The Principles of Mission Command in Operation of Anaconda
It is evident through the course of human events that war is an inherent endeavor revealed within our will to survive. Since this endeavor is inherent within all human will, it then seems agreeable, that so long as the human will exist then so will the probability of war. War then becomes manifested as a violent contest between human participants in the dynamic of operational environments motivated by ideological reasoning. For example, an idea forms in the mind and is stressed into action by the ambition of the human will and becomes motivated to assert its will over the will of another. Naturally, an individual or group disagrees with the ideology of the invasive force and now the prospect of war is introduced into the equation. Once a war is initiated it is plagued by violence, death, chaos, confusion, complexity, disorder, and uncertainty. Command and control of combat land operations become a critical role of the commander. The commander is faced with the responsibility to plan for the success of the mission with the information given regardless of how inadequate the intelligence seems. The idea is to plan sufficiently enough to reduce the chaos and uncertainty and destroy the enemies’ will to fight encouraged by the commander’s ability to organize mission command through its seven principles. The objective of this essay is to demonstrate how the seven principles of mission command can be applied to the operational environment of the Operation of Anaconda.
Behind every idea is a fundamental structure. The philosophy of mission command is supported by seven fundamental principles established in ADP 6-0 “competence, mutual trust, shared understanding, commander’s intent, mission orders, disciplined initiative, risk acceptance” (p. 19). Debatably, competence is the most essential principle relating directly to the commander. Competence is gained by knowledge and experience. Knowledge and experience are increased through self-development, training, education, classwork, and realistic simulations. Competence is critical not only for the commander but for the Soldiers subordinate to the commander. The competence of America’s military forces was tested in the battles of Operation Anaconda (OA). OA was a US attack on a stronghold in the Shah-I Kot area held by the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Some are critical about the success of American and coalition forces but General Tommy Franks who led the attacks against the Taliban in 2001 and oversaw the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and defeat of Saddam Hussein stated that OA was “an unqualified and absolute success” (p. 346). A public declaration from such an esteemed figure commemorates the competence attributed to American forces. Agreeably, competence, and the principle of mutual trust correlate with each other.
Mutual trust is shared confidence which must flow through the entire chain of command. Subordinates gain the trust of their commanders by displaying competence and commanders gain the trust of their subordinates by a display of their competence in training, garrison, or combat environments. Since the battle of Tora Bora in 2001, OA was the first large scale battle in Afghanistan. During OA, the Afghan alliance fighting side by side with American Soldiers became demoralized and eventually retreated. Americans remained in the battle trusting in each other’s will to fight, morale, confidence, and the warrior ethos among them. At the end of the first day of battle when the Troops returned to base for inspections; they realized that “all of them had been hit by multiple enemy bullets” (p. 15). It is circumstances like these that demonstrate and build the principle of mutual trust between warriors.
One of the difficulties a mission commander may encounter in a large scale operation such as OA is the principle of shared understanding. OA demonstrated collaboration between countries, government agencies, various special operation groups, different military components, and companies of large ground forces. Mutual trust between these groups should exist to share intelligence and information regarding the operational environment. For example, in the early planning stages of OA General Mikolashek, General Hagenbeck, and General Franks conflicted with the planning phase because the three shared information, but were each in charge of their generalship. Furthermore, they had no command over the Special Operation Forces (SOF). Such implementations would limit the flow of effectively shared information between components in battle. Finally, between several generals including SOF generals; the principle of shared understanding is exemplified as they agreed that command and control would be more effective under a conventional generalship under General Franks with SOF as a support element (Lambeth p. 167-168).
The commander’s intent for OA was clear and concise. In the months before OA, the Taliban and Al Qaeda faced several defeats and withdrew to Shahikot. The intent was to eliminate the presence of the Taliban and Al Qaeda from Shahikot. Significantly, the commander’s intent should not be a repetition of why the mission is occurring, but a broader clear, and concise general purpose of the concept of the mission. Particularly, a mission never goes as planned and Troops are faced with hard decisions. The commander’s intent becomes the foundation that Soldiers should base their decisions on. Also, it may serve as an ethical NCO practice if orders are absent; the commander’s intent serves as a basis for taking initiative in the absence of orders.
The commander’s intent is usually given with the principle of mission orders. Previously stated; the commander’s intent does not emphasize the why of the mission, but the mission order does. The mission order briefs the why, who, what, where, when of the mission, but not necessarily how. It is clear and direct but not to the point of impeding the decision of subordinates in battle, but not vague to where it results in confusion and indecisiveness.
Facing decisive action is a common theme of military service and it leads into the next two and final principles of mission command; discipline initiative and risk acceptance. The initiative is disciplined because the decision made when engaged in an operational paradox is controlled within the parameters of the commander’s intent. There are countless examples available from various American battles but one, in particular, is notable in OA. It is the example demonstrated by Medal of Honor Recipient Master Chief Britt Slabinski. Slabinski’s primary mission was to take a SEAL team up a 10,000-foot snowy mountain and establish an observation post to report enemy movement. While attempting to land at the top of Taku Ghar, their helicopter was hit with an RPG. One of Slabinski’s SEAL teammates Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts fell from the helicopter onto the top of the enemy-infested mountain. The helicopter crash-landed shortly after. At that moment, Slabinski decided to change the primary mission to a rescue mission after Petty Officer Roberts. He called in another helicopter and led the rest of his teammates back up the mountain where he was convinced in his mind he would not return home from this rescue attempt. After 14 hours of heavy machine-gun fire, thick snow, rough terrain, and calling in close air support, and caring for his wounded teammates they were finally extracted (Lange (2019).
The risk acceptance principle is obvious in Slabinski’s circumstance. Danger, mental and physical injury and death is a risk in any military operation. Mission commanders are trained with methods to analyze risk factors to mitigate them. Regardless of mitigation, some risk remains and all from the highest commander to the Soldier in the operational environment understands and accepts the risk. In Sabinski’s mind, he was well aware of the risk of returning to the area of initial contact. In his mind, as the mission commander of his team, he calculated the risk against him and his team. He realized he would not return home to see his son. But the risk was worth the effort to save his teammate and complete his mission.
Operation Anaconda is one of many battles one can study and learn from immeasurable contingencies and circumstances. Command and control have evolved into a well thought out structured philosophy now acknowledged as mission command. The seven principles of mission command are applicable in every combat scenario. From past wars to future wars, war has become an evolutionary power. Action is power and no greater force catapults action like the power of war. War cannot exist without the mind and will of man. The inherent will to survive and promote or impose ideas on the will of others will always carry with it the possibility of war. As the human will evolves, so will war and all the turmoil and change it brings. Nevertheless, sometimes war is a necessary evil to fight against an invasive evil or evil ideological will. And with that necessary evil comes a necessarily great mission commander. And because there is also inherent goodness within the will of human endeavor, so is the attempt to minimize death and casualties. From this concept, the philosophy of the seven principles of mission command has become discovered.
US Department of the Army. (2019). Mission Command: Command and Control of Army Forces
Adamec, W. Ludwig. (2012). Historical Dictionary of Afghanistan. ProQuest Ebook Central.
Kuglar, Richard. (2007). Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan: A Case Study of Adaption in
Battle. National Defense University, Center for Technology and National Security
Lambeth, Benjamin. (2005). Airpower Against Terror America’s Conduct of Enduring Freedom.
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Lang, Katie. (2019). US Department of Defense. Medal of Honor Monday: Navy Master Chief