Operation Anaconda is the code name for an operation in early March 2002 in which the United States military, along with allied Afghan military forces, attempted to destroy al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in the Shahi-Kot Valley and Arma Mountains southeast of Zormat. This operation was the first large-scale battle in the United States war in Afghanistan since the Battle of Tora Bora in December 2001. This was the first operation in the Afghanistan theater to involve a large number of U.S. conventional (i.e. non-Special Operations Forces) forces participating in direct combat activities.
Between March 2 and March 16, 2002, 1,700 airlifted U.S. troops and 1,000 pro-government Afghan militia battled over 1,000 al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters and obtained control of the valley. The Taliban and al-Qaida forces entrenched themselves in caves and ridges in the mountainous terrain, and fired on U.S. forces attempting to secure the area with mortars and heavy machine guns.
The operation ran into problems from the outset. By mistake American Forces had landed in the middle of the valley, instead of the outside and were immediately caught in the Taliban’s kill zone. In the heavy fire fight that followed two Chinooks were shot down and a number of others were severely damaged. American forces eventually gained the upper hand and after inflicting heavy casualties on the Taliban forces were able to push them out of the valley.
At the end of Operation Anaconda, the US and Afghan forces had succeeded at removing the majority of the Al-Qaida and Taliban presence from the Shahi-Kot Valley. The US forces suffered 80 casualties in the operation, with 8 killed and 72 wounded. Estimates of Al-Qaida and Taliban casualties range from 100 to 1,000, with U.S. commanders favoring the higher estimates and Afghan commanders favoring the lower estimates. An unknown number of fighters were able to escape the Shahi-Kot Valley into Pakistan. The numbers of dead enemy was much fewer than the average estimate; there were no graves or other in mass to indicated a large number of the enemy had been killed. The numbers remain in dispute.
The operation was composed of elements of the United States 10th Mountain Division, 101st Airborne Division, the US Special Forces groups TF 11, TF Bowie, and TF Dagger, British Royal Marines, Canada’s 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, and Joint Task Force 2, the Afghan National Army, the German KSK,
The Norwegian FSK
and elements of the Australian Special Air Service Regiment, the New Zealand Special Air Service and Danish special forces Jægerkorpset.
Soldiers from the Norwegian Army Special Forces unload from a CH-47 Chinook during Operation Anaconda.
Operation Anaconda began late Friday evening on 1 March 2002, in the mountainous Shah-i-Khot region south of the city of Gardez in eastern Afghanistan. Operations by US forces including the insertion of Special Operating Forces from several other nations to set up observation posts. The 10th Mountain Division and the 101st Airborne Division along with Afghan forces had units inserted into the objective area covering some 60 to 70 square miles. Rough terrain, an altitude of 8,000 to 12,000 feet, and a temperature in the evenings between 15 and 20 degrees Fahrenheit, made a very tough operating environment for soldiers. Al Qaeda troops entrenched along ridges and mountainside caves used heavy machine-gun, mortar and rocket-propelled grenade fire to immobilize allied Afghan forces and to pin down US soldiers as they disembarked from helicopters.
On 17 March 2002, Operation Anaconda concluded. A total of 8 American servicemen had been killed and 82 wounded in action. US troops had suffered at least eight dead and 40 wounded during the first four days of action in Operation Anaconda in early March. The deaths brought the total number of American troops killed in combat in Afghanistan to least ten, including one Special Forces soldier killed by a sniper and one CIA officer killed in a prison uprising in earlier actions. Friendly fire deaths were three killed in one incident by a bomb dropped from a US warplane. A total of 26 had been killed in accidents, including 21 killed in airplane or helicopter crashes, two in heavy- equipment accidents, one in a shipboard accident, one who fell overboard from a ship, and one from an accidental gunshot.
In the late evening of March 3, Lieutenant Colonel Blaber received notice from Brigadier General Gregory Trebon, commander of TF 11, that two SEAL teams commanded by Lieutenant Commander Vic Hyder were to arrive in Gardez for immediate insertion into the Shahi-Kot Valley. The two SEAL teams, Mako 30 and Mako 21, planned to establish an observation point on the peak of Takur Ghar, which commanded the Shahi-Kot valley. Due to time constraints, a helicopter insertion would be needed for the teams to reach the peak before dawn. While the AFO forces suggested an insertion at a point 1300 meters east of the peak, the SEALs eventually decided upon an insertion to the peak itself.
The two teams were picked up by Razor 03 and Razor 04, two MH-47 Chinook helicopters at 11:23 PM on March 3. However, the Razor 03 Chinook experienced engine difficulties, and two new MH-47s were dispatched to replace the original helicopters. This delay meant that the SEALs could not be inserted into the LZ east of the peak until 2:30 AM on March 4, which did not allow enough time to reach the peak before daylight. In the fractured command situation at the time, Blaber was not notified that the SEALs were planning to insert at the peak in order to fulfill the order to infil Mako 30 and 21 that night. Nail 22, an AC-130 gunship reconnitored the peak and saw no enemy activity prior to the landing, but was called away to support other troops before Razor 03 and 04 arrived at the LZ. At around 0245 hours, Razor 03 landed at the LZ and was struck in the left side electrical compartment by an RPG. The stricken helicopter took off, but Petty Officer First Class Neil C. Roberts fell out of the open ramp. Razor 03 attempted to return and retrieve him, but the damage prevented proper control and the helicopter was forced to crash-land in the valley below approximately 4 miles away. Razor 04 returned to the peak to attempt to rescue Roberts, offloading Mako 30. The team came under immediate fire, and Air Force combat controller Technical Sergeant John A. Chapman was believed killed and two SEALs wounded. Mako 30 was forced off the peak due to its losses and requested the assistance of the Ranger quick-reaction force located at Bagram Air Base, led by Captain Nate Self.