Operation Anaconda signals the beginning of a new phase of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. In this phase insurgency and counterinsurgency operations will become the main feature. Militarily, Operation Anaconda shows the United States has yet to find an effective response on the ground to guerrilla warfare. Dominant air power will remain the only sufficient means to win battles, but it might not be enough to win the war in Afghanistan.
Operation Anaconda, the fiercest battle in the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, continued March 8, with the U.S. command claiming that complete victory was near after the deaths of several hundred al Qaeda fighters. Islamic news agencies, meanwhile, claimed the operation has been a failure: They say only a few dozen militants holed up in snowy mountain caves have been killed and that U.S. losses have been significantly higher than the eight dead and 40 wounded that officials have acknowledged.
Because journalists do not have access to the battle area in the eastern Afghan province of Paktia, Western media have mostly cited Pentagon sources. However none of the claims made by either side can be confirmed independently. With that in mind, STRATFOR is trying to reconstruct what has happened and to ascertain the ramifications Operation Anaconda will have for Afghanistan and the broader U.S. war on terrorism. We base our analysis on a critical study of available sources and on human intelligence sources from the region.
Ultimately Operation Anaconda will not finish off al Qaeda or even the Taliban fighters. Instead it signals the beginning of a protracted guerrilla war that will allow Afghanistan to continue to serve as sanctuary for al Qaeda. A guerrilla war – against which the United States has found only one effective answer, overwhelming air power – also could affect Washington's timeline for fighting terrorism in other parts of the world.
It appears to us that Operation Anaconda began after U.S. commanders received intelligence from warlord Zadran (also known as Badsha Khan), who controls much of Khost, the province east of Paktia. Zadran's information has proven questionable in the past, prompting U.S. forces to attack and kill innocent Afghans he had identified as Taliban or al Qaeda members. The biggest blunder occurred Dec. 20, when Zadran triggered the U.S. blitz of a convoy of Paktia's elders that killed about 65 people.www.stratfor.com/fib/fib_view.php?ID=203443E-mail this article