Nineteen years ago, a team of Canadian snipers set back-to-back world records for the longest sniper kill during one of the largest battles of the war in Afghanistan.

The U.S. response to the September 11 terrorist attacks caught al-Qaeda and its Taliban hosts by surprise. Instead of pouring tens of thousands of troops into Afghanistan’s harsh terrain as the Soviets had done, the U.S. military took the unconventional route.

A small number of U.S. special operators and CIA paramilitary officers partnered with the Northern Alliance, a hodgepodge of anti-Taliban factions, and other groups. By late 2001 they had largely defeated al-Qaeda and the Taliban through a combination of airpower and ground operations conducted by local fighters with guidance from Green Berets.

It was a perfect unconventional-warfare campaign and a ringing endorsement of the U.S. and Coalition special operations community; this lead policymakers to rely more on commandos.

operation anaconda afghanistan John Chapman special operations
(U.S. Army)

Operation Anaconda

Following the Battle of Tora Bora, in which Delta Force and British Special Boat Service commandos almost caught Osama bin Laden in December 2001, the U.S. military sought to find and destroy any al-Qaeda and Taliban remnants in the country.

Intelligence indicated that a large combined al-Qaeda and Taliban force was in the Shahi Khot Valley in eastern Afghanistan. The U.S. military decided to strike the roughly 1,000 terrorists and Taliban fighters there.

Surrounded by mountains, the Shahi Khot valley has a base altitude of 8,500 feet and is about three miles wide and six miles long. The peak of Takur Ghar mountain — which would end up playing a key part in the operation — looks down on the valley from a height of about 12,000 feet.

The plan was to trap the al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters in the valley in an “anvil and hammer” operation.