The recent Moscow visit of General Tommy Franks, Commander in Chief of the United States Central Command, provoked debates among Russian generals, especially about the US information about hostilities in Afghanistan. The general was apparently pleased to tell his Russian colleagues and journalists at a press conference in the Marriott Hotel that the efforts of the counter-terror coalition, which Russia supports, were yielding fruit. In particular, that battle in the Shah-e-Kot mountain area in the Paktia Province ended “brilliantly,” as Gen. Franks said. The enemy was routed and control of the territory was turned over to the government.
But the Russian military experts I talked with after the general’s visit were sceptical about the “brilliant success” of Operation Anaconda, held 30 km away from the city of Gardez. The American special troops lost ten men and officers, 70 were wounded, two Chinook helicopters were hit and five were serious damaged. My interlocutors doubt that this can be described as a major victory.
On the other hand, the experts said they did not have reliable information about the operation, but then this is the problem of not only experts and not only Russian experts at that. CNN, Euronews and other television companies did not cover Operation Anaconda as thoroughly as they did Operation Desert Storm. However, the US and European press carried enough facts that prompt conclusions about the inadequate preparation of US special troops for hostilities in the mountains.
In particular, Colonel-General Valery Mironov, former commander of the 108th Motorised Division in Afghanistan (1979-82) and former deputy defence minister of Russia, told me that the Pentagon made quite a few major mistakes during that operation. The massive use of air-fuel explosive (vacuum) bombs, which are prohibited by international conventions, did not help, and the general says could not help to liquidate the leaders of the Taliban bandit groups hiding in the mountains. They resulted in major destruction, burning out caves and tunnels in the rock and possibly even provoked the recent earthquake, but did not wipe out the opponent’s troops. The Americans did not show the international community killed or wounded Taliban, prisoners of war or weapons and hardware of Al Qaeda. Maybe the Taliban left the caves before the bombing started? There is no answer to this question.
Another mistake of the Americans was an attempt to finish off the enemy in the mountains outside Gardez with the help of Afghan troops, disregarding the local national and ethnic features, in particular relations between different clans, says the Russian general. It was extremely imprudent to use Tajik units in the battle against the Taliban, says Mironov. The Americans should not have done this under any conditions in the area controlled by the Pashtu. The Pentagon saw its mistake too late, after its decision provoked acute contradictions between tribal leaders. As a result, the operation lost the dynamics.
One more serious drawback of Operation Anaconda was the use of small commando units at the initial stage, says Colonel- General Mironov. The Pashtu who support the Taliban can fight in the mountains much better than any commandos. This explains the US losses and bad weather, fog and technical problems with helicopters, to which the Pentagon referred, had nothing to do with this. Success was ensured only after the Germans, the Dutch and other members of the counter-terror coalition joined the operation, although the Europeans sustained human losses, too.
Valery Mironov believes that these facts prove that it would be unwise to speak about a “brilliant victory” of the counter- terror coalition. The coalition will face more serious trials and one can only wish it to stand them with the smallest possible losses.
Viktor Litovkin is a military analyst for the Russian magazine Obshchaya Gazeta.