As intelligence increasingly showed that Taliban and al-Qaeda figures were regrouping in the vicinity of the Shah-i-kot valley in southeastern Afghanistan, CENTCOM issued orders to focus intelligence and reconnaissance assets in the Khost-Gardez region.30 As at Tora Bora, the operational concept was to fix, block, and destroy the massed enemy forces in their mountain hideout. As Franks described it, the goal was to “encircle and squeeze into extinction” the enemy force in the area.31 Not wanting a repeat of the performance at Tora Bora, when large numbers of al-Qaeda and Taliban figures escaped, Franks authorized the use of U.S. conventional ground forces as blocking elements, although using Afghan militias would remain the priority. The planning process for Anaconda involved coordinating headquarters based in Afghanistan with the intermediate land forces command in Kuwait and CENTCOM in Tampa. Franks generally left the operational planning of Anaconda to Hagenbeck and the staffs of 10thMountain, 101st Airborne, and Task Force Dagger, the Special Forces command in Afghanistan that was working to raise a local Afghan militia. He did, however, require three daily briefings involving all three levels of command and insisted on knowing the proposed movement of the units involved in the operation down to the platoon level. It made for a strange combination of delegation and micromanagement.32
Beyond initiating the operational planning and signing off on the concept, the largest role that Franks and his staff played was determining the overall force structure for the operation. Significantly, they frequently denied 10th Mountain and 101st planners’ requests for artillery and helicopter support. En total, there were three U.S. battalions of infantry available in theater for Hagenbeck to plan with: one battalion from 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 101st was in Afghanistan proper; another battalion was just across the Pakistani border at an airfield in Jacobabad, while a third battalion, the 1stBattalion, 87th Infantry, part of Hagenbeck’s 10th Mountain Division, was staging in Uzbekistan.
None of these units, however, had its normal allotment of key enablers: aviation and artillery. Typically, brigades deployed with a while range of assets including military police, intelligence, engineering, aviation and artillery from divisional supporting units. A typical complement for a brigade would be around 5,000 personnel, but Franks’ directive to minimize the U.S. footprint meant that the total conventional force, with the exception of Hagenbeck’s small headquarters staff, was capped at 2,200.33 Consequently, the task force lacked main sources of firepower—its typical complement of Apache attack helicopters and artillery. Army leaders, to include the chief of staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, petitioned CENTCOM and the Pentagon to allow eight Apaches to be sent to Afghanistan. That lobbying effort was successful, but neither Franks nor Rumsfeld would allow any artillery units to be deployed. In part, this refusal reflected the belief of Franks and his staff that superior close air support would be sufficient to replace helicopter and artillery support.34 As one 10thMountain planner stated, “We were told we were not going to get any more than what we had already. That was it period. We could not have any more forces, and we really had to work to pull the forces we did from Jacobabad, K2 (an air base in Uzbekistan), and Kandahar.”35 (For a review of the battle plan in the Shah-i-kot, see attached map, “Anaconda Plan.”)