Situated on the eastern bank of the Euphrates, Fallujah is bound by the desert on all sides. Two bridges connect the city to the peninsula on the west bank of the river, where the city’s major hospital is located. A railway line is its northern boundary, the railway station is located to the northwest just outside the city. A north-south road is the intersection between the Jolan (northwest) and Askari (northeast) Districts, US intelligence sources reported where that most of insurgents are dug into these two districts, no surprise therefore where most of the initial fighting has taken place. Route 10, an east-west road dividing Fallujah from the North to the mostly industrialized south, this was largely reported to be free of insurgents before the fighting.
For urban warfare one cannot really plan a set-piece battle, because of the time available and the wealth of intelligence US Commanders planned the Fallujah battle carefully, the aim being to avoid the heavy casualties normally associated with urban warfare. The US and Iraqi invasion force comprised, viz (1) US –” HQ 1st Marine Div, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) as an HQ with one integral battalion and a battalion each of Marines and Army, two Regimental Combat Teams (RCTs) of the US Marine Corps (USMC), one Brigade and each from the 1st US Infantry Division (the Big Red one) and the 1st Cavalry Division alongwith integral artillery and aviation support and (2) Iraq –” two Brigades of the Iraqi Army, a brigade of Iraq Intervention Force and a ING Commando Battalion (Iraqi Special Forces). The general deployment had the US Marines on the West and the Army formations to the North. In the initial thrust preparing for the actual offensive, US Marines came in from the west to seize the two bridges connecting Fallujah to the peninsula, Iraqi Special Forces were used to capture the city’s main hospital on the peninsula, in the meantime infantry from US 1st Div and armour units from US 1st Cav took control of the railroad station to the north, 2nd Battalion of the 7th Cavalry Regiment (2/7th Cav), which led the spectacular advance into Baghdad, again the spearheaded the attack.
The approaches to Fallujah having been secured, the invasion plan and the routes thereof were expected to be a west-to-east thrust by the Marines, the Army attacking on a North-South axis. However surprise was achieved with four Marine Battalions and two Army battalions all attacking from the North. The US Marines went for the Jolan District cutting it off from the rest of Fallujah while the Army units led by armour (2/7th Cav) came through into the Askari District while cutting it from the Jolan District by moving down the intersecting North-South Road. In both cases they aimed for Route 10 dividing Fallujah west-to-east the guerillas from retreating to southeast and southwest Fallujah. However a sizeable number of guerillas escaped to the south, thereby forcing flushing-out operations to continue beyond the planned dates. In careful intelligence build-up had located insurgent strongholds through use of unarmed aerial vehicles (UAVs), electronic (ELINT) and human intelligence (HUMINT), sensors, aerial photographs, etc. Artillery fire and use of Precision Guided Munitions (PGMs) had blown away suspected booby-trapped sites. Taking a page from the civil war in former Yugoslavia, the US relied heavily on snipers to support their multiple thrust. The snipers took position on dominating sites, targetting any Iraqi male between 15 and 40 who strayed out into the streets. The urban guerillas responded in kind, most casualties, among the US and Iraqi forces have been caused by snipers. We must learn from this, the Pakistan Army has presently one sniper per infantry platoon, this should be increased to four, one per every infantry section and one in the Platoon HQ. The crossfire has already accounted for scores of casualties among civilians.
The insurgents were first separated in their Jolan and Askari strongholds by the invasion force quickly penetrating to the center of Fallujah, this was accomplished within three days of the initial assault, but it did take hard fighting. Once the routes had been secured fresh troops carry out house-to-house flushing out of the insurgents, isolating them into smaller concentric circles. The attacking troops found it heavy going in their effort to avoid excessive civilian casualties, even though most of Fallujah was evacuated these were in hundreds. In some case they themselves found themselves temporally surrounded by heavy fire, the urban guerillas making coordinated attacks with mortars, small arms and RPGs (rocket propelled grenades). Before the start of fighting, images of civilian dead and wounded had already inflamed public opinion in Iraq. This will be further exacerbated by TV images of a wounded guerilla lying helpless in a mosque where an earlier Marine unit had left them.being killed by a US Marine detachment. While the soldier concerned has been taken into custody pending a detailed investigation, the atrocity has already caused a great furore with in Iraq and in the muslim world. Iraq’s Interim Government had already declared emergency, most cities in Iraq, including Baghdad being put under night curfew. To try and divert the effort of the attacking troops, insurgents have been carrying out sporadic attacks on the US-led Coalition troops and police/ING locations throughout the Sunni triangle. Even PM Allawi’s cousin and his entire family were taken hostages in Baghdad, the kidnappers demanded cessation of the Fallujah offensive.
Iraqi troops have deliberately played a central symbolic role, particularly in neutralizing those religious locations from where there has been insurgent activity. Since snipers have been using mosque minarets, these have been targeted by fire without inhibition. The visible presence of Iraqi troops has been very helpful in containing religious sentiment already severely exacerbated. While a true picture of the performance of the Iraqi troops is not yet available, it is far better than that on display some months ago when 2/3rds of two battalions deserted just before time came to launch an offensive. The US has been careful in playing up the relative Iraqi successes in the Fallujah offensive in the media. The main police station within Fallujah was captured by Iraqi forces who immediately put up the Iraqi national flag as a symbolic demonstration of their major role in the offensive.
The careful build-up of intelligence about invasion routes helped in targetting not only strongholds but booby-trapped sites including car bombs. Those that where not destroyed by air and artillery strikes were dealt with by special demolition teams that in some cases worked beyond the existing front lines. The casualty rate has been high, where two US Marines died in a location at least 50 were seriously wounded. The invasion force has secured Route 10 fully to deny insurgent activity to proliferate in the industrial town which makes up the south of Fallujah.
Even with the US troops in the center of Fallujah, the resistance continued unabated with the forward lines ebbing back and forth. One helicopter was shot down in the first house, two later just outside Fallujah. One US commander had estimated that it would take about a week of severe hand-to-hand fighting before all the terrorists were flushed out. In fact that will be the major problem for the invasion force, having reached all their objectives to be subjected to continuous attack by urban guerillas operating out of the shadows of demolished structures. It is estimated that uptil now nearly 50 US troops have been killed in action alongwith a smaller number of Iraqis, with over 300 US troops being seriously wounded enough to be evacuated to Germany. The US commanders on the ground are estimating the insurgent casualties to be running into several hundreds, estimated to be ranging from 1200 to 1600, probably true given the concentrated fire.
In the initial stages the battle had developed well for the US and Iraqi forces but because they failed to decimate the insurgent force within 2-3 days as planned, there is continuing bloody resistance in pockets, Failure to subdue Fallujah completely will make it a continuing symbol of mass Iraqi resistance to US presence in the country.