ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Not a Good Day to Die: Operation Anaconda

Updated on October 4, 2011
Operation Anaconda SitMap March 03, 2002
Operation Anaconda SitMap March 03, 2002

Not a Good Day to Die

Imagine that life came with an instruction manual in the form of a PDA-sized, all-in-one risk assessment software program and that would tell you everything that would ever go wrong and the best stocks to invest in, the best route to work to avoid traffic and a speeding ticket. Perhaps knowing where every patch of black ice would be useful if you had to drive through a blizzard; after all, we have to take some risks. Imagine that it would tell you everything you ever needed to know to make an informed decision about anything. This is what tactical intelligence strives to do for military operations. It keeps tactical decision makers informed of the situation by acting as their eyes and ears in unfamiliar territory. Intelligence is to military forces what a walking stick is to a blind man; or eyes to a deaf person. They’ll never have all the information, but they’ll have enough to function effectively.

“Not a Good Day to Die”, by Sean Naylor, tells the story of Operation Anaconda in which intelligence played a crucial role. Naylor objectively narrates the actual events of Operation Anaconda from January 2002 to its conclusion on March 18, 2008 with open condor. The language is easy to read and flows in a manner that is pleasingly to the mind’s ear in such a way that the pages seem to turn themselves. Written with vividly poetic imagery and audible onomatopoeia; I often nostalgically put this book down forgetting that I was no longer in the field myself.

When the intelligence cycle failed, consequences were disastrous, but when it succeeded, operations were able to come to fruition successfully with minimal losses. Whether it drove them forward to the objective or failed and drove them into the ground, intelligence was always a significant factor. For the student of intelligence and tactics, who knows what to look for, Operation Anaconda’s recounting by Naylor will provide numerous case studies of intelligence driving operations. The book is a valuable asset to those who may find themselves in similar situations or making decisions to affect those who are there in their stead because it’s neither hypothetical nor theoretical; it’s a historical record of real events with real people and it is said that those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it. The book includes several diagrams that allow for case studies and “What would you do?” mental war games.

Often times, when covering tactical evolutions, many combat correspondents lack the sufficient awareness of intelligence and its role in operations. Naylor however, though not a tactician, sprinkles it throughout “Not a Good Day to Die” like salt on a gourmet meal whose presence will go unnoticed unless it’s missing. Various types of intelligence and the different stages of the intelligence cycle are shown in action. Even the impact of mindsets on decision making is apparent. For example, Major General Warren Edwards talks about what he’d expected when Operation Anaconda started:

“There was some knowledge that this might be the last great stand, that bin Laden might be there, the senior leadership might be there. But the mindset was, we’re gonna push forward, we’re gonna strike ‘em with air, we’re gonna kill ‘em all up here in the valley. Not they’ree gonna flee outta there.” (Naylor, 20)

Having a mindset that limits one’s thought process can result in lives being needlessly lost as events unfold in to an unforeseen scenario; a valuable lesson for intelligence professionals to learn early in their careers.

Another lesson that can be learned from this book is that intelligence must be made readily available to those who need it. According to Naylor, “…no one at the Mountain headquarters, including Hagenbeck himself, had access to the most current intelligence about events in Afghanistan.” (Naylor, 13)

One will also learn that there is little value to unconfirmed intelligence as many of the Al Qaeda leadership were evacuating, “American surveillance planes spotted scores of intense heat sources—interpreted as campfires—in the snowy heights...” Bombing was recommended as it was unlikely that civilians would be at the location under the severe weather conditions. CENTCOM having no confirmation proposed that, “They could be shepherds.” (Naylor, 20) Whoever they were, they were able to make it across the border safely.

Even the political and strategic impact of tactical decisions is evident for the astute pupil reviewing the case above, and more explicitly so in the following except.

“When attacking the Shahikot, Dagger officers thought, it would be essential to have troops who could quickly distinguish between local civilians on the one hand and that Arabs, Uzbeks and other foreigners the Americans wanted to kill on the other. The alternative was to risk a slaughter of civilians, with a negative strategic impact that would outweigh any benefits gained. Rosengard worried aloud about sending a US conventional force into Shahikot, seizing the objective and then civilian survivors of the assault telling CNN: ‘These Americans came in and killed my sister and my bother and all these Afghans.’” (Naylor, 45)

While the simple solution in both cases would have been to just kill everyone, America generally holds herself to a higher standard when the public is likely to find out what really happened and the leadership will be held responsible for their decisions.

There are numerous instances of intelligence needs unfulfilled, incomplete analysis and various shortcomings that hindered operations in Operation Anaconda. “Not a Good Day to Die” exposes many of these failures providing lessons for the next generation of intelligence professionals. While officially deemed a failure as many of the Al Qaeda leadership escaped, there were varying opinions of the degree of success or failure in Operation Anaconda; The author quips, “Interestingly, estimates of enemy dead in the Shahikot tended to rise the further the officer making the estimate was from the battle.” (Naylor, 375) Naylor concludes by pointing out that, “…the US failure to fight a successful battle of encirclement in the Shahikot meant several hundred experienced Al Qaeda fighters—Arabs, Uzbeks, and Chechens—escaped to Pakistan. (Naylor, 376)

While Operation Anaconda could have been considerably worse, it also could have had a more desirable outcome. Experience is the best teacher; unfortunately she gives the test before the lesson. However for those who are proactive, the mistakes of others are equally effective and this book will aid them in their quest.

Naylor, Sean. 2005. Not a Good Day to Die: The Untold Story of Operation Anaconda. New York: Berkley Caliber Books.

If you'd like to read it yourself, click here

Not a Good Day to Die: The Untold Story of Operation Anaconda
Not a Good Day to Die: The Untold Story of Operation Anaconda

A candid narraration of Operation Anaconda from January 2002 to its conclusion on March 18, 2008. Vividly poetic; the pages seem to turn themselves.



    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)