat.
The soldiers who fought in Operation Anaconda were valiant men placed in the wrong situation. In this case, the greatest soldiers in the world were given horrible leadership and training. They were not prepared for the situation they were sent into and neither were their commanding officers. I wish to forever memorialize the valor and sacrifice that those men made, and to forever remember the pathetic efforts of their commanding officers, who were willing to sacrifice the soldiers of the United States of America in the way that they did.

1 comment:

  1. This article reminds me of the Army's mentality during the Chosin campaign.The Army troops in Afghanastan were quality soldiers without quality leadership. Consider: exposed location, narrow road, no air cover and this my friends ends up in disaster. Plus the lack of good training makes for a long day. Tommy Franks must have been taught war planning by Army General Almond of Korean fame. West Point must teach Stupidity as a required course. Just a Marines observation.