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Operation Anaconda: America's First Major Battle in Afghanistan

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Long before it became "Obama's War," the long-running conflict in Afghanistan was launched by President George W. Bush in retaliation for the 9/11 attacks on the United States. Only a few months later, Operation Anaconda sent American-led coalition forces into their most intensely brutal confrontation with Al Qaeda and their Taliban hosts in the Shar-i Kot Valley near the Long before it became "Obama's War," the long-running conflict in Afghanistan was launched by President George W. Bush in retaliation for the 9/11 attacks on the United States. Only a few months later, Operation Anaconda sent American-led coalition forces into their most intensely brutal confrontation with Al Qaeda and their Taliban hosts in the Shar-i Kot Valley near the Pakistan border. The result was an unexpected set piece of conventional fighting in what has become an era of guerrilla warfare. Drawing upon previously unavailable or neglected sources, Lester Grau and Dodge Billingsley give us the most complete and accurate account of this thirteen-day firefight waged in mountainous terrain nearly two miles above sea level. As an added bonus, the authors also include with the book a documentary on DVD that features interviews with soldiers who fought in Anaconda, provides additional information concerning major phases of the battle, and presents insightful commentary by Grau and by Billingsley, who was on the ground with U.S. forces for the operation.


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Long before it became "Obama's War," the long-running conflict in Afghanistan was launched by President George W. Bush in retaliation for the 9/11 attacks on the United States. Only a few months later, Operation Anaconda sent American-led coalition forces into their most intensely brutal confrontation with Al Qaeda and their Taliban hosts in the Shar-i Kot Valley near the Long before it became "Obama's War," the long-running conflict in Afghanistan was launched by President George W. Bush in retaliation for the 9/11 attacks on the United States. Only a few months later, Operation Anaconda sent American-led coalition forces into their most intensely brutal confrontation with Al Qaeda and their Taliban hosts in the Shar-i Kot Valley near the Pakistan border. The result was an unexpected set piece of conventional fighting in what has become an era of guerrilla warfare. Drawing upon previously unavailable or neglected sources, Lester Grau and Dodge Billingsley give us the most complete and accurate account of this thirteen-day firefight waged in mountainous terrain nearly two miles above sea level. As an added bonus, the authors also include with the book a documentary on DVD that features interviews with soldiers who fought in Anaconda, provides additional information concerning major phases of the battle, and presents insightful commentary by Grau and by Billingsley, who was on the ground with U.S. forces for the operation.

43 review for Operation Anaconda: America's First Major Battle in Afghanistan

  1. 5 out of 5

    Neil

    I read this book as a source for a research paper for an online course. Having said that, I would have read it had it caught my on a store shelf and I bought it. It was an interesting book; it has a lot of information crammed into it in regard to Operation Anaconda in early 2002. It held my interest over the course of the entire narrative. I thought it was well-written. Although it bounces around between "different point-of-views" in terms of the narrative, it still has a good, "relatively tight I read this book as a source for a research paper for an online course. Having said that, I would have read it had it caught my on a store shelf and I bought it. It was an interesting book; it has a lot of information crammed into it in regard to Operation Anaconda in early 2002. It held my interest over the course of the entire narrative. I thought it was well-written. Although it bounces around between "different point-of-views" in terms of the narrative, it still has a good, "relatively tight" flow to it. It focuses almost exclusively on the first three-to-five days of the battle over most of the book; it then has a chapter that focuses on the last ten-to-twelve days of battle; the last chapter discusses the 'strengths' and 'weaknesses' of the Operation. It discusses what the US military did that was "good" as well as what needs to be improved to prevent the mistakes that were made over the course of the Operation. One "thing" that I did appreciate was how the book included the experiences of Australian SAS soldiers who were in positions to observe the enemy troop movements, call in and direct close air support, and support the American soldiers in the Valley. It also included the experiences of a Canadian company that was sent into the Valley on the ninth day of battle. Even though "most" of the heavy fighting was over, the Canadians were sent in to sweep "the Whale" looking for enemy combatants as well as weapons, ammunition, supplies, and anything else the enemy might try to recover for use at a later time. After the disastrous experiences in the early moments of the battle, the Afghan Northern Alliance forces did not participate in any more supporting actions until after the heaviest fighting was over. After most of the enemy combatants had left the Valley, the Afghan forces were sent back into the Valley to take the villages "back"; even though the American units could have taken the villages, they were saved for the Afghans so that the Afghan military could "save face" (or recover its "lost" honor) in the taking of these villages. It was interesting to read, as it really reminded me of the statement I once heard/read: the US Military tends to train to fight "the prior war" over again, and that really seemed to be the case in this battle/operation. (view spoiler)[The Army personnel on the ground had weapons that were designed for "close quarters" combat and not for combating enemy forces over great distances. Even if enemy combatants were hit, they were not killed or taken out of the battle because of wounds received as the bullets did not have any stopping power after traveling a particular distance. The book really reinforced that the US military might want to rethink its strategy about providing the soldiers with "light arms" that are for combat over short distances. Apparently part of this change in weapons stemmed from events in the First Gulf War as well as planning to fight the Soviets in Europe as opposed to fighting light soldiers over great distances. Another "thing" that really stood out was Rumsfeld was an idiot in how he went about trying to decide which military units to keep and which to disband, all in the name of "saving money" and reducing the men in uniform to save costs. Unlike Canada, the United States has not true "mountain division" trained to fight in the mountains. The American units sent into battle never had a chance to acclimate to the high altitudes prior to going into battle. The high altitudes seriously adversely affected the American soldiers and prevented them from being able to take the battle to the enemy like they wanted. The book highlights over "issues" as well, but I did not feel there was ever any attempt to take away from what was accomplished. (hide spoiler)] I think this book, in addition to Not a Good Day to Die, really highlights the weaknesses of relying too much upon technology. During the battle, too many commanding officers who were hundreds and thousands of miles away kept interfering with the battle and trying to control the flow of battle and troop movements, all because of the technology available to them that made them feel like they had the battle at their very fingertips. Nothing could be further from the case! There was too much time lag between what they could see and what was actually happening; in addition, there is no way they could adequately command the troops from such a great distance as they had no idea what was truly going on. However, the technology available gave the appearance of being able to control the troops and make decisions from the other side of the world. (view spoiler)[One of the "craziest" events that occurred was when some aircraft overhead started searching for concentrations of enemy combatants on Takur Ghar. Some of the Special Forces operatives had determined the enemy must have something important atop the mountain they were guarding, and the fighter-bombers overhead went hunting with a vengeance. One of them was lucky and dropped a bomb into (onto?) a hidden ammunition dump. The Russians had searched for this dump the entire time they were in Afghanistan, to no avail. The American fighter dropped a bomb into it, which set off a chain reaction that destroyed the entire ammo dump. It was pretty crazy! Smaller dumps were destroyed over the course of the battle after that, but the destruction of the huge ammo dump essentially removed any further reason for the enemy combatants to remain in the area and continue dying. (hide spoiler)] It was an interesting book. It has a huge amount of information in it. I do wish it had talked about the other ten or so nations that apparently had forces involved in the operation. The only other nation I recall being mentioned was France; French aircraft were utilized in providing overhead air support for the ground troops. It would have been nice to know how and where the other nations were involved in the operation. It was described as a "success" because it was the last major infantry engagement with Al Qaeda forces and the insurgents; the battle broke their ability to stage any further such battles and forced them into a "guerrilla warfare" mode in order to survive. The operation cleaned the valley of enemy soldiers and insurgent forces; it also removed the majority of the ammo dumps that had been hidden in the mountains surrounding the valley. Other than failing to capture enemy "high value targets" the battle was a success in the eyes of the US military and her allies (granted, the military's definition of "success" does vary from the definition used by the media and by civilians). Overall, it was a well-written book and I am glad that I read it.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Scottnshana

    Grau and Billingsley have put together a good account of this focal slice of time in ENDURING FREEDOM (OEF), and it puts a lot of detail on the other books in the genre. The authors bring what they know--Grau's years of lectures on the Soviet war and Billingsley's first-hand experience as a video-filmographer in the midst of these events, discussing the physical stresses on soldiers fighting at high altitude and the coordination issues of providing close air support (CAS) when the only other ava Grau and Billingsley have put together a good account of this focal slice of time in ENDURING FREEDOM (OEF), and it puts a lot of detail on the other books in the genre. The authors bring what they know--Grau's years of lectures on the Soviet war and Billingsley's first-hand experience as a video-filmographer in the midst of these events, discussing the physical stresses on soldiers fighting at high altitude and the coordination issues of providing close air support (CAS) when the only other available indirect fire is coming from mortar platoons--for example the Combined Air Operations Center in Saudi Arabia consistently dispatching bombs to the fight without checking in with USAF Enlisted Terminal Attack Controllers (ETACs) getting dirt under their nails in the fight. To tighten the aperture, Grau and Billingsley make the oft-argued case that throughout CAS history, the task has best been left to the ETACs, captains, and majors who jointly hammer out how best to apply air-to-ground ordnance without killing our own people in the process; it is a shame this has to be oft-argued. As an OEF veteran who worked this process, I have read most of the bestsellers on ANACONDA and the operators who rolled in shortly after 9/11 to take al Qaeda down. This particular book is the first time I have seen our Canadian counterparts' contributions elucidated in such detail. It is well-organized, it is multi-faceted, and I would argue that it brings something unprecedented to the rich body of work on the early period of the coalition's deployment to Afghanistan.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Atar

    Lester Grau & Dodge Billingsley have written the most complete and accurate account of “Operation Anaconda” I have read to date. Many others including Sean Naylor’s “Not A Good Day To Die” have also written fantastic books about the first conventional battle in Afghanistan. However “Operation Anaconda” is more about the details of each units role in the fight. I would absolutely recommend both books. They are both told in different ways. Both are amazing reads but if you want specifics in the or Lester Grau & Dodge Billingsley have written the most complete and accurate account of “Operation Anaconda” I have read to date. Many others including Sean Naylor’s “Not A Good Day To Die” have also written fantastic books about the first conventional battle in Afghanistan. However “Operation Anaconda” is more about the details of each units role in the fight. I would absolutely recommend both books. They are both told in different ways. Both are amazing reads but if you want specifics in the order of battle read this book.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Joseph Monaco

  5. 5 out of 5

    Eric

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lee Griffith

  7. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Barton

  8. 4 out of 5

    David Glanville

  9. 4 out of 5

    alan k sweeney

  10. 5 out of 5

    Michael Carey

  11. 5 out of 5

    Troy

  12. 4 out of 5

    Alan Florjancic

  13. 4 out of 5

    Merle

  14. 5 out of 5

    André

  15. 4 out of 5

    Michael Blackwood

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    Michiel Rook

  17. 4 out of 5

    Martin Isaksson

  18. 4 out of 5

    Michael

  19. 5 out of 5

    Marcus

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ashutosh Verma

  21. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

  22. 5 out of 5

    Josh Dragnett

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    Liam

  24. 4 out of 5

    'Aussie Rick'

  25. 4 out of 5

    Chase McCool

  26. 4 out of 5

    Brent

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mike

  28. 4 out of 5

    Tia

  29. 4 out of 5

    GArthur

  30. 4 out of 5

    Tom Callaghan

  31. 4 out of 5

    happy

  32. 5 out of 5

    Rose

  33. 4 out of 5

    Matt Nichols

  34. 5 out of 5

    Tasha Kankaanpää

  35. 4 out of 5

    Bharat

  36. 5 out of 5

    Lee

  37. 5 out of 5

    Frozenorange

  38. 5 out of 5

    Jerome

  39. 5 out of 5

    Zach Browning

  40. 4 out of 5

    Norbert

  41. 5 out of 5

    Grouchy Historian

  42. 4 out of 5

    Bruinrefugee

  43. 4 out of 5

    Christopher

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