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What Was Operation Anaconda?

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Operation Anaconda was, at the time, the largest combat operation in Afghanistan as part of the War on Terrorism that was declared after the 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.  It was launched on March 2, 2002.  Major General F.L. Hagenback, the commander of the U.S. Army 10th Mountain Division, was responsible for leading an offensive attack on al-Qaeda and Taliban forces that were located in the Shahi-Kot Valley/ Arma Mountain region near Zormat in Afghanistan.  It was the first major battle after the Battle of Tora Bora and was the first battle to feature American forces in direct battle in this offensive effort.

Operation Anaconda was a large-scale offensive, which involved 1,700 U.S. troops and an additional 1,000 Afghan allies fighting against an unknown number of terrorist operatives, which were estimated to range between 300 and 1,000 in number.  However, because the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters were entrenched in the mountains and established in caves, they were able to successfully fight against these larger forces.  They also declared a Jihad, which brought Taliban reinforcements to the battle, which was waged over an extremely large area of approximately 60 square miles in frozen winter conditions in snowy mountains. 

The terrorists had prepared for the war by moving into the valley with its systems of mountain caves, tunnels, and crannies.  It had previously been used as a staging and fighting area in their fights against Russian forces, when they were allies with the U.S.  They allowed civilians to stay in the area, but if they wanted to leave, they paid for their bus fare and even paid some of them in livestock. 

A number of things went wrong during Operation Anaconda, leading to a greater number of casualties for U.S. troops and their allies than was anticipated when the operation was planned.  In addition, it did not seem to result in the number of dead terrorists expected; official estimates of enemy dead ranged from as low as 23 confirmed kills to up to 500 kills.  It is considered a success for the U.S. forces, but at a high cost.  A great resource for more information about Operation Anaconda is Adam Geibel’s article “Operation Anaconda, Shah-i-Khot Valley, Afghanistan, 2-10 March 2002” in the Military Review

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