A Look at Current/Recent Operations: Intelligence in Operation Enduring Freedom
Background: The report listed below, "Operation Anaconda: An Air Power Perspective," is a U.S. Air Force report on what went right and what went wrong during Operation Anaconda, which took place from 2-16 March 2002 in Afghanistan.
The overall goal of the operation was to clear al Qaeda and Taliban forces from the Shahi Kot valley in Eastern Afghanistan. Operation Anaconda consisted of over 1,400 troops from the U.S. Army, U.S. Special Operations community, and Coalition forces from six other countries. It also included additional U.S. Services such as the Air Force for close air support.
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Document Summary: Operation Anaconda was not without its operational difficulties or casualties. Americans killed in action totaled eight, and wounded in action totaled 80. In the end, however, the operation succeeded in clearing the enemy from the Shahi Kot valley. The fortitude of the troops involved caused Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard B. Myers (USAF), to remark, "Thank goodness for the bravery of those soldiers that we were able to take the fight to the enemy and be successful here." From pdf pp. 11-12.
The lessons learned from the operation were many, and they included several intelligence issues. These were either parallel or identical to intelligence issues from the Pacific War and discussed in Spies for Nimitz.
For quick reference, the report mentions intelligence on the following pdf pages:
pp. 14 ("Why was intelligence off the mark?")
pp. 24 (mission tasks and intelligence preparation of the battlefield)
pp. 25 (the hazards of intelligence collection in Afghanistan)
pp. 32 (U.S. forces had only 50 percent of the intelligence picture)
pp. 81 (intelligence on the enemy situation as the battle unfolded)
pp. 116 (intelligence was undermanned)
pp. 132 (intelligence can rarely be perfect)
Some intelligence highlights from the report are as follows:
"But two flaws marred the plan for a swift operation. First, the enemy troop estimates of al-Qaeda and Taliban forces was in dispute with ranges between 168 to over one thousand. Although there were higher estimates by USCENTCOM, the number that made it into CONOPS were much smaller in the Shahi Kot valley itself. After the battle was underway, the CFLCC-Fwd staff calculated the higher end of the spectrum and more than was originally estimated. The gap went unresolved." From pdf pp. 5-6.
"In relation to previous engagements, the 20ASOC Commander cautioned: "We used to call it ‘Taliban math’" because "the numbers were not worth anything that you could plan around." As a hypothetical example, he explained that a given estimate might be 200-2000 enemy and when the operation was under way, it would turn out to be under 200. On the other hand, relying on these ground assets was often the only way to gain intelligence.
As a later Army report observed:
The enemy waged primarily a guerilla war in the contemporary operating environment. They did not typically have well-defined organization (order of battle) nor did they employ forces in open terrain. The intelligence required to support this kind of war placed a premium on human intelligence (HUMINT)... Beginning in early February 2002, the SOF TF began to submit requests for more improved surveillance of the Shahi Kot area. But final planning for new operations had to go ahead without waiting for the final analysis to be resolved." From pdf pp. 25.
Subsequently, this very scenario happened during the assault on Peleliu in 1944 when more accurate intelligence became available to the assault force while it was in transit to the objective. But because the operation was underway and plans already made, the attackers had to adjust their scheme of maneuver and landing sequence on the fly – a less than optimal situation for a division sized assault force attacking a major, enemy held island.
"The second flaw was that the air component had not been involved in the early development of the plan. Planners all along counted on a certain number of CAS [Close Air Support] sorties per day based on the estimates of enemy forces in the area. But Lieutenant General T. Michael Moseley, the Combined Forces Air Component Commander (CFACC) did not learn of Operation ANACONDA until 23 February 2002, a mere 5 days before the original start date of 28 February 2002. Neither the land nor the air component had done all they needed to do to put a theater air control system in place to handle close air support requests. Coordination of pre-strike targets, logistics and communications was inadequate." From pdf pp. 5-6.
This scenario is parallel to what occurred on Iwo Jima concerning the naval preliminary bombardment when intelligence misread the enemy situation, and as a result, naval gunners most heavily bombed areas of sparse Japanese fortifications. "Operation Anaconda: An Air Power Perspective," however, indicates that the Air Force was not even able to effectively coordinate operations, intelligence, and logistics for not being included in planning efforts early on. These anomalies compounded each other, making for a less optimal CAS mission, which reduced the effectiveness of the overall operation.
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Anaconda Area of Operations map