T Nation

Falluja

We’re beginning a major offensive in Falluja, a city that needs to be controlled for the elections to go off in January, and which needs to be controlled because of the terrorists holed up there (here’s to hoping Zaraqui (sp?) is still there…).

THe Belmont Club has some very interesting descriptions of what’s going on there, and I highly recommend reading this post and all the updates:

http://belmontclub.blogspot.com/2004/11/fallujah-again-although-us-military.html

Overall, it seems to be going very well thus far, especially given fears concerning urban combat operations.

Here’s a link to the weblog of a media communications professor at University of North Carolina who examines media coverage, with an emphasis on what’s going on over in Iraq – really quite interesting to see her opinion on how things are reported versus how they would be reported fairly:

Also, here’s an interesting critique of media coverage so far:

http://obsidianorder.blogspot.com/2004/11/what-bias-what-ignorance.html

Looks like the assault on Falluja is proceeding quickly:

http://belmontclub.blogspot.com/2004/11/enemy-starts-to-collapse-enemy.html

Tuesday, November 09, 2004
The Enemy Starts to Collapse

Enemy resistance in Fallujah is starting to collapse, with US forces deep inside the city and fighters pulling back to their ultimate stronghold in the Jolan district.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/3994605.stm
There is no more room to retreat with the Euphrates to the west and American forces on every side.

[Begin BBC excerpt] Troops have been advancing towards the center, fighting insurgents armed with rifles and mortars street by street. Early on Tuesday the US-led troops reached a key objective early -- a mosque in the north part of Falluja. ... The BBC's Paul Wood, embedded with US soldiers - and whose reporting is subject to military restrictions - says US-led forces reached their first major objective early on Tuesday, when they surrounded al-Hidra mosque in the northern parts of Falluja. The US military said the building was being used as an arms depot and a meeting point for the leaders of the insurgency. Our correspondent says Iraqi forces fighting alongside US marines will storm it.

Earlier, a US tank commander said guerrillas were putting up a strong fight in the north-western Jolan district. "These people are hardcore," Capt Robert Bodisch told Reuters news agency. "A man pulled out from behind a wall and fired an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) at my tank. I have to get another tank to go back in there."

"I can see heavy street-fighting from my house in the center of the city -- US soldiers are here, moving from house to house", according to BBC reporter Fadil Badrani. [End BBC excerpt]

A synoptic view of the same engagement comes from Ned Parker in the Australian.

http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5744,11337806%5E601,00.html

[Begin Australian excerpt] US troops moved from house to house through the Jolan neighbourhood of Fallujah yesterday, knocking down walls and spraying machinegun fire at buildings from which insurgents fought back with small arms and mortars. The US forces, supported by Iraqi soldiers, pushed towards the centre of the besieged rebel city as columns of smoke plumed skyward after a night of heavy air raids and artillery shelling. "We are downing them," said US marine officer Major Todd Desgrosseilliers. "We're using good old American firepower."

A smattering of trained Iraqi forces accompanied the marines in their assault on the city, while more were poised on the outskirts, preparing to enter in an offensive codenamed Phantom Fury. Helicopter gunships swooped overhead, dropping flares on buildings from where the muzzles of insurgent rocket launchers jutted out, while the rebels fought back with anti-aircraft fire. White and red flashes lit the sky in a relentless barrage of artillery shells and aerial bombing that thundered throughout the night. [End Australian excerpt]

Mortars are what the enemy has for reserves, the only part of their firepower that remains mobile on the Fallujah battlefield because its high-angle fire allows it to shoot over obstacles in built up areas. Enemy forces have also been known to volley RPGs upward into neighboring streets. But their fire is largely blind. They have no comms and direction centers to mass fires or shift them as the battle progresses. The BBC press account indicates that heavy armor has actually penetrated deep inside the city (with an armor company commander joking about the disabling of his vehicle) with infantry progressing over and through the walls of houses on either side (probably what the BBC reporter is describing as ‘moving from house to house’).

Today’s news will tell whether American commanders have decided to keep up the tempo and profit from enemy confusion or slow down and reduce the remainder by fire. One of the factors will be the condition of the Iraqi troops fighting alongside Americans. As suggested in the article above, Iraqi troops are employed to clean out areas like mosques that have been bypassed by US forces. This is dangerous and exhausting work. The limited number of trained Iraqi troops may enforce a limit on tempo. As the enemy fragments it will become a battle of small unit holdouts in dozens of locations. Each enemy position is doomed but they will take time to clean out.

Readers will remember that Fallujah is only a part of the wider campaign in the Sunni triangle. Chester has pointed out that the 3rd Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment, identified as fighting at Fallujah, was detached from Ramadi.
http://adventuresofchester.blogspot.com/2004/11/participating-units-and-command.html
The enemy is now trying to relieve pressure on Fallujah with demonstration attacks in Ramadi, where they may have sensed the departure of the battalion. This has taken the form of a repulsed car bomb attack on checkpoints controlling access to the city and low level skirmishing ( http://www.kesq.com/Global/story.asp?S=2539205 ). This report from the AP describes how two enemy vehicles were destroyed as they bore down on a checkpoint.

http://www.kesq.com/Global/story.asp?S=2539205

[Begin excerpt] The military says five U-S troops have been injured after they attacked two suspected car bombs in the Iraqi city of Ramadi. It also says seven insurgents were killed in yesterday's attack. It gave few other details, but says the U-S troops wounded had shot at and destroyed the vehicles. [End excerpt]

In a portentous development, the Marines have apparently withdrawn their observation posts inside Ramadi. Middle East Online reports:

http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=11831

[Begin Middle East Online excerpt] Rebel fighters massed in the centre of the restive Iraqi city of Ramadi Tuesday after US military snipers withdrew from their positions following 24 hours of clashes, an AFP correspondent said. The US military could not immediately be contacted for comment.

US snipers left a hotel from where they were able to control most of Ramadi's main roads, but the military remained in its headquarters in the governor's office nearby, the correspondent said. Other US soldiers left the city for their bases in the east and west of the city.

As the snipers departed, large crowds of armed insurgents, their faces hidden by scarves, began dancing in the street and shooting in to the air, yelling "Allah Akbar" (God is great). Banners proclaiming solidarity with insurgents in Fallujah, where US-led forces launched a massive offensive to retake the city on Monday, were hung in the streets. "The residents of Ramadi condemn the attack against Fallujah and we appeal to the inhabitants of Ramadi to wage jihad against the American occupants who want to eradicate Islam," said one man who did not want to be named. [End Middle East Online excerpt]

An earlier generation of historians would call the withdrawal of snipers “bringing in the pickets” and concentrating the fist. The feeble enemy response suggests a real weakness. The car bomb attack and public demonstration of “fighters” who are apparently unable to hinder the comings and goings of snipers will be portrayed as a great jihadi victory but is pathetic in reality. They are being measured for a pine box and the best they can do is caper in the streets. In a few days 3rd Battalion will be back in Ramadi, together with powerful units currently busy in Fallujah and the dance tempo will change to a funeral march unless the enemy lays down his arms. Wellington once observed that “nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won.” ( http://www.bartleby.com/100/332.1.html ) Nothing about it is nice; but better them than us.

posted by wretchard : 4:23 PM

Update to the post immediately above:

Update

An Agence France Press report describes the terrible closed loop of networked firepower. For the first time in a major battle, guided artillery is being used quantity. In addition to the now familiar JDAMs, or GPS guided bombs, there are now GPS guided shells. Space based positioning satellites, laser range finding, robotics and networked computing are now as much a part of infantry combat as the boot heel.

http://iafrica.com/news/worldnews/389225.htm

[Begin Agence France excerpt] "Body parts everywhere!" cries a US soldier as a shell crashes onto a group of suspected rebels in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, where a punishing torrent of firepower thundered down on Tuesday.

More than 500 rounds of 155-millimetre Howitzer cannon shells have been fired on the besieged Sunni stronghold west of Baghdad since a US-Iraqi offensive to take control of the city started on Monday evening, said Sergeant Michael Hamby. Using a global positioning system, each shell is precision aimed and fired at insurgent spots, while unmanned reconnaisance aircraft check whether the target was hit and feed back the information, Hamby told AFP.

"We probably had 20-to-30 air strikes in the Jolan and probably two-to-three times that in artillery missions," he said. Attack helicopters swooped overhead, dropping flares on buildings from where the muzzle of insurgent rocket heads jutted out. [End Agence France excerpt]

Though the enemy is to be frank, very brave, news reports report them falling back everywhere. The Washington Post says:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A36981-2004Nov9.html

[Begin Washington Post excerpt] Lt. Gen. Thomas F. Metz, commander of multinational forces in Iraq, predicted "several more days of tough urban fighting." He said insurgents were "fighting hard, but not to the death. They are falling back," adding that the U.S. advance was progressing "ahead of schedule." [End Washington Post excerpt]

The enemy withdrawals have sometimes been explained by suggesting that the enemy is suckering in US forces into a trap. But this is impossible. Their backs are to the river and the Marines are across that. Every retrograde movement compresses the enemy into a smaller area and forces them to leave behind prepared positions painstakingly stockpiled with food, batteries and ammo. Running backward with wounded, they can’t carry much ammunition and won’t find any unless a prepared position is already available. And how does anyone stand fast in the face of the otherworldly violence of the American onslaught?

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A36981-2004Nov9_2.html

[Begin Washington Post excerpt] Small bands of gunmen -- fewer than 20 -- were engaging U.S. troops, then falling back in the face of overwhelming fire from American tanks, 20mm cannons and heavy machine guns, said Time magazine reporter Michael Ware, embedded with troops. Ware reported that there appeared to be no civilians in the area he was in. On one thoroughfare in the city, U.S. troops traded fire with gunmen holed up in a row of houses about 100 yards away. An American gunner on an armored vehicle let loose with his machine gun, grinding the upper part of a small building to rubble. [End Washington Post excerpt]

This is a description of platoon-sized enemy units attempting to hold back the Martians. The bravado of Al Jazeera has this completely wrong. If classical history were still widely taught, these scenes would be instantly recognizable as a rout, that terrible disintegration of ranks as the foe closes in before and behind. Describing the rout of the Roman Legions by Hannibal at Cannae, Livy wrote:

[Begin historical Livy excerpt] It was a terrible slaughter. ... On a narrow area 48,000 corpses lay in heaps. ... Hannibal once more released non-Roman prisoners. ... Roman knight's gold rings were collected in baskets and later poured out onto the floor of the Carthaginian senate. One of the consuls Lucius Aemilius Paulus (and one of the preceding year's) were killed, as well as both quaestors of the consuls, 29 out of 48 military tribunes and 80 other senators. [End historical Livy excerpt]

There can be no joy in war: it is always repulsive in actual detail, but if we are not left with the facts, then the world is deprived even of doleful experience of the battlefield. The jihadi dream was a fraud. September 11 opened the door, not to Paradise but the portal to Hell and the jihadi nightmare will continue for as long as they are nourished on illusion and false encouragement. We are not their permanent enemies; that foe is within their breast.

Update: Looks as if Falluja is winding down, but there may be more campaigns in the Sunni Triangle in short order:

http://belmontclub.blogspot.com/2004/11/river-war-fallujah-battle-which-is.html

The Fallujah battle, which is just winding down, should be seen in the context a wider campaign against the enemy in the Sunni triangle. To properly understand the goals of that campaign, we should first put ourselves in the shoes of the enemy. The Command Post reproduces an extensive extract of a press statement by a former Republican Guard general who now styles himself as a spokesman for the ‘resistance’. Although it is probably puffed up for propaganda purposes, it contains a degree of plausibility from which we can infer the outlines of their strategy.

http://www.command-post.org/2_archives/017513.html

[Begin excerpt] We are very satisfied indeed concerning the reality of the resistance and its results on the terrain. The Resistance in fact has become an every day popular state no one can ignore. We can speak about the Resistance in two terms: First in Iraqi terms: the Resistance has spread its complete control over a great number of Iraqi towns. What is happening in Fallujah, Samaraa, Qaem, Baaquba, Hawijah, Tallafar, Heet, Saqlawyia, Ramadi, Anah, Rawa, Haditha, Balad, Beiji, Bahraz, Baladruz, and other cities and towns of Iraq, confirm perfectly this reality. The Resistance also controls totally some areas in Baghdad and its suburbs such as Yusufya, Latifya, Abu Ghraib, and Mahmudya, which shows the political and the security impasse encountered by the Occupiers and their agents. Here we have to mention the widespread popular cover the Resistance enjoys in these areas and elsewhere, rendering all Iraqi resistance fighters in the confrontation moments with the enemy.

... After this rapid and summary lecture of the Iraqi resistance reality, I can say that we are very confident about the future. What we planned before the Occupation is being achieved on the terrain in a good way. This shows the correct political and military Iraqi leadership long-term vision, when it planned the Resistance and started its fire. There is a unified military leadership, which leads the operations in the terrain in every town of Iraq. This leadership includes the best officers of the Iraqi Army, the Republican Guard, Saddam?s Fidayyins, and the Security and Intelligence services. What is happening in the Provinces of al Anbar, Diyala, Mosul, and Salah el Din, Babel and elsewhere is a bright sign of what I am telling you. [End excerpt]

There are two factual nuggets in this screed. First, it gives us a map of the the towns which the enemy considers its bastions. Second, it hints of a fallback plan conceived before the launch of Operation Iraqi Freedom, a subject earlier discussed in War Plan Orange ( http://belmontclub.blogspot.com/2004/10/war-plan-orange-in-retrospect-saddams.html ). By plotting the enemy strongholds on the map it is at once evident that they are coextensive with two pathways. The first goes northward along the Euphrates from western Baghdad, Fallujah, Ramadi, Hadithah, Anah and Qusabayah – along the river and road from Baghdad to the Syrian border. The omission of Qusabayah from mention is very peculiar, since it has been the scene of battalion sized battles between infiltrators and Marines guarding the Syrian frontier since the earliest post-OIF days, but I include it here on that account. The second set of towns goes northeast along the Tigris towards Tikrit and parts of Kurdistan: Hawijah, Balad and Samarra. A spur runs off toward the Iranian border: Baqubah and Baladruz, on the road to the Iran. It is hard not to think that we are looking at their lines of communication.

The towns along these pathways are probably waystations where men and weapons can be smuggled by stages, a kind of Sunni Ho Chi Minh Trail. My own guess is they are probably superimposed on traditional smuggling routes from Syria and Iran which have now been converted to serve the enemy cause. I caution the reader that this is guesswork, but I think it is correct. The discovery of carbomb factories in Fallujah suggests that town was the easternmost terminus of a finger that extended straight from the Syrian border, a final launching pad where enemy delivery systems were “bombed up” for their sorties at US targets in the city or as convoys made their way along the highways west of Baghdad.

Taking Fallujah then, was not merely a symbolic political act to reduce a ‘symbol of defiance’, but a sound operational move. It interdicts the conveyor belt of destruction that flowed from the Syrian border towards Baghdad. The logical next step is to cut the line again near the Syrian border, perhaps at Anah, so that by taking out both ends the middle is left unsupported. Alternatively, the US could roll up the enemy line of communication going north by taking out Ramadi which would force the enemy to sortie from Haditha, a little ville a lot farther from Baghdad. Although this will not totally destroy the insurgency, it will throttle movement along their lines of communication considerably. Guerilla warfare, like all warfare, is logistics. It just takes different forms.

In order to accomplish this task, the US has approximately 18 brigades – about 50 battalions – at hand ( http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/ops/images/oif3-rotation_040707-02.jpg) . But many of these are assigned to important security duties and about 10 battalions were directly employed in the Fallujah operation or in support ( http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/iraq/fallujah-imagery-forces_s.htm ), and it will be some days, even weeks, before these units are available again to mount other operations. But the Prime Minister Allawie’s 60 day declaration of martial law ( http://www.reuters.co.uk/newsPackageArticle.jhtml?type=topNews&storyID=616837§ion=news ) strongly suggests that the Sunni campaign will be finished before elections are held in January and that means there will be very little pause in American operational tempo. In fact, although the focus of media coverage has been on the urban battle in Fallujah, pursuit operations up and down the ratline to Syria are probably in progress. Chester was surprised to learn that contrary to his expectations, the British Black Watch regiment was to the west and probably north of Fallujah, not east as he expected ( http://adventuresofchester.blogspot.com/2004/11/3pm-update.html ). That means it was not between Fallujah and Baghdad, but between Fallujah and Ramadi. This suggests the hammer could fall on Ramadi, with Black Watch in a blocking position. One can only wait and see.

Every campaign has a political dimension. The campaign in the Sunni Triangle is probably aimed at convincing the enemy that resistance is now futile and their best hope lies in participating in the new Iraqi government through elections. Personally (speculation alert!) I doubt it can achieve as much. The campaign will absolutely gut the enemy as a guerilla force, but it will not be enough to prevent them from terrorizing Sunni politicians who may wish to participate in the coming elections. But this will only postpone unconditional Sunni defeat for another year because a terrorist enforced boycott will mean that Kurds and Shi’ites will dominate the new administration and most importantly, its Army. By next year, the regular Iraqi Army will be a far more potent force and the Sunni insurgency a far weaker one. But that’s the old sad human story; to miss the chance when it comes and pine for it ever afterward.

Falluja mattered – attacks are down by half, many weapons and explosives were seized, and a key base of operation was denied to the terrorists. There’s other evidence that Falluja mattered, and was a large tactical victory - though the press seems to ignore it now that they don’t have fresh casualties to report:

December 06, 2004
THAT’S CALLED EVIDENCE

The Post reporter doesn’t quite articulate it this way, but the best evidence yet that the assault on Fallujah wasn’t just a success but mattered, mattered a great deal, is the fact that the military now sees a change in the enemy’s strategy – they won’t mass in one place again ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A38094-2004Dec5.html ). If it had been as insignificant as some of the press coverage suggested, you wouldn’t have expected to see them change the way they did business.

The article also points to something else about more recent coverage:

[Begin WaPo excerpt] As a sign of the damage done to the insurgency by the Fallujah operation, U.S. officers point to a sharp decline in the number of attacks nationwide, from a high of more than 130 a day at the start of the offensive in early November to about 60 now. But U.S. military intelligence officers expect the number to rise again before the national elections set for Jan. 30. [End WaPo excerpt]

Now, I’ve mentioned before that the figure of over 100 attacks a day was hyped, while the reduction gets barely a mention. But what drives that is that when the figure is high, the focus is on nationwide violence. When the figure goes down, the focus telescopes down into just the individual attacks of the day, and God knows there are enough of those, and the attacks that do occur are brutal enough, that it can make it look as if the whole country is coming apart at the seams.

Again, please don’t misunderstand, I’m not suggesting the place is Shangri-la by any stretch. But I am saying that each individual attack is bad enough that focusing in on it in detail – much less if there are several in a single day – can easily create the impression of nationwide chaos, even if the attacks are occuring in a limited area and even if the overall number of attacks are going down.

The other thing about the coverage that prevents us, still, from getting a good grasp of the big picture is that there’s virtually no follow-up coverage. They ignored Fallujah during the period when they were all covering Najaf; once the fighting ended in Najaf, they lost all interest.

When was the last time you saw a story on how things were going down in that city?

It’s alluded to in this story, but not really covered.

[Begin WaPo excerpt] Reconstruction of the badly battered city of Fallujah now poses a major test of the Baghdad government’s ability to deliver people and resources. But last week, senior U.S. Marine officers overseeing the rebuilding effort privately voiced frustration over the absence of officials from Baghdad and public works technicians to help restore power and water, assist in food and fuel distribution and set up a new police force.

Senior U.S. officers point to Najaf as a model for reconstituting cities that have been the target of U.S. military offensives against insurgents. Since the battle freeing it of Sadr’s forces, the city has remained calm and shown both political leadership and economic development.

None of this means things are going really well, it means they may be going better than the press coverage suggests. If they were going well, the Army would not have made this critical strategic adjustment:

In Baghdad, Sunni support for “armed national opposition” was 40 percent in a November poll taken for the U.S. military, up from 35 percent in September. More Sunnis expressed support for the insurgents than confidence in the Iraqi government, which drew only 35 percent support in November. Approval of attacks on U.S. forces was also up, from 46 percent in September to 51 percent in November.

Under the circumstances, the internal assessment done for Casey has recommended changing one of the U.S. military’s original aims, which was to bring Iraqis around to a more “positive” perception of U.S. troops. With hindsight, that objective now appears too ambitious, the assessment concluded, adding that “popular tolerance” would be a more “realistic aim.”

“It’s not about winning the hearts and minds,” Casey said. “It’s about giving the Iraqis an opportunity that they can pick up.” [End WaPo excerpt]

Do read the whole article: I’ve pulled out a few points that shed some light on the coverage, but the article is full of material that’s useful on a substantive level.

Update: Take this article as an example. ( http://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/06/international/middleeast/06iraq.html?oref=login&oref=login ) It makes clear that it isn’t so much the number of attacks as who is being attacked that may matter at some level.

But is that the entire story? We were told previously that the number of attacks was one metric. So – is it or isn’t it? Certainly the targets matter, that’s a central way of determining what the strategy is and therefore whether it’s working. But why, when the number was high, was that presented as one way of evaluating how things were going also?