On March 2, 2002, after the interim Afghan government had been established, Operation Anaconda was launched. Joining the US Military in this effort were CIA Paramilitary Officers, ally Afghan military forces, NATO and non-NATO forces. Western nations such as Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand and Norway also participated.
Operation Anaconda took place in the Shahi-Kot Valley where al-Qaeda forces had regrouped after the Battle of Tora Bora. This offensive was to become the first large-scale battle (since Tora Bora in December of 2001) involving the US and the first to involve a large number of US conventional troops in direct combat activities.
Troops Move Into the Shahi-Kot Valley Area
At 6:30 AM on the morning of March 2, 2002, the first of the US and allied troops were dropped by helicopter in the eastern and northern edges of the Shahi-Kot Valley. They came immediately under heavy fire which lasted most of the day. Once these forces were able to infiltrate the area, the team called for heavy airstrikes which inflicted heavy casualties on al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters.
The second group of troops, dropped off in the southern area, experienced the heaviest fighting. These men became trapped and low on ammunition. That evening after nightfall, an AC-130 gunship provided sustained firepower so the men could be safely evacuated.
Special Forces in the Battle of Takur Ghar
On March 3,2002, as part of Operation Anaconda, two US Navy SEAL teams (Mako 30 and Mako 21) were implanted in an effort to set up observations points on either end of the valley. Mako 30, was initially planned to land just east of the peak, but due to time constraints, had to be inserted onto the peak itself. Imagery of the area showed no sign of life. The SEAL team was instructed to abort the mission if any signs of life were observed.
Once the mountain top was declared secure, a Chinook helicopter was scheduled to land on top of the mountain (at Takur Ghar). As they approached, the pilots of the helicopter and SEALs on the ground noticed fresh tracks in the snow and additional signs which indicated recent human activity.
The two groups were discussing the possibility of aborting the mission when the helicopter took fire from a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG). Two of the grenades hit the Chinook causing one of the engines to shut down. The electrical system and the hydraulic systems were also affected. As the helicopter lost control, Petty Officer First Class Neil Roberts fell out of the opened ramp and attempts to rescue him were futile given the damage the helicopter had sustained. The Chinook crash landed in the valley below.
After a second helicopter (Razor 2) offloaded Mako 30, it returned to the peak in an effort to rescue Roberts. It immediately came under heavy fire in which one Air Force member was believed to be killed and two US Navy SEALs wounded. This second chopper was also forced off the mountain due to the heavy fire and sustained damage. A Ranger force stationed at Bagram Air Base was sent in an effort to rescue Roberts.
Several attempts were made to support ground troops and rescue Roberts. The Australian SASR forces and their officers successfully infiltrated the area. They were the first to use “virtual reality” type software to prepare for the conditions of this mission. It is believed the training proved successful providing the force with a heightened awareness in the dark and poor weather conditions. Their actions aided in the positive outcome of the Battle of Takur Ghar. Sources estimated 200 al-Qaeda and Taliban casualties during the Battle of Takur Ghar, but the fate of Roberts remained a mystery. It is believed he was eventually captured and executed by al Qaeda forces.
Operation Anaconda Comes to an End
On March 18, 2002, just two weeks after the onset of the mission, Operation Anaconda came to an end. US troops were successful in eradicating the majority of the al-Qaeda and Taliban from the Shahi-Kot Valley, however Osama bin Laden remained at large.