Operation Anaconda

America's First Major Battle in Afghanistan

Lester W. Grau and Dodge Billingsley

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. They describe how allied troops fought a fierce and well-entrenched enemy to a standstill, close to an old Soviet battlefield, and then drove them completely out of Afghanistan.

“The authors were careful to construct their approach and provide enough background information of Operation Anaconda so that even a novice student of military history could understand and relate to the decisions and processes affecting the battle.

—Aviation Digest

“All told, Operation Anaconda presents a compelling telling of a key point in the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan... a useful and interesting read for both the experienced as well as the casual reader of military history. Even more impressive is the DVD included with the book that features over an hour of documentary footage and interviews. This bonus material helps the reader visualize the region’s terrain and to better understand the keys to the battle.”

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Grau and Billingsley's account also highlights problems encountered in Anaconda and the lessons we should learn from their in-depth study. The Army and Air Force operated under conflicting views regarding the appropriate application of Close Air Support, and airpower both crippled and aided the overall effort. In addition, severe shortages of transport, attack helicopters, and artillery hampered the effort, while the acquisition and timely sharing of intelligence barely occurred at all and coalition relations frayed under the intense pressures of combat.

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. Providing the richest description and critique of all the forces involved—including those that fought on the enemy side—the combined book-and-DVD surpasses all previous accounts of this landmark engagement and is an essential volume in the literature on our war in Afghanistan.

About the Author

Lester W. Grau is the research director for the Foreign Military Studies Office at the U.S. Army's Combined and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth and the translator and editor of several books dealing with the Soviet military experience in Afghanistan, including The Soviet-Afghan War: How a Superpower Fought and Lost. Dodge Billingsley, an award-winning documentary filmmaker and Director of Combat Films and Research, Inc., accompanied U.S. infantry troops into the Shar-i Kot Valley during Operation Anaconda. His numerous films include Virgin Soldiers and Chechnya: Separatism or Jihad?

Additional Titles in the Modern War Studies Series