BY NATHAN HODGE
BAGRAM AIR BASE, AfghanistanTwo top U.S. officers involved in
the planning of Operation Anaconda said that human intelligence, not
high-tech airborne sensors, were the key to the operation's success.
The superiority of human intelligence over signals intelligence or
imagery is a military truism. But the point is easily forgotten amid
the buzz over dominant U.S. intelligence-collecting systems such as
unmanned drones and satellites.
Army Lt. Col. Jasey Briley, the head of intelligence for the coalition
joint task force, said that the coalition's local intelligence sources
tipped off planners to an influx of al Qaeda operatives in the Shah-i-Kot
region. That information spurred the decision to launch a coalition
"We got into their decision cycle, basically," he told reporters.
"Unlike in Tora Bora, where they were in a defensive-type battle,
they were on an offensive move. And basically, we caught them prior
to the kickoff of their offensive operation."
Asked how he rated the value of human intelligence versus information
culled from airborne sensors such as the Air Force's RQ-1 Predator or
the Navy's P-3 Orion, Briley was clear.
"Basically, humint's always your most reliable source," he
said. "When you talk about humint, you're talking about the sensors
of the body as opposed to the sensors of a platform. So your human intelligence
more than likely is going to give you a better, more reliable source
of information. And we found that to be true in the course of this operation,
as in previous [operations]."
Lt. Col. Dave Gray, chief of operations for Anaconda, agreed: "From
the operator's standpoint, [that's] exactly correct."
However, Gray stressed that the coalition did not rely on a single
type of intelligence: "It's a redundant capability, and that's
what we want to look at throughout operationsusing all the technical
means we have. But good old eyes-on [the target] and the human factor
is invaluable. That proved itself, especially in the opening days, but
throughout operations here."
Briley said sensors and human assets can "cross-cue" each
other: "In this case, where our other sensors pick up something,
we cross-cue our human sources to basically confirm or deny."
In the villages in Shah-i-Kot valley, coalition forces received indications
prior to the battle that al Qaeda operatives had paid villagers as much
as $400 a head to move out so they could set up a base of operations.
"When the operation actually did kick off, that's pretty much
what we found," said Gray. "We did not find any civilians
there, so when the battle began, the al Qaeda in every one of the villages
had positionsdefensive positions, mortar positionsand took
coalition forces under fire from the villages. We were able to engage
those targets as precisely as we could."
Asked how effective they thought Anaconda was, Briley said: "We
have hampered or impaired their [al Qaeda's] ability to continue operations."