Academic journal article Military Review

Operation BOA: A Counterfactual History of the Battle for Shah-I-Kot

Academic journal article Military Review

Operation BOA: A Counterfactual History of the Battle for Shah-I-Kot

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Counterfactual: pertaining to, or expressing, what has not in fact happened, but might, could, or would, in different conditions.

--Oxford English Dictionary

THIS ARTICLE IS COUNTERFACTUAL, but is based on accounts of Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan. Although intended to last only 72 hours, Operation Anaconda took place from 2 to 16 March 2002. It was a coalition attempt to clear Al-Qaeda and Taliban forces from the Khowst-Gardez region in Afghanistan before they could organize a spring offensive against the interim Afghan government of Hamid Karzai. Anaconda involved special operations forces (SOF) from the United States and six other nations fighting alongside about 1,400 conventional U.S. ground troops in a complex, high altitude, non-linear battlefield. The battle between U.S. troops and Taliban/Al-Qaeda was the largest ground engagement of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and took place at elevations over 10,000 feet.

This article describes how an Anaconda-like operation might have occurred by applying employment lessons from earlier phases of OEF as well as lessons from the actual event. This narrative is one of many possible versions and benefits from the clarity of hindsight and the clarifying direction of joint and service doctrine. The lessons of Operation Anaconda are not merely academic. The U.S. lost eight brave warriors and numerous others were wounded during more than two weeks of intense fighting. The authors hope this story and its approach to learning honor the brave Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines who fought heroically in the Shah-i-Kot Valley in March 2002.

December 2001: OEF Lessons Learned Conference

In December 2001, U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Army personnel from bases, ships, and command centers throughout the Middle East met at the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet headquarters in Bahrain for a lessons-learned conference. (This is counterfactual. In reality, although U.S. Air Forces, Central Command hosted a Tactics Review Board, there was no Joint Forces Command-wide hotwash of OEF ops.)

The attendees had just completed months of planning, controlling, and fighting in OEF, a SOF and air-centric offensive to take down Osama Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network and culpable Taliban theocracy in Afghanistan. The campaign had been a swift and overwhelming success, but like every military operation, there were lessons to be learned. These Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines spent four days in Bahrain assessing OEF operations from Mazar-i-Sharif to Kabul and Kandahar and identifying key areas for improvement in planning and execution. They also debriefed recent operations from the Spin Ghar and White Mountain ranges, better known as Tora Bora. The warfighters identified two primary lessons from the first few months of OEF: 1) the importance of joint component coordination in planning and execution; and 2) the necessity of dedicated and capable ground troops to block Taliban/Al-Qaeda egress routes.

The ground component of SOF and Marines in close coordination with the air component had performed spectacularly in OEF. One of their success enablers was the use of first-rate communications systems, laser designators, and precise coordinate-generating equipment for targeting. These lessons were not lost on the Army's conventional ground-force planners attending the Bahrain conference.

The conference also highlighted the importance of having highly trained Airmen work closely with ground forces to deliver airpower where and when it was needed. Attaching a USAF combat controller to every OEF SOF A-Team had enabled close coordination across a dynamic, nonlinear battlefield. With their in-depth knowledge of both airpower and special operations, these combat controllers ensured air support during the first months of OEF. However, the coalition forces air component commander (CFACC), land component commander (CFLCC) and special operations component commander (CFSOCC) all agreed that upcoming OEF stabilization operations would use more conventional ground forces. …

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